Heavy metal has reared its devil-horned head in some pretty random mainstream pop culture scenarios over the years.
But, one of the more bizarre places we’ve seen it on display in recent memory is during a Madonna concert a few years back when she busted out the Pantera classic, ‘A New Level’ on guitar. So wait, is Madonna one of us? Well, the answer seems to be… sort of?
The story starts with Monte Pittman of the legendary metal band Prong, who would go on to become a highly in-demand session musician that rose to the top of the pop musician touring world and scored a gig playing for The Material Girl herself in her live band.
Per Pittman, Madonna was looking to perform a rock version of her song Hung Up, but needed a transitionary song that would allow her to play one-finger chords so she could focus more holistically on performing (rather than trying to be a guitar virtuoso). In Pittman’s words: “Madonna has a lot of things to think about, standing in the right place, singing the lyrics, what happens next, etc. She really doesn’t need to be standing there wondering if it’s a G major 7 or G major 9.”
Pittman actually first learned ‘A New Level’ on guitar after being taught it from the OG legend himself, Dimebag Darrell. Monte recalls:
“I learned it when Dimebag Darrell came to see Prong in Dallas. He wanted to know if we were doing the song Cut Rate and asked about the rhythm part which doesn’t let off, which is when he said his secret was never letting the pick leave the string when playing really fast.
I remember being really impressed he knew the song and said Prong was one of his favorite bands. So I was telling Madonna about this and it was around the time we had a new band…”
So how did Madonna come to learn Pantera’s ‘A New Level’ on guitar?
Per Pittman: “I showed her [Madonna] A New Level by Pantera in that lower tuning to give her something easy to learn, because the notes go up one fret at a time.
The next day, she came in with a bottle of wine with two glasses, so we sat there drinking and playing.
Then she started playing Pantera and it sounded great; she remembered to stay on top of the strings. At rehearsal with the full band, we’d work through the songs in order and she’d start playing that riff, so we’d play along. Every time we all thought, ‘Oh that was fun today,’ but then she did it the next day and the day after.
After a while, despite it being a closed rehearsal, tour managers and techs started showing up specifically for that part of the set as if word has gotten around that Madonna was covering Pantera. And it stayed in the set! I didn’t know if people were gonna hate it and be pissed off, but everyone loved it. Madonna fans tend to love every kind of music.”
So how’d she do? Honestly, sounds pretty great overall for what it is (minus the pretty cringy DJ scratching). Check it out below starting around the :35 mark.