Metal Fans Mourn Their Own

Photo by Dan Trittschuh

Keeping vigil: Metal fans gather in the Alrosa Villa's parking lot Dec. 9

The Other Paper | December 16, 2004
Kevin Montavon vividly remembers that night in 1991 when he saw Pantera for the first time. It began with a concert inside the Alrosa Villa. It ended hours later, after Montavon had partied into the wee hours as an invited guest on the band's tour bus.

Phil Anselmo, the band's singer, had been walking among the fans before the show, disguised in a hooded sweatshirt. But Montavon had recognized him nonetheless and said hello.

His friendliness paid off at the end of the show, when the band pulled "a whole bunch of people up on the stage," Montavon said. Before long, a gaggle of them were on the bus with Anselmo and his Pantera bandmates, brothers Vinnie Paul and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott.

In the years that followed, Montavon became a devoted Pantera fan, in part because the members of the band were so "personable" the first time he saw them.

He'd been to more than 20 Pantera shows before the band's breakup. (While there was no official split, Pantera recorded its last album in 2000, and Anselmo told last year that the band wasn't planning to work together in the near future.)

Eight nights ago, Montavon headed to the Alrosa to see the Abbott brothers' new band, Damageplan.

But instead of ending the night hanging with the band, as he had done 13 years ago, Montavon raced home from the club after watching a crazed fan, Nathan Gale, take the stage with a gun and kill Abbott.

Within moments, Gale also killed fan Nathan Bray, club employee Erin Halk and Damageplan crew member Jeff Thompson before Columbus police Officer James Niggemeyer burst into the club with a shotgun and killed Gale.

"Same place I met all these people," Montavon said, "and I watched them get gunned down."

If you want to start a fight with your best friend, bring a promising first date to an abrupt end or infuriate your spouse, just insult their favorite band.

For serious fans, music is an investment of money, time and passion. A Pantera lover might not remember the names of his co-workers, but he knows which track follows "Mouth for War" on his Vulgar Display of Power CD. And he probably remembers the first time he heard it, whether in a dorm room or on a basement couch. Or at a concert.

Virtually everyone who experienced the carnage at the Alrosa—from the witnesses to the victims to the troubled and delusional ex-Marine who came to attack Abbott—shared a love of heavy metal music.

As they struggle with the things they saw and heard Dec. 8, many survivors are grappling with the fact that they witnessed the deaths of a musician they admired, one of his roadies, a fellow Pantera fan and a worker at a club that felt like a second home.

Kevin Montavon was asked if he'd ever seen someone killed before.

"No," he said, "but I did have a family member who was murdered, so it's a very similar experience right now."

Montavon was shaking like a leaf as he hurried to his car outside the Alrosa.

"The guy walking out next to me looked at me and said, 'That shit was real.' And I said to him, 'I think we just saw Dimebag get murdered onstage.'"

As Montavon waited at the red light on Sinclair Road, 20 or 30 cruisers sped around the corner from Morse Road onto Sinclair. As he drove south on I-71 toward home, he saw even more police cars racing north.

When he got home, he assured his girlfriend that he was OK. Then he turned on his computer and went to Metal Sludge's Gossip Board.

"It's a community for me," he said. "That's the site I would go to if I heard that news, so I just thought, 'I have to tell these people.'"

By 10:59 p.m., 41 minutes after police started getting 911 calls from the Alrosa, Montavon was posting a message.

"Oh my God…" Montavon typed.

"I'm shaking so bad I can hardly type this. THIS IS NO FUCKING JOKE!!!....I'm afraid I may be the bearer of some VERY TRAGIC news…Less than a minute into Damageplan's set, some guy ran onstage, grabbed Dimebag, and just started pumping shots into him!!! I am in total shock right now. I was close to the stage and it was all very confusing. As soon as I realized that the shots were real, I got the fuck out of there, along with many screaming and crying others."

The next morning's paper was the first time most people heard the name "Damageplan." But in the world of heavy metal, the band had an instant following, thanks largely to the musical pedigree of Dimebag Darrell Abbott, who over two decades had built a reputation as a groundbreaking guitarist.

Pantera emerged from Texas to build a cult fan base in the early 1980s. Not surprisingly for a metal band, Pantera had some rough edges; Abbott often had a Confederate flag on his guitar or performed in front of one, leading to discussion over whether he was racist.

Pantera's breakup wasn't amicable, and fans took sides. Anselmo didn't make any secret of his contempt for his former bandmates, who In turn, took no great pains to compliment Anselmo.

In an undated interview with Modern Drummer magazine, Vinnie Paul blamed Anselmo for the breakup:

"Pantera didn't split up over the usual reasons. There were no money issues or guys hating each other. We took a break, and then we heard that Phil Anselmo had quit the band. That would have been cool if he had called and let somebody know. But we couldn't get in touch with the dude. We tried every way to figure out what was going on, but we couldn't. So after a year, Dimebag and I realized that we didn't have a band anymore. That's where Damageplan came from."

Damageplan was fairly new—the band's first album came out this year—but it was gaining fans who missed hearing Abbott's trademarks, including the "false harmonic," which Eric McGuire described as a "really high squeal."

McGuire, the guitar player for Volume Dealer, which opened for Damageplan Wednesday night, said every player he knows would have liked to produce Abbott's sound.

"Nobody," he said, "really played like him."

Last Thursday, reporters were gathered across the street from the Alrosa, waiting for a police press conference and hoping to catch people who'd been at the club.

Throughout the day, fans stopped by to pay their respects and lay tokens of their affection for Abbott on a boulder outside the club: red and yellow roses, a cross, a rebel flag, a bottle of beer. By Friday, Abbott's name had been spray-painted in blue letters on the side of the building.

It was easy to pick out some of the Pantera fans: a young guy dressed in a black sweatshirt and black toboggan hat; a middle-aged man with a mullet and a black leather jacket; a guy with long scraggly hair.

But Greg Minor blended right in with the journalists.

Wearing jeans, a preppy gray sweater with blue and yellow stripes across the chest, and a pair of Adidas, he hardly looked the part of a metal fan. The 30-year-old fitness-equipment technician has a wife and a kid. But he had been at the show the night before.

"It's heavy metal, and people like myself come here," he said. "People think heavy metal's all bad. It's not."

Minor sat shivering on a curb as new batches of reporters approached him, asking the same things over and over again: Were you at the club? What did you see? What did you hear?

Finally a reporter asked, "Do you feel lucky to have survived?"

"Not necessarily," Minor said. "Lucky would have been for everybody to survive. That would have been lucky."

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