When American heavy metal heavyweights Pantera roared back into action with a powerful new album on March 14, 2000, they had no grand delusions about inventing the wheel — just Reinventing the Steel. Unfortunately, what many saw as a return to top musical form for the Texan terrors also camouflaged a fatal breakdown in band relations. This conflict would ultimately spell Pantera’s doom and make Steel their last studio album.

It hadn't been any secret in the years leading up to Reinventing the Steel that things were not at all well in the Pantera camp. In fact, as far back as 1996, around the release of The Great Southern Trendkill, brothers Dimebag Darrell (guitar) and Vinnie Paul Abbott (drums) were already tiring of frontman Philip Anselmo’s increasingly confrontational attitude, volatile stage rants and on-and-off drug abuse, which he often blamed on crippling back pain.

Meanwhile, the brothers and bassist Rex Brown kept on stockpiling riffs and, for the most part, closing ranks against their embattled singer, until all four men were finally ready to face the music together again. And how could one not feel encouraged about Pantera’s future after listening to the results? The ten songs completed for Reinventing the Steel stripped the band’s sound to its muscular, early ‘90s essence as defined by twin classics Cowboys from Hell and A Vulgar Display of Power.

Dimebag’s trademarked, groove-laden razor riffs consistently manhandled bruising standouts such as “Hellbound,” “Revolution is My Name” and “Uplift" while Anselmo’s intensity at the microphone lent threatening authority to venomous screeds like “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit” and "We'll Grind That Axe for a Long Time.” As if all this weren’t heavy enough, Slayer’s Kerry King contributed a solo (literally recorded as he walked offstage one night, during Ozzfest) to “Goddamn Electric." Surprising psychedelic melodies adorned the otherwise punishing doom of "It Makes Them Disappear,” and the album closing masterpiece “I’ll Cast a Shadow” showcased the genetic synchronicity between Dime’s scissoring strums and Vinnie’s double kicks.

Too bad none of the undeniable musical magic captured for Reinventing the Steel could stop the Pantera family from splintering, once their touring activities were cut short in 2001 by the September 11 attacks. By March of the following year, Anselmo had reactivated his acclaimed stoner doom side project Down and invited Rex to join in. Whether intentional or not, this move fed the public perception that Pantera were now split into two opposing camps. For their part, the Abbotts eventually decided to move onwards with new group Damageplan, and Dimebag’s tragic murder in December of 2004 sadly closed the door on Pantera’s story before a reconciliation could even be considered.

But the depressing end to Pantera’s career can do nothing to diminish the enduring impact of their sizable musical accomplishments, including the formidable final will and testament unexpectedly delivered by Reinventing the Steel.

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