Fans are calling it the worst day in metal history. One of the genre's last guitar gods, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, was shot to death during a Wednesday night performance at the Alrosa Villa, a small venue in Columbus, Ohio. He was 38.
With his manic guitar riffs, Abbott helped catapult Pantera, one of thrash metal's premier bands, to platinum heights in the early 1990s. During an era dominated by gangsta rap, grunge and overdone pop balladry, the quartet's high-octane 1994 album, Vulgar Display of Power, made its debut at No. 1 on Billboard's pop albums chart. Since then, Pantera has toured steadily around the globe, maintaining a tight, cultlike fan base.
"They were the most important metal act of the '90s," says Nick Bowcott, an associate editor for Guitar World magazine, to which Abbott had contributed a column since 1993. "It was the sort of music that never made it to the mainstream, but the band sold, like, 30 [million] to 40 million records in their career, which is a pretty big cult."
Recently, Abbott had been contributing his skills to Damageplan, a group that included his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, a former member of Pantera.
The guitarist was onstage with the band when the gunman -- identified as 25-year-old Nathan Gale -- climbed onto the stage, began yelling and opened fire on Abbott. Three other men -- Nathan Bray, 23, Erin Halk, 29, and Jeff Thompson, 40 -- were also shot and killed.
Gale had fired shots into the crowd before he was shot and killed by police Officer James Niggemeyer, who arrived shortly after the shooting began. No motive has been found.
"Who knows what it could be?" Bowcott says. "Whatever it is, it's deranged."
About two weeks ago, Damageplan was a headliner at the 9:30 Club in Washington.
"It was a hectic show. The mosh pit was very active," says the venue's general manager, Ed Stack. "It was nothing unusual for that type of show."
Says Don Stewart, who manages security at the 1,000- capacity venue: "We do full pat-downs and check people's ankles and do bag checks, which is standard everywhere. I can't see how that guy got into that club with a gun."
The incident shocked the metal community, as fans flooded the Damageplan Web site with thousands of messages. Abbott's death in particular has unnerved those in the industry who admired his talent.
"He wasn't a schooled player," says Bowcott, who befriended Abbott during the years he worked with him on his column, "Riffer Madness." "But he had a meticulous, great way of explaining what he did. He crossed every 't' and dotted every 'i.' He was very gregarious. He knew how to explain his art."
Born in Dallas on Aug. 20, 1966, Abbott was introduced to music by his father, country music songwriter Jerry Abbott, who owned a recording studio.
Early on, the artist gravitated toward the guitar and the styles of Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi and Randy Rhodes. With his drummer brother and bassist Rex Rocker, Abbott formed Pantera in 1983. At that time, the guitarist went by the moniker, "Diamond Darrell."
The group spent most of the '80s trying to find an identity, though the unit always adhered to an aggressive rock aesthetic. But by 1990, when the band signed with Atlantic Records, Pantera drastically increased the intensity of its music. And Abbott's heavy, furious guitar playing was the main ingredient.
The album Cowboys From Hell launched the group on the national scene. And for a decade, the band toured almost nonstop.
"They were the best live band I'd ever seen," Bowcott says. "They loved playing and did what they did best. Even though they didn't have a lot of airplay, they did it the old-fashioned way on stage. Fans appreciated that."
Bowcott describes Abbott as an outgoing man, funny and highly intelligent.
"He genuinely liked his fans," he says. "He'd stay and sign the last autograph at a crowded in-store appearance. He appreciated his fans because he knew they put him where he was."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.