12/8: our favorite compound time signature

Keidra Chaney and Raizel Liebler

Taking advantage of the date, we wanted to write about some of our favorite songs in 12/8 time. This is a time signature that isn’t particularly rare, but for modern pop, not a very common occurrence. On the other hand, there have been many songs in 12/8 over time – ranging from soul, to metal, to Korean pop. So we will be posting about 12/8 songs sporadically, because we happen to love a lot of them.

Today we’ll start with two great metal songs in 12/8 time from the same band: Pantera’s “Walk” & “Hollow” from the album Vulgar Display of Power. Today is also the tenth anniversary of the death of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, the guitarist of Pantera, who was killed on stage while performing with his post-Pantera band Damageplan.

Additionally, these songs were released as back-to-back singles, perhaps serving as the only such examples of two back-to-back 12/8 singles by the same group. Britney Spears’ two songs in 12/8 time from her album Circus (“Womanizer” and “Radar”) were both released as singles but had two songs with other time signatures released as singles in between.

In an era of algorithm-influenced pop songwriting it’s hard to overstate both how influential Pantera was for mainstream music at the time and their influence on metal overall. Their following album, Far Beyond Driven, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.


The genesis of Walk is a riff Dimebag Darrell played at a soundcheck during the tour for Cowboys from Hell. http://www.spin.com/articles/pantera-look-back-20-years-walk/

While there are a number of songs where I (Keidra) could tell you exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing the first time I heard it, I don’t have such a story with Pantera and Walk. I think Pantera’s an excellent example of a band that grew into its legendary status, and it was Walk that was their “revelation” song, —  the song that took them from a great band with a log of potential to one of the greats. When Cowboys From Hell was released it was the album that took Pantera from a low-level hard rock band into a more metal-focused direction, but Vulgar Display of Power was not only a push towards an even heavier sound for the band but way more sophisticated, confident songwriting. You can really hear Dime’s iconic riff, it’s both menacing and strangely sexy, you can both lurch and swing your hips to it, which was unusual for not just metal, but pop at the time.  This was written at a time when groove-based metal was becoming more in vogue but Walk never sacrifices heaviness in favor of its groove, nor does it go out of its way to be showy with its unusual tempo. The tempo tells the story of the song, in parallel with Phil Anselmo’s almost spoken-word like bark. Walk wasn’t the kind of song that made an immediate impression on me but decades later it stands up as timeless. (Keidra)


Unlike Walk, Hollow is not viewed as a metal classic or listed on any “best of” list. However, Hollow is one of Pantera’s best songs, an elegy to a friend in a coma. Similar to how Metallica (until they stopped) had an instrumental on each album, Pantera’s ballads from their three middle albums served as an emotional core in the midst of an angry apple. Like the Orion/To Live is to Die pairing, Hollow and Cemetery Gates, a ballad from Pantera’s earlier album, Cowboys from Hell, are companion songs. Hollow is also arguably the last time we hear the true range of Phil Anselmo’s vocal talents. (Raizel)

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