Pantera – Domination Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus & Chorus Riffs

Domination by Pantera is both a beast of a song but also one of the most “reacted to” tracks/videos on YouTube.

Metalheads and non-metalheads alike getting their faces melted and their tiny little minds squeegied clean by the ferocious riffs from Dime and Rex, Vinnie’s double kicks, Phil’s swagger, Dime’s epic solo action and one of THE heaviest, simplest breakdowns in metal history since Slayer’s Reign In Blood!

With all of that I thought I’d do a little overveiw of some of the key riffs and features of this track.

(You don’t need me to break down the breakdown do you?)

Song Details

It’s mainly in 4/4 (there’s a bar of 2/4 in the chorus but it’s straight 4/4 throughout).

Tempo: I’ve got it at around 143bpm but as with all music played by humans, it pushes and pulls from time to time. The breakdown at the end of the track is approximately 82bpm.

Key: classic metal – E minor. It uses the tritone (B♭) here and there and some passing notes that are representative of their bluesy, swinging under-vibes.

There’s some discussion ahead concerning the actual picking of this song; upstrokes and downstrokes, when and where to use them and why.

The Intro & Chorus Riffs

The song starts off with a blisteringly quick assault on the senses with a riff that’s almost exactly the same as the chorus riff (more on those differences later).

I can’t find a “for sale” version of this tab but there is, as per usual, the Ultimate-Guitar “official” tab. Here’s a sample of their rendering of the main riff from the intro:

It is close and if you played it, it would definitely work but it’s NOT what Rex is playing…

Real Rex!

Here’s what Rex is playing, tabbed directly from the original, isolated bassline:

This is how it sounds at speed (143bpm). More discussion to come on the final bar of triplets…

How to play this right

Now, this is pure conjecture on my part, but this is how it makes sense to me to play it (it’s so fast, trying to catch sight of Rex’s right hand in footage to verify this is impossible).

I think you play this riff using alternate picking and start this entire thing on the upstroke

Let me explain.

Starting on the upstroke does a couple of things:

– it keeps your pick naturally flowing between the E and A strings without having to do any string skipping

– and that’s important because it means that on the syncopated beat (tied 16th note at the end of beats 1 & 3) that leads into beats 2 & 4 of each bar, where the emphasis is, you’re straight on to the downstroke.

Starting on the upstroke means you can simply play this riff without having to think about it too hard (once you’ve practiced it and have it nice and firmly in your muscle memory!)

Try it, see how it feels and if you agree.

Obviously if you’re a down picking machine a-la Het’ or Scott Ian then go for it but I like not having carpel tunnel syndrome so this is how I play it 😂

notes on note choices

Pantera are a Metal band but they have a sludgy, bluesy undercurrent to their music that allows them to use some note choices that aren’t strictly “metal”.

The UG tab has fallen into the trap of “they’re a metal band, in bar 4 the turn around starts high and ends on the G so they MUST have started on the B♭ (6th fret E string) like all other Metal bands do…”

I have to admit, at speed on the record, in that mix, it’s easy to assume that he’s doing exactly that. Indeed, it may even be what Dime is playing but listening to the bass on it’s own it’s not what Rex is up to…

He’s keeping his left hand nice and simple and letting the rhythm and the groove do all the heavy lifting.

Here, in the red box, is what he’s actually playing on the end of riff turnaround:

a sting in the tail

As mentioned earlier, there’s a bar of triplets that make up the final turnaround and feed into the link riff which UG has wrong…

On the left is the UG version and on the right is what he’s actually playing.

As mentioned earlier, there’s a bar of triplets that make up the final turnaround and feed into the link riff which UG has wrong…

Below are the UG version and the JTR version which is what he’s actually playing.

It’s very hard to hear in the mix and it’s perfectly acceptable to play what they’ve tabbed because it’s doubling the guitar part and it will sound “right” enough to pass.

However, in the isolated bass part, Rex is playing what you see in the JTR tab.

I’m not going to lie, in isolation, this sounds REALLY odd!

In context it makes complete tonal sense and also shines a light on Pantera’s freedom from the writing confines of traditional “metal riffing”.

Rex is playing the MAJOR 3rd under Dime’s rising chords.

Dime is playing B5, C5, C#5 and D5 (all root + 5th notes) while Rex is playing E♭, E♮, F and F# which are the major 3rd’s of B, C, C# and D.

Below is the audio of Rex’s bass part and Rex’s bass part with Dime’s guitar part (I’ve marked it up as being all donwstrokes purely to emphasise their heaviness, it’s up to you if you want to downpick them or alternate pick them):

Triplet turnaround bass only

Triplet turnaround bass & gtr

the link riff

This is a nice simple 4 bar riff that should cause you no trouble at all. You can launch this riff on the downstroke. Notice the the F♮ at the end of the run down is an upstroke that tees you up to start over on the downstroke again.

the verse riff(s)

Verses 1 & 2 are exactly the same. Learn one, learn them both.

The verse can be broken down into 2 distinct sections; riff 1 of the verse is the same as the link riff only longer. Instead of 3 bars of chop and a run down it’s 7 bars and then a run down. Simple.

Riff 2 of the verse riff is a bit more intricate. Below is the UG version.

This riff is 3 bars of chop and then a full bar of accented 16th note action.

UG has this tabbed out as 2 full beats of 16th notes and 2 beats of inverted accented gallop which, again, would work but isn’t right.

Here’s what Rex is actually playing:

Note the accent switching gallops between beats 2 and 3. This locks in with Vinnie’s snare hits to really punch home the spiky feeling.

Also note, while we return to the chopped up riff (3x), in the first of the 3 bars theres’ slightly longer beat 2 with the slide out.

The whole thing ends on the familiar rundown into the Pre-Chorus. (Remember the picking pattern for that rundown from the link riff!)

Hopefully you finished the rundown on the upstroke because you need to hit the downstroke for…

the pre-Chorus

Rex is fond of doing something that most bass players, even in rock and metal, generally don’t do: he plays powerchords.

The UG tab doesn’t reflect this; it only marks up the root note:

The pre-chorus to Domination starts with a big, fat (downpicked) C5 powerchord at the 3rd fret on the A string. It’s then followed by a bluesy, chromatic climb up from E to G and an equally bluesy climb down (albeit an octave up) from E down to D.

The chopped up bars have gliss/slide out notes on beat 4 of each that kind of serve as punctuation or emphatics.

Part 2 of the pre-chorus starts off the same but bar 2 is different. Instead of going up the octave and running down E to D, you simply go back down from G back to F♮ and slide out (upwards).

Next up are the chopped up bars and there’s a difference here too.

The first one is the same as before, slide down from the 12th fret E string.

The second one, slide up into C at the 8th fret and hit the G on the 10th fret A string and add a little sauce to this note. Rex isn’t afraid of bends and vibrato so you can really give this some spice.

The third chopped bar has an added 8th note before the slide out but that’s it’s only difference.

Finally we come to the turnaround into the chorus (the last bar in the red box).

UG has this riff starting on the low open E but listening carefully to Rex’s bass part it clearly starts on the F♮.

This actually makes sense when viewed in context with the chords that Dime is playing in the pre-chorus.

Dime is playing G5, F5 G5 (up the octave) so it makes sense for the rising turnaround to start on F

Remember, Pantera were always willing to use notes that were less “traditional” metal notes.

In most rock and metal situations, the lowest note is usually the home and start point for riffs like this but Dime and Rex were happy to simply play what they felt sounded right to them and as a result we get those triplet major 3rds earlier and this ascending riff not starting on E but on F♮!

Here’s how the entire pre-chorus sounds (GP doesn’t really render slides very well so they don’t sound too great in this audio but on the bass, they’ll sound right!)

Then we’re on to…

the chorus

As mentioned at the start of this analysis, the chorus riff is essentially the same as the intro riff but there are some differences.

UG repeat their version of a stripped down but effective version of the rhythm and the B♭ down to G motif. Again, it would work but it isn’t right.

One of the most notable things is that on the second time repeat there’s a bar of 2/4 (UG defo get this right) in there that leads into the triplet Major 3rd riff from earlier.

The last 2 bars of the chorus are a big open A over which Vinnie does that chaotic, falling down a flight of stairs drum fill!

After this, you follow the D.S al Coda instructions and head back to the link riff at the Segno 𝄋 and go through the verse, pre-chorus and chorus again.

Second time through the chorus, jump to the Coda and there’s an open A for 4 bars instead of the 2 bars the first time round.

UG has you going to 5th fret A string though… Your choice but the open A is a lot easier!

Some classic Pantera/Rex bass work here. I hope that it all makes sense and helps you play it right.

Until the next one…