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Music DVD Review: Dimebag Darrell’s Riffer Madness

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Chances are that everyone reading this review is well aware of the enormity of the loss seven years ago of the most brilliant heavy metal guitarist to ever grace this Earth, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, at the way too young age of 38. Chances are you also know he was the most electrifying force behind Pantera, the Texas quartet who not only sold millions of albums and still hung out with its legions of fans before and after sold-out shows, but who set a new standard for heavy metal excellence in the ’90s with classic albums such as major label debut Cowboys From Hell (1990) and especially Vulgar Display of Power (1992).

As a companion to the book and CD of the same name that was based on DD’s popular Guitar World columns and which was coauthored by good friend Nick Bowcott in 2003, this Riffer Madness DVD (Alfred Music Publishing) is a fun and rich visual display of many of the late guitarist’s most powerful riffs, notes, chords, and combinations of all of the above. As with the book, there is no complete song tablature of any song, but rather a more enlightening look at the attitude, brilliance, proper execution, correct guitar tuning, patterns and techniques Dimebag used to come up with his heavy metal magic.

And though the DVD says it has 97 “riffs,” it’s really not 97 separate riffs, but rather a close-up look at close to 30 Dimebag-penned songs, most of which are Pantera cuts (from 1990-2000), a few of which are (super heavy) Damageplan songs from its only album, New Found Power (2004), and one (“Get Outta My Life”) from his (not well-known) southern metal side project Rebel Meets Rebel. This is not to say you should be disappointed with the DVD’s contents. Far from it.

Many of the songs represented here have so many killer riffs and patterns within them that such riffs are spread out over several, separate examples and demonstrations by Bowcott. So you will see all the tasty riffs/melodic progressions in essential Pantera songs like “5 Minutes Alone,” “Cemetary Gates,” and “Mouth For War” demonstrated over multiple chapters on the DVD. All that, and showing the viewer key chords, scales, and some valuable warm-up excercises (which Dimebag said was vital for any guitarist to do before going full tilt into playing) is how the number jumps up to 97 and what makes the DVD such a rewarding release.

There are endless amounts of great Dimebag riffs, for sure, but Bowcott goes through the simplest to the toughest ones (including the fast-riffing midsection of “This Love”), and explains what you need to do to play them effectively and correctly. From pick squeals/high-sounding pinch harmonics to the proper pick hand palm-muting technique, Bowcott, in his stern British accent, shows the viewer the most basic and difficult heavy metal techniques Dimebag used with seeming ease, and does so without wasting much time.

The “Dime” Way

Bowcott, who spent a lot of time hanging out, drinking with and learning from Dimebag before the latter died, goes into great detail to explain the right and “Dime” way of playing many Pantera classics. On “A New Level,” for example, he shows you where (on your axe) and how to play the crunchy chromatic diads (two-note chords) that make up its chorus. For “Walk,” Bowcott says he has seen bands play it wrong and that if you don’t “bend” the key fretted notes of the main riff like Dimebag does (and he does in the DVD), then don’t bother playing it at all. But most enlightening to this reviewer and Pantera fan was when he demonstrated the Dimebag way of playing the scary pinch harmonics-filled notes found in the choruses of “Cemetary Gates.” Hint: It’s not on the strings on the second-to-fourth frets of your guitar. You’ll have to watch the DVD for the answer, of course.

For those wondering, there are well demonstrated examples of DD riffs from plenty of other killer Pantera tunes, from the most popular to lesser known ones, including “Shedding Skin,” “Revolution Is My Name,” “Where You Come From,” “Cowboys From Hell,” “We’ll Grind That Axe For A Long Time,” and “The Sleep.”

Special Features

Included in this section is a reflective and insightful interview with Dimebag Darrell’s widow and best friend in life, Rita Haney. In it, she tells Bowcott about his beginnings as a guitar player as a teen and his early influences, such as KISS, and reveals that there will be many more Dimebag-related releases in the future for fans to look forward to. That includes rare demos, live Pantera concerts (some from Ozzfest), and non-concert footage that Darrell filmed himself (because he filmed everything in his day).

There’s also a few minutes of Bowcott’s Dimebag tribute from 2005 while opening for Zakk Wylde/Black Label Society. The humble performer admits he will never be as great as Dimebag, but he does an impressive job. The only disappointing part about it is that it was edited too much, with 15 minutes worth of his 70-riff performance being chopped down to three minutes.

The true treasure of the special features section are two home videos DD shot at home. “The Lost Lesson” has the guitar wizard playing a few Damageplan songs (such as “Crawl” and “Save Me,” for example). He does some explaining of the “diminished” or “chugging” sounds behind his riffs and the keys they are in, but he clearly hurries through it all and just hammers away at his drop-B-tuned axe for a lot of it. That is super cool but the only problem is that the camera is too far away 

“The Found Lesson” that DD teaches is more camera and Pantera-friendly, with Reinventing The Steel-era songs like “Goddamn Electric” and “Revolution Is My Name” being the ones he demonstrates, first in real time and then sometimes more slowly. Even though they aren’t “professional” like his Guitar World columns from the ’90s, both of these short (video) lessons are a real treat that every DD fan will get a kick out of.

How To Watch This DVD

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this release is the 28-paged, printable and downloadable digital guitar tablature booklet (as a PDF file) that you can open up on your computer or laptop when you insert the DVD into it. It contains all 97 of Bowcott’s examples and in the order they appear on the DVD.

To get the most out of this whole DVD experience, have an electric guitar in hand, a laptop/PC in front of you with the digital guitar tab/PDF file open via the latest version of Adobe Reader, and the DVD itself running (on Windows Media Player or whatever video player you use). This way, you can do whatever you need to do to fully understand the instructional examples at all times, whether that means rewinding a lesson so you can play to it, reading the guitar tablature of the video lessons on one part of your screen while watching the DVD, or just sitting back and watching the whole DVD and then reading and playing the numerous exemplified riffs later. It’s your choice so have fun with it! That’s what DImebag would say, no doubt.

The Bottom Line

Whether you are a beginner or technically advanced in metal guitar playing, or even consider yourself a Pantera guitar expert, there is something to learn for everyone here. Are there riffs you wish were included and demonstrated on here (like key licks on awesome Pantera tunes like “Hollow” and Black Sabbath cover “Planet Carvan”)? Sure there is, but this wasn’t advertised as a comprehensive list of Mr. Abbott’s greatest riffs and patterns. You could easily add 100 more to the 97 included here, and it still probably wouldn’t be a complete list.

But there’s more than enough here to occupy your time, and most importantly, to learn from. After all, the goal is to be able to say you can learn how to play Dimebag’s most amazing riffs, isn’t it? With Bowcott’s demonstrations and the 28-paged digital guitar tab booklet that accompanies them, you should be able to do just that, and definitely become a better and cooler guitar player in no time as a result. This release is highly recommended.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.