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Cowboys from Hell is the Pantera that people have come to know and love over the years, whether they were a deep-digging metalhead or just someone who casually enjoyed the genre. It's the album that established their identity and personality. The Abbott brothers, along with Rex and Phil, abandoned their glam aesthetic in favor of a style much more fierce and punishing. They combine the sounds of Judas Priest, Metallica, and a little bit of ZZ Top to respectively show off the catchiness and melody of Priest, the rage, punch and intensity of Metallica, and the groovy, Texan rhythms of ZZ Top to create something that, while familiar as metal, sounded new and energetic. They took thrash and slowed it somewhat to put more of an emphasis on the riffing and rhythmic muscle behind their work. While still yet to evolve into the "slug-you-in-the-face" variety of groove metal that they would be known for later, there were signs that there was more intensity and punch in the riffs despite being mid-tempo. Cowboys From Hell is an album that goes for the neck and continues delivering punches, showing they can be as fierce as they want, regardless of speed.
Cowboys From Hell is a strong album as far as riffing is concerned. Almost every tune on this thing has an element of swinging, mosh-ready swagger about it that makes for great amounts of energy. The title track is the best example of this since it works hard to build you up and then launch you into a riff frenzy backed up by a strong rhythm and catchy hooks. This is also a consistent album as you can also find this on other punishing songs such as the catchy "Domination", the swinging and groovy "Medicine Man", and the head-on speedy charging of "Clash with Reality". Phil's more dynamic Halford-esque vocals do a lot to assist this as high, energizing shrieks do their best to complement the riff-rich beatdown and heavy tension-building being delivered by Dimebag. His shouts carry a more dynamic range of expression and it can vary as being anywhere, from angry and brutish on "Primal Concrete Sledge" to emotive and somber on songs like "The Sleep". Tension-building is also a strength of this album as it gears you up for the swinging and energetic rhythms, especially on softer songs like the aforementioned "The Sleep", which begins with a haunting acoustic guitar intro that slowly becomes faster and more dynamic when it switches to electric, going from simple stomp grooves into full-fledged epic melody, and long, killer solos. "Cemetery Gates" also excels at tension-building, using the same techniques mentioned before, but this time exploding into an outburst of pure emotion, carried by Phil Anselmo's soaring high notes and mellow singing, something he would abandon completely in his later career thanks to continually using rougher growls on later albums, which is a shame since he could do it so well on this early album. Between the iconic riffs belted out by Dimebag, the iconic lines belted out by Phil, and the muscular and vigorous rhythms supplied by Vinnie and Rex, along with a careful balance of crushing riffage vs catchiness, and dynamics vs consistency. Cowboys From Hell is an example of what happens when a strong album is delivered by people channeling these elements with all their might.
Cowboys From Hell, with all it's iconic songs, as well as attitude and energy, you would be doing yourself a disservice by missing out on this album. It's one of the earliest examples of groove metal and shows how the genre diverges from thrash more closely. It also popularized the genre, gaining significant traction at the time and allowing for Pantera to have a promising career ahead of them, as well as cementing them as an influential act in modern metal styles. Cowboys From Hell brings us an assortment of banging tunes, fierce grooves, and overall, a good time.
This is the first album in Pantera's discography that the band didn't try to deny the existence of. I could say the overall style on “Cowboys from Hell” pretty much sounds like “The Black Album” with some stripped down bay-area thrash influences as well as some speed-metal elements of their previous release thrown in there. The band's new found attempt at incorporating more extreme thrash elements into their previous speed-metal template results in some classics here and there, but also left some duds.
The production here is mildly heavy yet a little sterile, especially when compared to their later albums, as well as other much heavier groove metal albums. Dimebag's guitar tone is thick and trebly, but manages to never really be that heavy. Vinnie Paul's drumming may pick up the pace here and there with some thrash influenced drum patterns, but it never is that aggressive sounding. Rex Brown's bass guitar is audible but only if you listen closely enough. The production isn't inherently bad, it's certainly professional, but it sounds too clean and tame most of the time, especially for the aggression and heaviness they were trying to go for. It makes even the most aggressive of songs here sound malleable and nonthreatening.
Their patent groove metal style has yet to come into full fruition here. The only track that could really fit that bill is “Primal Concrete Sledge”, with its thick, bottom-heavy, syncopated power chord riffs and simplistic, chugging rhythms; foreshadowing what is to come on their upcoming releases. People who tend to hate Pantera's later albums as well as the groove metal genre in general, often love this one for its supposed thrash element. While present, the thrash ferocity only markedly shows its head on a small number of tracks such as “Domination” and “The Art of Shredding”, while other tracks only contain trace elements, such as the title track and “Heresy”. If anything most of this album sounds like a faster speed-metal version of what Metallica and Megadeth were doing in the 90's with the the “black album” and “Countdown to Extinction” respectively. The colorful nature of the album can also sometimes conjure a sound of their hair-metal days. Additionally, almost every song on this album follows a typical five minute verse-chorus format. Pantera's tendency of playing a cycle of most a song's entire riffs-set before the vocals even begin makes for a very predictable listen, leaving a lot to be desired. The strict and simplistic song structures make everything sound rigid, formulaic and almost pop-music like. This, in conjunction with the colorful nature of the music and production, the raw thrash elements are watered down significantly.
A few of the songs on the album never reach above the level of decent to just plain average; drawing inspiration from all sorts of areas that sometimes border on stylistic larceny. “Primal Concrete Sledge” is a pretty heavy track and sounds cool after a few listens, until you realize that it is pretty much a blatant rip-off of “Punk Rock Classic” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. During the verses, Dimebag and Rex simply chug away at their lowest strings as Vinnie aimlessly flails away at the double bass and toms, making the drum work sound more like some sort of South American jungle tribal stomp than something appropriate for a thrash metal song. As well, those awkward moans Phil inserts between verses and the nonsensical chorus and song name makes everything all the more painful to listen to. The riffs on “Heresy” and “Psycho Holiday” sound almost like Metallica riffs, (notably “Disposable Heroes”), minus the epic arrangements, and are watered down into straightforward galloping rhythms that repeat with little variation. At the end of the day, despite their flaws all three of these songs are still pretty decent and listenable, but far from great.
The biggest hit to the album's quality is the four song stretch of B-side fillers – “Clash with Reality”, “Medicine Man”, “Message in Blood”, and “The Sleep”. The riffs on these songs are dull, simplistic and repetitive, and they plod and saunter endlessly and go absolutely nowhere in the end. The biggest odd-ball of this all is definitely the sloppy “Clash with Reality”. I honestly have no idea what the band were trying to do when they made this song – it sounds like an odd, confused mixture of radio rock, pop, and half-thrash, and the band for the most part just sounds completely lost. I guess “Medicine Man” is a fun little number, but is too hard to take seriously with its goofy and light-hearted nature. The same thing can be said for “Message in Blood” and “The Sleep”; while these songs are fun and competent, they are certainly forgettable after a few listens. It is clear that the band were forced to scramble to stretch out an extra 20 minutes with these songs. I remember seeing an interview with Phil where he states that the other band members did not “appreciate” thrash metal, and gave them a cluster of records to pool influences from; including artists such as Exhorder, Rigor Mortis, Slayer, and Metallica. This lack of care and disingenuous attempt and trying their hand at a style they did not “respect” definitely shows in these tracks.
Despite all this, there is still a lot of greatness to be found here. The title track is an all time classic with its memorable shredding riffs, swirling rhythms, bluesy solo and infectiously catchy vocals and lyrics. “Domination” is a complete thrash monster with soaring machine gun riffage and a now legendary bridge section. “Cemetery Gates” is an excellent, multifaceted half-ballad with a stellar introductory section and powerful vocals and soloing. Of course you have the riff-dense thrash-fest “The Art of Shredding”, as well as the searing “Shattered” - which sounds a lot like Judas Priest's “Pain Killer”, with its screeching vocals and crystaline chainsaw guitar work. “The Will to Survive” is a song that was recorded during the album's studio sessions but didn't make the cut, which is a shame, because it is definitely one of the better songs. It has somewhat thrashy guitar work that will later be recycled on their next album, and has shreaking melodic vocals that sounds not too out of place on their “Power Metal” album. Dimebag's soloing is simply amazing on all of the songs, including the filler tracks. There is always an inherit tunefulness to his shredding, which is best heard on the title track as well as “Cemetery Gates”, “Domination” and “The Sleep”. He sometimes employs an acoustic guitar, such as the masterful “Cemetery Gates”.
The real show stealer here are the vocal acrobats of Phil Anselmo. Combining the gruff and masculine approach of James Hetfield, with the melodic range of NWOBHM legends like Rob Halford, Anselmo shows his strengths as a fast talking and high-strung front man looking for blood. His macho mad-lib lyrical style hasn't come full force yet, except for songs such as “Primal Concrete Sledge”, which to this day I still have no idea what it's about. Phil's lyrics aren't that far removed from the fun, party-happy vibes of the past, but sometimes tries his hand at some more conventional thrash tropes, such as the politically driven “Heresy”, or themes of murder on the song “Message in Blood”.
All in all, I mostly prefer the band's later offerings, as this sounds like a somewhat inconsistent bridge between their hair-metal debauchery days and their patent groove era. The album has some great classics, yet has many fillers as well. Pantera were much at better at trying to sound like Exhorder than they were Metallica or Van Halen.
The thing that chews people up about Pantera is that they clearly appealed to a lot of people and knew how to write great music, but that appeal was not met with consistency in producing music that rewards depthy listening. Those rhythmic riffs don't work well when considered from a purely musical point of view, while the physical nature of them can satisfy much more in a live setting, when drunk, or when only paying half attention. For me, 'Cowboys from Hell' represents the most difficult Pantera album of all in this respect, since there are many signs of a purer musical heritage on display, though those elements are mixed with some blander groove-oriented material. In fact, this is a pioneering album; however, the genre that it pioneered is much-maligned and has often failed to pass the test of musical quality on the grounds that it is too simple and flavourless. As such, my mood goes up and down like a yo-yo throughout the length of this album.
Let me start with the song 'Shattered'. Phil Anselmo is wailing at a ball-bustingly high pitch, Dimebag is sprinting through an edgy speed metal riff set, Rex Brown is groaning grumpily in a way that actually provides a lot of the song's momentum, and Vinnie Paul is keeping his arms hella busy too. The sound of this song is so classic, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that it was from 1980 instead of 1990, since it sounds like Judas Priest scrapping with Grave Digger or Running Wild over the tastiest scraps of the NWOBHM. Sure, it does sound like the sum of its influences, but when a song is awesome it makes you care less about its novelty, because the excitement makes it sound unpredictable. Nothing else on 'Cowboys from Hell' is quite that pure, but there are some awesome trad metal moments that stick pretty close to the aforementioned bands, while the presence of 80s thrash is less like a shadow than a big black dog snarling at the door. Songs like 'Clash with Reality' and 'Heresy' actually paved the way for bands like Overkill and Exodus to develop into groove thrash territories later in their careers, since the palm-muted guitars and stop-start riffs were not being used in the older template of Metallica and Anthrax until Pantera came along.
My enthusiasm for these updated thrashers is not too strong, since the two purposes of thrash were always speed and ferocity, both of which dwindle in this case, except on a song like 'Domination', which proves to be a close copy of some of the 'Master of Puppets' songs, specifically the main riff from 'Damage Inc.'. The thudding rhythms that break into that song dilute the rush of the faster sections, not melding with the adrenalized chassis of the song into a single vehicle of excitement and enjoyment, and thus making the styles feel separate and awkward. The same goes for some of Phil Anselmo's vocals, which are transitioning between classic high-pitch and tougher groove gruffness, although this facet of the album actually provides it with a fair bit of variety and unpredictability, as he often changes styles fairly quickly, providing an effect not a million miles from King Diamond's vocal work. Some of the purer groove songs like 'Message in Blood', 'The Sleep', and 'Heresy' (which blends thrash with a more stripped-down approach to chugging) lack momentum and spontaneity, except in their lead sections, which considerably up the quality of the songs in most places. Dimebag was a very spontaneous lead player and injects excitement every time he takes on the clearer lead tone, especially in the short fills of 'Medicine Man'. However, the sound sometimes feels thin with only one guitar, leaving a gaping hole behind the guitar with only Brown's quietly gurgling bass to fill it.
This brings us to the production and general sound of the album, which also caused Pantera problems on 'Vulgar Display of Power'. As a band with a single guitar, the bass must be accentuated more to fill up the bottom end of the sound, yet Brown isn't given the prominence to do so, relegated to a merely rhythmic role for much of the time. This means that the music sounds thin and dated at times, especially since Vinnie Paul's drums don't have a great dynamic range, but stay in one part of the sound. It's annoying, since some of the songs could have sounded more forceful with a better mix and warmer tone, but they stay at the door instead of kicking it down. As such, there are two disappointments that equally stunt my appreciation for this album. The first is the partial mixture of groove, thrash, and trad metal that sometimes ignites and sometimes is left smouldering gently. The second is the unfortunate sound quality that doesn't provide the album with its full power. As such, 'Cowboys from Hell' is worth listening to, but is too fractured and uneven to make it a true classic, not to mention the fact that it has aged worse than many of its influences. Decent, but no god.
When I began listening to metal music back in the day, Pantera was one of the first bands I discovered. Mainly thanks to the videogame DOOM, as some of the music tracks from the game were based on Pantera songs (such as E3M1, based on the song Mouth of War). I immediately fell in love with the band's explosive and aggressive musical style and to this day they still remain one of my absolute favorite bands.
Cowboys from Hell isn't Pantera's first album, but both the band members as well as the fans (me included) consider this Pantera's true debut. And it's easy to see why, Cowboys from Hell was Pantera's first album in which the band began to show off their true colors. Gone were the glam looks and pop metal music, and in came a sound that was more brutal and intense than anything the band had produced before. They exchanged Mötley Crüe and Twisted Sister for Slayer and Black Sabbath and the result is beyond awesome.
The album starts off with the title track and the epic, powerful opening guitar riff gives you a crystal clear hint of what the band has in store for you with this album. Pure, unadulterated metal with a groovy, catchy sound to it. Then the bass and drums kick in and you can't help but get sucked into the music. And when Phil yells "ah come on," the ice is completely broken and the thrashing fest begins!
As the album progresses, you can clearly feel this is the type of music Pantera has always wanted to make. You can hear the band's confidence flourish through the album. Phil's vocals are sung with conviction, Dimebag Darrell has the time of his life with his guitar and that combined with Rex's fast paced bass and Vinnie's intensive drumming gives the album a highly energetic feel.
Not all of the album's songs are fast paced thrashers though as some tracks, such as Psycho Holiday and the Sleep have a slower, deeper style to it with Darrell using more melodic and classical guitar styled solos instead of the more harsh riffs as in other tracks such as Domination or the album's title track. Phil's vocals are also different in these songs, as he sings more cleanly and higher pitched than in other songs from the album.
My personal favorite track for the album is without a doubt Cemetery Gates. Darrell's beautiful acoustic guitar opening (and let's not forget the solo in the middle part, definitely one of his best performances) combined with Phil's honest to god vocals about his personal grief for the loss of a dear friend and him struggling to move on with his life. It's easy to see why this song became one of Pantera's most famous. Another favorite of mine is the little known track The Sleep. A slow, dreamlike tune with an awesome guitar solo put in between.
The album's cover is nice but isn't as badass as those from Pantera's later albums. I would have suggested a picture of the band members in cowboy clothes standing beside each other and pointing their revolvers towards the camera. Other than the cover, there's nothing really negative for me to say about the album. Overall, Cowboys from Hell perfectly serves as an introduction to Pantera's music. It isn't their best or heaviest work, but this album certainly is well worth listening to even after all these years. Now go and enjoy the art of shredding!
After actually enjoying some White Zombie I thought I'd freshen up on some other groove metal bands and see if they had grown on me. These guys didn't, so sad considering they started the whole thing and have been a major influence on many other bands that I have loved.
From the first track, the title track Cowboys From Hell I gathered that this album would be mediocre at best. The song had a boring monotonous riff, the rhythm section was repetitive, the solo sounded like a Slayer rip off with Van Halen effects thrown in and the lyrics were basically all about being a big macho man, but it did groove and had a good sprinkling of force and power. Not really a bad song, but not really good either, just pure unadultered mediocrity. If all the songs had been like this it would have been an exact 50%.
The basic ideas of Cowboys From Hell are the same basic ideas for every other track. Keep a strong rhythmic groove going that someone can headbang to. Have Phil try to make the lyrics and singing as masculine as possible. Have a heavily screech reliant (and usually much needed) solo. Keep all these things up within a basic song structure (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse/solo, chorus)- and you have the basic format (and formula, yes it feels very formulaic) of Pantera. For the most part its just for mindless headbanging, not something designed to be flashy and intricate. Its basically bland and boring to listen to the whole album front to back, what's presented here are tracks best fit to stand alone through radio or shuffled playlists because if you listen to them all in a clump you'll get tired of most of them by the time you've finished track 2.
I guess there is also an element of disappointment. I think we've all heard the Dimebag hype. I hate to talk bad about the deceased, especially since from what I've heard he was a great guy but he doesn't live up to the hype here. He's expressed as this guitar god but most of his riffs here are midpaced and simple. The man has skills, but a god? Only because of untimely demise and openminded and open hearted spirit. Some of the riffs here are basically hitting one note over and over a again in an odd rhythmic way (like the main verse riffs of Cowboys From Hell and Primal Concrete Sledge). He is in love with his screeches, you will not hear a single solo on hear that is heavily dependent on them. He also loves to use them as intros (Cowboys From Hell, Heresy and The Art of Shredding) it makes for really weak intros but they're short enough to not do any substantial damage to the track. I guess he is the one who set the standards for groove metal, very rhythmic but not very melodic or technical, that is the best way to sum up his style,
Phil really tries to hammer you down with his tough guy lyrics but he also tries to prove it in how he sings. He's not always successful as he often seems like he's compensating, he has a good range (for now) though and is capable of laying down some good work, he just tries a little bit too hard to force it in. I'm sorry Phil you try a little too hard, focus a bit more on what's being delivered and less on how its delivered. Lyrical diversity would not hurt your band's scores at all.
The drummer plays fast but its simple. He keeps a beat going and that's about it, he keeps time for his buddies and provides a basic beat to keep it going (I'd say he uses his beats much the same way a rapper does, more of a way to get you hooked on it then anything else). The bass player was mixed out, what a shame because I hear he is the perfect match for Dimebag's style. Pantera's biggest strengths is that they are heavy, catchy (by repetition, not composition) and that the band members have excellent chemistry, they know exactly how to work with each other. I can see how this caught on, and I certainly don't have as much disdain for it as I once did, but it is disgustingly overrated.
Cemetery Gates, Medicine Man, Primal Concrete Sledge (that one grew on me a lot) and The Art of Shredding were all worthy songs. Most of the rest is stuff I wouldn't actively pursue for a listen, I might listen to them if they come up on Pandora station but I'm as likely to skip them. There also a few songs I won't give another chance beyond this; Shattered, Heresy and The Sleep to be specific.
Pantera, few bands in all of music have people as divided in their opinions like Pantera. For those who don't know, Pantera is a metal band formed in Arlington Texas in 1982. They started out life as a hair metal band *shivers*. Those were dark days for Pantera, so dark that Pantera disowned them. Their first 3 records are derivative boring copies of an already derivative and boring sub-genre. Then Phil Anselmo joined. His entering the band saved them. His influence in the fate of Pantera can't be understated. He didn't do much at first, as he was the new guy, but he did enough to make Pantera's 4th album, if not great, a serviceable album. Listen to the jump in quality between "I Am The Night" and "Power Metal", and the difference become quite clear. However, that album didn't show the true interest of Anselmo, and it is on this album that we get a picture of what he wanted for the band.
This album is basically Phil's proving grounds. His vision gave Pantera the make over they needed. Not to say the band wouldn't have gotten heavier, in fact the main reason Phil is even here is because the band wanted a more metal singer, but Phil took them to places they never would have on their own, and took them there faster. On this LP, they really become Cowboys From Hell (I'm not 100% what that actually means, but I think you get the picture). This is a band that is pure heavy fucking metal. No pop trends and radio friendly stuff here, this is METAL. Not that the guys were total wimps before, but it sure seems that Anselmo kicked them into pure ass kicking mode. This is his real importance, not that he is a poor singer or anything, but his ability to make the band heavy outweighs anything he can do as an artist or singer.
Along with Anselmo, the other man who really made this album is, of course, "Dimebag" Darrel. I am not one of the people (*cough*all Pantera super fans*cough*) who worship DImebag as a god, but he is a great guitarist. He isn't the Jimi Hendrix of metal, but he knew how to use his axe better than most guitarists even dream of doing. His riffs are among the catchiest and heaviest in all of metal without ever sounding try-hard. They never ever feel forced on this album, they seem very relaxed (in an angry metal kinda way) and natural. His solos are furious and textured, and a real treat. On Pantera's last releases, Dime often had, as Allmusic puts it, "Halen-isms" that often ruined his otherwise stellar playing. Here, he drops trying to mimic others, and makes his own signature sound, and with it creates a large part of the Pantera sound we've come to know and love.
I didn't mention it earlier, but the other thing Phil brought with him was a wide array of influences. His influences help this album have a much more varied sound to it, and experiment more. There are thrashers, ballads, and of course groove metal tunes abound. This is still a band that likes to stay with a comfortable sound, but here they do expand further than they would in the future.
All of Pantera's past lyrical themes are dropped here. This album is mostly about war or kicking ass, although songs like "Cemetery Gates" do get more personal and deep. This is a good thing, as it helps the lyrics avoid being cheesy and thus ruining the feel of the music. Phil doesn't have is drill sargent bark yet, but you can hear the authority in his voice. His singing is sharp and gruff, fitting in nicely with the badass attitude of the music. His voice also helps the songs sound angrier than they would, adding a punch they so desperately need. Don't expect this to be a deep and emotional album, as, aside from "Cemetery Gates", there isn't anything here that's exactly you tear up, and even that song gets most of it's emotion from Phil's delivery.
Also, I want to point out the rhythm section, made up by drummer Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex Brown. Vinnie does less work with his arms than he did on previous records, instead focusing largely on the bass drums. This may or may not be a sound you like, but it's essential to the Pantera equation. Until this album, Rex wasn't exactly audible. Now, with Pantera finally having good production, you can here his usually great bass parts. He usually stays behind the melody, playing parts that mostly spice up things while Dime drives the song. That makes it sound like he is unimportant, but quite to the contrary his parts are what really make these riffs as great as they are. Not that they were bad with just Dime, but Rex's counter melodies texture the riff and make them truly memorable.
For my money, this the essential Pantera album. Every album after this, they offer up the same music with less new ideas than before. Not that the following records were bad, but this is the only one I feel is really a "must have". That said, there are MANY Pantera die-hards that will take the other side of this argument, saying that Pantera redid the formula better and better each time, so it's really up for you to decide how you personally feel about that. But, one thing is for sure, we can all agree this is a great album, and one of the defining moments in 90's metal.
This album has been described and tagged in many ways, including groove, thrash, heavy, power-groove, thrash-groove, you name it. The problem with Pantera's post-80's output always was that it was quite difficult to put any of their work into one genre, because they've always included elements of different genres into their music, mostly groove and American heavy metal, sometimes thrash. THIS album is the one where they probably included the most elements into one record. It isn't their most experimental record (I'd give that title to The Great Southern Trendkill), but despite that it's still a one-of-a-kind LP that doesn't really compare to any other metal album that I have ever heard. And damn is it good!
One of the most standout moments in this album is Phil's vocal performance. You can hear a dose of Rob Halford worship in his falsettos, but at the same moment he isn't exactly trying to imitate anyone. When he's not delivering his amazing high's like in the outro of Cemetery Gates, he becomes a solid thrash vocalist in songs like The Art of Shredding and Domination, and other times he makes good use of more peaceful, yet atmospheric singing in the album's heavy ballads (Cemetery Gates and The Sleep). Overall, this albums is probably the best proof of the fact that Phil Anselmo (at one point) was one of the most powerful and unique vocalists in metal.
The other man to thank for making this album a masterpiece is the great Dimebag Darrell. Even though he has watered down his rhythm playing and isn't quite the same riff-machine like he was in the 80's, he still has created some of the most memorable and catchy riffs ever for this record. But where he truly reigns is his soloing, almost every song's lead section is completely genius. Each solo is packed with emotion and soul. You will probably get goose bumps more than once when listening to the solos on this album. Just because of the lead section, I can never get tired of songs like The Sleep, Domination, Cemetery Gates and Message in Blood.
The rest of the band keeps up with the former two as good as they are able to. Thanks to Pantera having a decent production for the first time in their career, we can now hear how interestingly Rex Brown swims beneath Dimebag's solos with his bass. He doesn't really have his own highlights on the album except for the beginning of The Art of Shredding, but at least his bass is perfectly audible. Vinnie Paul doesn't do as much fills as he did in the old times, but he has his moments none the less, notably his work with the bass drum.
When you compare the songwriting with the 80's output, the one here is less straightforward and has more experimenting throughout. The songs in general aren't as speedy as some of the 80's work, but it doesn't make them any worse. The songs are groovy as hell, often catchy, and sometimes thrashy. There is more variety than in the 80's, due to the already above-mentioned influences from numerous genres, even in the songs themselves, take for example Domination. It starts out as one of the more thrashy songs in the album, but when the solo section comes in and later the outro, it takes a breakdown not very unlike what you can hear in modern metalcore. If you have heard some of Pantera's 80's work and some of their 90's work, but not this album, then surprisingly, it is still quite difficult to explain to you how this album sounds, because it doesn't really sound like anything they've done before or after it.
I'm not going to take a quick review of each song on the album, but to make things easier, I will just point out the songs I didn't like on the album:
-Primal Concrete Sledge: the song is actually half-decent, in a way. It's got a nice attitude, but it's just too short and somehow directionless. I think it's safe to say that it is even a filler song - it's like a hardcore punk song in a solid metal album. It just doesn't fit.
-Psycho Holiday: I don't see the reason why this song was chosen to be made into a single, it is easily the most mediocre song on the album, not a single outstanding moment to be found, yet it is one of the most well known songs by the band. I can swear to God that the album would have been better if this song wasn't included in it.
There isn't much to say about the lyrical content here. The latter is quite average, with Cemetery Gates being perhaps the only song that hits you a bit stronger than an average metal song. But that may just be because of how well Phil delivers the song on the emotional side.
The production has vastly improved over the one we've heard in the 80's. The drums are loud and in a good way, the bass is perfectly audible, but the guitar is a bit muddy for some reason. This may lead to the rhythm guitar sounding a bit monotonous throughout the album.
What can be said in the conclusion? Cowboys from Hell is truly one hell of an album! Whether you are into traditional heavy metal in the likes of Judas Priest or more aggressive thrash metal, whether you enjoy music for the breathtaking lead guitar work, or you're into pure groove, I would still recommend this album for you. I am pretty sure that anyone who simply appreciates metal, regardless of its form, will find something for him/herself in this kick-ass piece of groove.
Cemetery Gates, The Sleep, The Art of Shredding, Message in Blood, Domination... damn, too many to name.
I'm not going to go on about Pantera's overall career path or the horrible influence they had on metal later on. Cowboys From Hell is a solid American heavy metal album from 1990 and if you liked 80's Megadeth and Metallica there was a good chance you found this album appealing when it came out. I emphasize that it was good for its time and setting in U.S. metal but this is not quite classic stuff. There are some thrash rhythms peppered in and about many songs but this is groove metal with a shadow of the glam metal sound they previously played. And I don't care what anyone says, Dimebag was an amazing heavy metal talent on guitar. Yeah, he's nothing special from a writing standpoint but you will never mistake his groove riffs or the energy levels for anyone else. I could pick many instances on this album to demonstrate this but I think I will use Psycho Holiday as the one. His construction of pure metallic verse riffs on this song are timed with style and virtuosity. This makes the solo sound remarkable when its introduced. What you're listening to is a guy who can command the speed of a transition at will where it seems almost improvised on the spot; it's just second nature to him. It's one reason why Dime never actually used to sit down and just practice playing.
I want to go on record and say that Rex Brown is an awesome bass player and it's a shame he never really got much attention on Cowboys From Hell(or any other album by them either). The reason for this is his style is un-showey and is not given to much complexity but his timing is rigorous and strict; never missing a beat. Domination is the best song and in no small part to him. He lays down subtechnical jazz rhythms that excel at being transient for Dime to move in and out of channel. When Dime's speed changes they flawlessly move into mini-solo mode. His bass playing is very perfect for this band. I've isolated Rex's bass tracks on this album and they sound like a hidden album within an album. You might want to check out the song Shattered for another grand demonstration of his ungodly precision underneath very fast riffs.
You can't go wrong with Primal Concrete Sledge. What an excellent groove metal song this is! It's mean and blunt all packed in and ready to do some headbanging trauma. What I admire about it is there is nothing "wasteful" about it. It's all going in one direction and doesn't wander about needlessly with any extra chords. Even the guitar solo sticks close to the brunt of the overall rhythm. The Art of Shredding is another sharp groove laden highlight. I know this song alone must have attracted many Overkill and old Anthrax fans Pantera's way. This is a song that dares to be New York thrash once it hits its stride. Very alluring indeed.
The two songs that I don't care for are Cemetery Gates and Message in Blood. While Gates was ok at first, I grew tired of it quick. Maybe I've heard it too much on the FM channel but it sounds like it was built too much as a single. The acoustic beginning doesn't sound that interesting. The first eight seconds of Message were extremely promising but then it succumbs to excessive variety of corrugated groove riffs and a solo that has Dimebag cramming too much wankery in a slowed down tempo. Maybe The Sleep could be another weak song but I actually think Phil's falsetto screams are standout. He by the way, is very impressive on the album as a whole.
Cowboys From Hell is not a sophisticated album but then again I don't exactly look for that in a heavy metal either. What I look for in something like this is dash and banging riffs. Pantera gets it done on their own terms. Forget the glam days, this is the record that they find themselves.
In years past, when I first started getting into the massive world known as heavy metal, I became a big fan of bands MegaDeth, Sepultura and Pantera. I still retain a heavy dose of enjoyment from these bands and their music, but in the case of Pantera, I have come to realize a few things. For one, too many fans are concentrated on deciding if "Vulgar Display of Power" or "Far Beyond Driven" deserves the crown of the band's best effort. The real champion of their later 90's works undoubtedly sits with "The Great Southern Trendkill," for reasons explained in that review. On the other side of the 90's decade, sits "Cowboys From Hell," the best album this band ever put forth.
After a good deal spent fighting their way to the top with a slew of glam rock releases in the 1980's, Pantera settled on a new sound. As described by some other reviewers, this album can be described as being power metal, groove metal, hybrid glam and hybrid thrash yet being none of these in itself. The minimalist speed metal makes itself present on a number of occasions, something that became increasingly hard to detect as time moved forward with this band. The fact that Dimebag Darrell (credited as Diamond Darrell here) continued to shred up a storm in an era when such things were disappearing is just icing on the cake for anyone into guitar performances.
Before getting onto the music, its absolutely necessary to point out Phil Anselmo. Hated by some and loved by others, Anselmo has always come off as ego driven which eventually became one of the reasons I disliked him on a personal level. His ego has usually outweighed his talents, but on this album I have a hard time holding that against him. Anselmo's incredible vocals on this album definitely bring to mind some of the operatic vocals of the NWOBHM movement a decade earlier, with Rob Halford a particular mention. While I do not hold a doctorate in power metal vocalists, I do know enough to say that Anselmo's performance here is more than respectable. With a voice like that, its one to wonder why he devolved into a tough guy bark on "Vulgar Display" and later quasi-death grunt echoes in an empty room on "Far Beyond Driven." At one time, I actually disliked Anselmo on this album, now I realize that was completely moronic on my part.
To speak of the music is to notice we have a good deal of variety here. Pantera definitely throws in some power metal attributes on the title track, an anthem of sorts that carried this band until their demise. The emphasis is placed on the guitars and anthemic chorus, two things I've always noticed is prevalent in power metal. Other songs of this nature would be the incredible "Cemetery Gates," which is at the top of the list in terms of guitar performance of Dimebag's entire career. Yet the majority of this album is consumed by hints of Metallica and speed metal worship, with Anselmo even cutting into some James Hetfield territory when things slow down. I do not count this as a bad thing, given that Pantera's filtering in some Metallica influence definitely works better than alot of Metallica worshippers I've heard. Songs of this caliber include "Primal Concrete Sledge," "Domination," "Clash With Reality," "Message In Blood," and "The Sleep," the last of which includes some intricate acoustics.
One song in particular I found interesting is "Medicine Man." It seems like a combination of a multitude of styles, which is exactly what this album embodies anyway. The slower sections seem to filter in doom metal, a genre of metal I'm always happy to hear, especially when its done right. Yet the song also cuts more into the mid-tempo groove Pantera would later become famous for, though there are enough changes to avoid becoming tedious. I enjoy hearing Anselmo's vocal shifts, moving between his usual high pitch and lower end spoken word parts that appear in the verses.
There is not a single reason why any Pantera fan should not recognize this as the band's crowning achievement. Its an interesting brew of a variety of styles, yet it does not exhibit any of those styles in and of itself. "Cowboys From Hell" also throws in the best performances most of the band members here have ever contributed to the medium of music. Dimebag Darrell set forth performances here that he would never overcome (or really even attempt to overcome) and the exact same could be said of Phil Anselmo. I often question why this band did not evolve further, carrying the sounds of this album to another level. In any event, this represents the best album Pantera ever put forth into recorded history, and is something power metal and even thrash metal fans might be interested in. It isn't either of those genres in their purest forms, nor is it close, yet there is enough of both to draw attention. "Cowboys From Hell" undoubtedly ranks as one of the best albums of the year 1990 and the greatest summit Pantera would ever achieve.
This is the album that represents the realization of one part of the Pantera evolution, as this album is a mix of the glam elements of their (hidden and forbidden) past and their "heavee as fuk" future.
To me, this is the best of their "major label" releases. I have little knowledge of their past other than a few tracks off "Power Metal" (which I enjoyed). I'll admit, what makes this album took a very long time for me to catch onto. When I first heard this record in 1990, I wrote it off as a watered down version of what I was already listening to and, while knowing of their glam past, wondered more about what direction they would go in from there.
It was, in fact, the direction they took forward that makes this album the stand out of their (known to all) catalogue.
Those of us who remember the 80's remember that glam was best summed up by the Poison singing "don't need nothin' but a good time." While there are some sonic elements that are reminiscent of their glam days (some drum fills here and there, the ending to "Shattered" and the 2nd main riff in "The Art Of Shredding" struck me instantly) perhaps the overriding "glam" aspect of this record is the fact that the boys set out to make a "fun" record. This album doesn't beat you between the eyes and, unlike later efforts, doesn't try to. This isn't groundbreaking stuff here by any means, just a fun record and an enjoyable listen.
Yes, there are some good, good tunes on here and there are some lesser lights as well. Personally, when I listen to this album, I skip "Medicine Man" and "Message In Blood" entirely while listening to "Primal Concrete Sledge" and "The Sleep" every single time for one simple reason. If you eliminate the two tracks I skip when I listen to this record, you have an album that flows as well as any record ever made by a metal band...to the point where some lesser songs end up sounding better as part of the whole than they do on their own.
Pantera really had an opportunity to carve itself a different kind of niche with its "power groove" sound, however chose to trade in much of this album's technicality and "good time" vibe in an attempt to be the "most baddest of the bad asses" on the block. While I won't reflect on that here, what I will offer in conclusion is that this album breaks no new ground and probably never really intended to, however this is just a fun and enjoyable album to listen to every so often and, yes, it is a shame they forgot about the "fun" part of their sound moving forward
Undisputably a very influental album, ”Cowboys From Hell” is often remembered as one of the foundations of groove metal, and thus, metalcore, and some criticize Pantera for popularising the style of metal that they claim to have started the modern metalcore trend, which is generally disliked by metalheads. However, Pantera influences can be found from rather surprising albums, such as Symphony X:s ”Paradise Lost”, where Michael Romeo's guitar rhythms are like a proggier version of Dimebag's, and Russel Allen sounds like an even more versatile Phil Anselmo. Similarities can be found from contemporary albums aswell, especially in the groove metal genre, but even albums such as ”Painkiller” by Judas Priest. It can be argued that ”Cowboys From Hell” started, or at least led, a new movement of metal in the 90s, which ended up influencing surprisingly many metal genres, as well as modern rock and post-grunge. Regardless, this album is a very controversial one among metalheads, which is strange considering how average and inoffensive it actually is.
Certainly a turn in musical direction, Pantera's near-legendary groove metal album is catchy, heavy and very riff-based, with Dimebag and his groovy rhythm riffs as well as solos astounding in how technical they are. Phil Anselmo's vocals, too, also of great technical ability, are an important part of this album's sound: ranging from sandpaper-throated fry-grunts to soaring falsetto (implementing Anselmo's huge vibrato) and the middle ground between these, a melodic type of half-growled shouting, Anselmo's aggressive style of singing is a definitive trademark of the sound Pantera is known for. The rest of the band assumes a much more minor role, but both the bassist and the drummer do play a role in defining the sound of ”Cowboys From Hell”. There is a prominent thrash metal influence here, or at least it's clear that Pantera derived their sound on ”Cowboys From Hell” from thrash metal to a noticeable extent, but Dimebag's guitar rhythms are by far more groovy than most thrash, and as a result, much simplier and possibly not quite as energetic, giving the album a funkish vibe at times. Using downtuned start-stop rhythm guitar riffs, the songs are mostly mid-paced, well-flowing pieces of constant head-nodding and foot tapping. However, while technically very impressive, Dimebag's leads and solos often fail to seem related enough to the rest of the music, making the so much acclaimed and praised shred moments seem rather disappointing. Since the music isn't as fast or energetic as thrash metal often is, the solos that utilize the mood and feeling of the songs, like in ”Cemetery Gates”, work much better than extremely fast shredding. Sadly, Dimebag was never the most emotional of guitarists, making most leads and solos appear either awkward or rather misplaced in their context. Each solo seems like a mandatory kind of thing that just had to be implemented due to Dimebag's phenomenal shred skills, not really caring whether it improves the song and elaborates its themes further or simply is there just for the sake of it – the solos often interrupt the songs and make them seem badly constructed, but thankfully, the flow is quite excellent as long as Dime sticks to his rhythm guitar riffs.
Certainly the grooviest and catchiest song on the album, ”Cowboys From Hell” invitingly opens the album. Abound in simple start-stop riffs and groovy rhythms, it's an excellent opener as it describes the overall mood and the attitude of the music: energetic, masculine and aggressive. ”Primal Concrete Sledge” implements even more aggressive and hardcore-influenced moods and influences, where as ”Cemetery Gates” is a much grander and more dramatic song, though it lacks much of the epicness that ballads require. ”Domination” features some of the best riffs on the album, and coincidentally (or not), it's the most thrashy song on the album. The album is full of different styles and moods, which brings some much needed variety to it. At times, the music is aggressive, volatile and very brash, and at others it's hard-rocking and almost laid-back in nature. Sadly, while there's potential for a very interesting listening experience on the album, the production causes everything to sound tame, docile and monotonous. While the production is tight and clean, the sound really lacks life and colour, making the music tedious and plodding even at its most energetic. The music itself never stoops to the level of uninspiredness that metalcore is known for, but it often sounds equally tedious – though not quite as watered-down, over-theatrical (or prententious) and bland – because of the weak production, simplicity and too much focus on Dimebag's guitars. The music does become fully insipid drivel at some points, like in ”The Sleep”, mostly due to riffs greatly lacking in taste, making this album not only rather boring in nature, but also quite inconsistent.
Though quite catchy and fun, the music doesn't really grab the listener's attention. It doesn't cause uncontrollable headbanging, nor is there enough emotion or atmosphere to make the music otherwise compelling or interesting enough. The album has a lot of potential, and the performances here are certainly those of very skillful musicians, Dimebag's in particular, but it hardly rises above the average metal album when it comes to artistic expression (unless expressing tough guy attitude counts, since that is pretty clearly elaborated here), or even merely good composing. Indeed, ”Cowboys From Hell” comes greatly short of being outstanding, let alone a masterpiece, but it's a fun album to listen to regardless for more open-minded fans of metal, as well as all fans of energetic and heavy kinds of music. A decent if a little inconsistent piece of metal that most fans of the genre should be able to enjoy, for those who are looking for something really catchy, aggressive, and particularly groovy in the rhythm section, ”Cowboys From Hell” is quite essential.
This album is currently in my personal list of the most hated metal albums ever. And why? Because it was absolutely essential to the creation of the so-called groove metal genre, which now, with metalcore, dominates today's metal scene. Nevertheless, Pantera still is a respectable name within the “true metal” community (other bands that play groove metal, like Machine Head, are often neglected within it), mainly thanks to the extraordinary talent of the guitar player Dimebag Darrel, who, as everyone know, died some years ago. “Cowboys from Hell” is generally considered as the pinnacle of Pantera's career. But, hey, is this album good? Is this album the classic that many say it is?
No, no, no.
This ISN'T good, goddamn. This is like Metallica's “Black Album” mixed with some thrash/power influences and the result is a very divergent and inconsistent record. Anyways, there are some redeeming factors here.Darrel's riffs are quite decent for those who like groovy rhytms and such.The drumming is also pretty good, Vinnie Paul is a very very competent drummer, sometimes overusing the double bass drums, but that's a minor issue after all. That vocalist is a problem though. Phil Anselmo had the potential to become a good (if not great) metal singer, if he used his falsetto a bit more instead of trying to sound like a very strong and tough guy. He is absoluteyl terrible when trying to sound aggressive. He sometimes even reminds of me of some hardcore/metalcore vocalist. Fuck.
Let's get to the songs now. They are divided into three categories: the good, the average and the weak. First: the good... “Domination” is the best song of the album. Headbangable, fast and featuring that vocals that, for once, fit the atmosphere, yeah! Its doomy outro is excellent too and so is the solo, which is accompanied by some tasteful bass lines. If I had to pick up some thrash songs out of “Cowboys from Hell”, I would pick this one. “Shattered” is also good, the chorus is catchy and it also features some very thrashy sections. Finally “Psycho Holyday” is good too, mainly thanks to the catchy chorus, that will remain in your head forever.
Now, the average. Meh, the tittle trak is a very overrated song, I really don't get why it is considered a classic. Ok chorus, mediocre riffs, awful vocals, meh... “The Art of Shredding” is a bit better, being relatively fast and carrying a nice sing-along chorus. “Cemetery Gates” could have been a much better ballad than it is... It begins quietly with some acoustic guitar lines, but when Anselmo's vocals kick in... Man, he tries to sound very emotional and all, but he ends up sounding like a fucking copy of Corey Taylor. Emotional vocals? Heartfelt vocals? My ass! Then, the song gets heavier with a crushing guitar riff that is another reason why I don't like the song. While the riff isn't that bad, it is repeated so fucking much that I get headaches everytime I hear it now. The highlight of the track is the falsetto scream of Anselmo, near the end of the song, great great scream. Have I already mentioned that he had potential to become a much better singer? Finally, “Heresy” is the last average tune, its intro riff probably is the best riff of the album. The problem is that that riff is the only thing that will remain in your head after hearing the song, all the rest is very forgettable and generic.
Meh, all the other songs I didn't mentioned are weak. “Primal Concrete Sledge” is the weakest though. Terrible terrible song. “Clash with Reality” is another aberration. All the rest is very bad too.
So, we have here a very weak record, very inconsistent and full of unnecessary fillers that you don't need to hear. Download “Domination”, “Shattered”, “Psycho Holyday”, “Cemetery Gates” and “Heresy” and there you go, that should have been the final tracklist of “Cowboys from Hell”. Absolutely NOT recommended, unless you like Machine Head and those bands. Ah, and another thing... THIS IS NOT THRASH, right?
One final word to the production, which is pretty good, since all the instruments are audible (the bass included) and powerful.
Best Moments of the CD:
-the beginning of “Domination”.
Being the band that essentially introduced me to metal, I’ll always have a soft spot for Pantera, plain and simple. And being the first metal album I purchased, I’ll always maintain a certain amount of nostalgia for Cowboys, as well, though I don’t think it’s Pantera’s best by any means.
In Pantera chronology, CfH is the latter half of the band’s “turning point,” which began with Power Metal. PM was progressively heavier than their previous independent glam releases and CfH stayed true to that form, with the band evolving into a harder, heavier sound, though not polishing it to perfection quite yet.
Among the (limited) negatives on this album, is that it is relatively simplistic at times and some of the tracks can seem repetitive. I don’t think it would be unfair to presume that there is more filler here than any other Pantera album; certainly there’s more than can be found on any of the next three. Among those “filler” tracks are “Clash With Reality,” “Medicine Man,” and “Message in Blood.” I don’t find either to be especially bad, but they certainly lack the same degree of originality that can be found elsewhere. “The Art of Shredding” is another less spectacular track, though I find it’s wild, winding groove riffs, especially the opening one, quite catchy.
“Shattered” and “Heresy” are, by Pantera standards anyway, purist thrash. “Heresy” I find less inventive, however, “Shattered,” is a very exciting, fast-paced piece.
“Primal Concrete Sledge” is an interesting deviation from the overall sound of the rest of the album. Though its purely a groove song, it’s a short (~2:00) two-part track that is isn’t really comparable to anything else on CfH and is largely unspectacular but for an interesting bridge between choruses.
Some of the stronger tracks include “Cowboys from Hell,” “Psycho Holiday,” and “The Sleep.” All three feature verses pronounced by characteristic Pantera walking riffs. “Psycho Holiday” and “The Sleep” stand out for their classic Dimebag solos, highly melodic interludes to the songs’ chord-driven main riffs. “Cowboys,” the band’s signature/most popular song (which I feel is unfair, as it doesn’t really represent the best of their work), is a very pure groove track, with an overlooked bass performance by Rex Brown backing Darrell’s riffs. The solo, though not nearly Darrell’s best makes the track, in addition to its overall energy, a la Phil’s “heavier,” less Halford-ish voals.
This brings me to what I pretty much consider the crown jewels of CfH, “Cemetery Gates,” and “Domination.” “Cemetery Gates” is a classic metal ballad that, while reflecting some glam characteristics, is sufficiently dark and heavy and features one of Darrell’s best solos. “Domination” may very well be the most intriguing track on the album; more than any other song on the album, (and, perhaps more than any song, by anyone, period) it is truly a “gateway” song with essentially equal elements of groove and thrash. It features a couple classic Darrell solos and is probably my favorite track, lyrically, closely followed by “Cemetery Gates.”
All in all, this is not Pantera’s best album but it’s intriguing, indeed vitally so, as a firsthand presentation of the band’s transformation and the forging of the groove subgenre as a whole. There is something everyone can get a kick out of on this seminal post-thrash album.
Pantera is one of my favorite bands and one of the few bands that delivers some awesome kick-ass metal (others are Megadeth, Sepultura etc.). I don't really understand why so many think they're bad or so, at least here the most seems to find them good at all. Anyway, I love Pantera and here's my review and my opinions. Read it or not, it's your choice...
Even though Pantera claims that "Cowboys From Hell" was their debut, I really think they should reconsider about using "Power Metal" as the official debut because it rocks. Anyway, it's not like that right now but at least we're sitting here with Pantera jewel number 2 and that's at least as great. The legendary opening "Cowboys From Hell" is a little swingy due to the awesome guitar riff by Mr. "Diamond" Darrel (which he still was here) and a really heavy backing support on bass and drums. "Primal Concrete Sledge" is a somewhat pretty strange song, the only thing I'm thinkin' of while hearing that one is "huh? what's this?". It's only a little longer than 2 minutes and really intensive. "Psycho Holiday", another "hit" that could be a headbanger's ball classic is powerful and it sure kick your ass to God's home called "heaven". "Heresy" goes through with it's thrasin' anger before it's time for the great classic "Cemetary Gates". This one starts off with a really beautiful acoustic intro for about 2 minutes when it suddenly goes into a heavy, awell as catchy, 5 minute long headbanger. "Domination", maybe a strange song at the first listenings but after you melt it down into your 3 braincells (you're a headbanger, right?) then you'll love it for eternity. The next 5 tracks are aggresive, heavy, swingin' and all but I don't have any special thoughts about these, they're all good and especially "Shattered" and "The Sleep". The final track, "The Art Of Shredding", is so cool. It starts off with some mid-tempo double bass drumming with a pumping bass to it before a really catchy guitar riff finally jumps into the whole thing aswell as Phil's awesome vocals.
The production, well, there's not much to say about it. It's one of most perfect, awesome and heavy produvtions I've heard. Everything's balanced and you clearly hear everything. It's not like the old mid-80's classic that sounds like a raw but pretty good rehearsal recording. They've succeeded when it comes to guitars. The guitar sound is really awesome, everything is but especially the guitars.
The cast is built on some of the greatest musicians the world has ever seen. "Diamond" or as I prefer, Dimebag, is phenomenal. A true genious and both his brother Vinnie and friend Rex on drums and bass respectively is really good. Phil is one of my all time favorite singers so I just give him 2 thumbs up and say "awesome job, Phil!".
So finally to my last comments on "Cowboys From Hell"...
This is one of the best albums ever, especially in the thrash history. Pantera is one of the best bands to have walked on this earth and now they're splitted up and Dimebag has left uss all tragicly but probably has a better time with all the other gods up in the heaven of rock 'n' roll!
I think you should check out this masterpiece, it's a very special album from a very special band. You can watch some videos by Pantera from this release at the net, you should be able to find "Cowboys From Hell" and "Psycho Holiday" immediately if you search on the on google or youtube.
The timeline of Pantera’s career very much resembles the visage of a grand mountain peak. From humble beginnings in the dregs of glam metal excess, the band began a steady climb of success, incorporating speed and power metal elements until they were a refined, respectable thrash metal unit. Then they began an equal and very opposite descent, incorporating more and more groove elements until they were a parody of their former selves. The summit of their career was Cowboys from Hell, a powerfully executed display of technique that is not only heavy as shit, but is surprisingly catchy from start to end. This would be their last great album, even though the band would like you to believe it’s only their first.
There’s quite a bit more groove on this album than I’d like to admit, but it’s perfectly infused between thrash riffs and the transitions flow quite naturally. I don’t care what anyone says, this thing absolutely rules. There’s some bona fide thrashers on here in the form of “Heresy,” “Shattered,” and “Domination.” If Dimebag Darrell’s guitar playing was not revered up until this point, it certainly was from here on out. The lead work is monstrous, more technical and more melodically-enlightened than anything he had done or would go on to do. And though solos are his true craft, the riff work suffers not. Check out the sweet opener/chorus riff to “Message in Blood” for example. Rex Brown is still relevant on this album (and his bass tone rules, most readily apparent when there‘s no overdubbed rhythm track under the solos, a classic Pantera maneuver.) while Vinnie Paul acts as a crushing and dynamic pacemaker, really mixing it up on this album more than usual. The band is clearly at their instrumental peak and it serves this album well.
I hate to admit it, but the star of the show here is the generally loathsome Phil Anselmo. Having been initially introduced to the band through Vulgar Display and Far Beyond Driven, I was under the impression that Phil was attempting his best death growl parody while choking on a big meaty cheeseburger. Little did I know he used to wail with the best of them and had managed to completely destroy his voice by the early 90’s. Holy shit though. On here, he still has that bastardly tone he possesses on all their future albums, but is capable of actual singing, as well as some very 80’s metal wailing. He almost sounds like fucking Halford at moments in “Shattered” while his performance on this album’s power ballad masterpiece “Cemetary Gates” is awe-inspiring. Just listen to that pre-chorus and try and tell me that guy couldn’t sing. “The Sleep” is a really good example too.
Okay, so this isn’t purist thrash metal (“Primal Concrete Sledge” is pretty nauseating), but for what it is, it’s really, really fucking good. I guess their bravado comes off a little strong at first, as opposed to their glam-ish albums, but if you can get past it, there’s some magnificent songs here, as well as great vocals, wicked solos, and hell, even some cool lyrics.
Highlights: Everything but “Primal Concrete Sledge”
This is Pantera’s fifth album, and not their debut which the band used to claim. In this album, they had completely ditched their glam metal past, and went on to a more aggressive style of metal. This style would later be known as groove metal. There’s plenty of thrash here to go around, particularly Heresy, Domination, and especially Shattered. Most of the other songs use a much slower and groovier version of the genre. That said, Phil Anselmo is still using falsetto vocals for this album, but uses them a lot less often then he did in Power Metal, as he is mainly using more aggressive vocals this time. However, his voice would go to shit on their next album. In terms of heaviness, they were certainly at their peak. The drumming is pretty fast and intense, and Dimebag shreds like crazy on this album.
The title track, Cowboys From Hell, starts off with a nice groovy riff that’s bound to get you head banging, or at least tapping your foot. Phil sounds a lot more aggressive here. Dime really starts to shred towards the 2:30 mark with a cool solo. This is one of the better tracks on here. 10/10
Primal Concrete Sledge is mainly a drumming based track, and it’s very aggressive. The drums are fast as shit. That’s pretty much the highlight of this song. Phil and Dime also give a pretty nice performance in this song. However, it’s a little too short as it only last about two minutes. It’s still awesome though. 9/10
Psycho Holiday is one of my favorite songs on here. The guitar work is pretty catchy and has a nice groove to it that’s bound to get stuck in your head after a few listens. Phil sounds cool on this song as well. I especially like when he wails out the chorus. “I’m on a Psycho Holidaaaaay!” That’s cool as shit. The drumming stays consistent too. The solo is pretty cool as well. This song rules! 10/10
Heresy is one of the more thrashier songs on this album, and that proves to be obvious the second you listen to it. It starts off with one hell of a riff that you have o headbang too. Then drumming is pretty aggressive and fast and adds to the song. Phil sounds awesome in this song, especially when he shrieks out the chorus. “Heresyyyyy!” He manages to stay aggressive vocally. The song really gets good though at the 3:30 mark when the riffs and drumming speed up. This song is heavy as shit! 10/10
Cemetery Gates is the only ballad on this song, and it’s the best ballad they’ve done, in my opinion. It’s very emotionally driven, yet still manages to stay heavy in it’s own right. It’s got riffs considering that it’s a ballad. I find it kinda ironic that made this song, considering that it’s about missing someone who passed away and died. Ironically, that person would be Dimebag Darrel himself. Though this is probably very obvious, it’s ironic, because he wouldn’t have been murdered until about 15 years later. Anyway, this song has a nice solo towards the five minute mark that adds to the atmosphere to this song. My favorite part of the song, though, is when Phil wails out “Gaaaaaaates”! I could sing along right to that, and I sometimes do. Awesome song! 10/10
Both Domination and Shattered are heavy thrashers that kick the shit out of anything they would do on their later albums. They have the riffs, drumming, and overall aggressiveness that your typical thrash metal song has. Shattered, in particular, is very fast and Phil is certainly at his peak here vocally. His vocals are almost godly in this song. His singing alone would make the song, but add one awesome solo from Dimebag, and you get one monster of a song. Both of these songs get a 10/10.
Clash With Reality is another groovy thrash song. Phil’s vocals on this song are awesome, he mainly uses his falsetto vocals here. The riffs are pretty heavy as well. The song kinda drags a little though. It’s still good though. 9/10
Medicine Man, Message In Blood, and The Sleep are all decent groove metal songs. They lag a little, and get pretty boring after a while, but they still piss on most of the stuff they would do later. Dimebag gives out a nice performance in all of these songs, which save them a little. All three of these songs get an 8/10.
The Art Of Shredding is a cool song that‘s about shredding. Dimebag does just that in this song, as the riffs are heavy, and there’s a bit of a variety of different riffs in this song, and the solo is cool too. The guitar work in this song is just purely awesome. Phil gives out a nice performance as well. 9/10
Overall, this album is heavy as well as aggressive. However, it was this album that would push Pantera even further into the mainstream, and therefore would encourage them to stick to trends.
Their next album isn’t half as good as this one, and it would go to show that being “tough” and “badass” is more important to them then the music itself.
This album is a degenerative piece of crap. It’s difficult to see what people see in this garbage. The only thing they accomplish is fulfilling every metal cliché immediately available. Perhaps that’s the reason why it has such an enduring popularity. The only reason this album exists is just to please a bunch of butt-rocking head bangers who care about nothing, except for beer and well, banging their heads against the wall. There is enough crap on this album to lower one’s intelligence in such a manner. Repetitive song structures, laughable attempts at riffs and a pretentious macho guy attitude to boot is why this album sucks.
One aspect that makes this album so worthless is those lousy riffs. Of course, there is a variety of crummy riffs, they come in all shapes in sizes. There’s blunt groove riffs that try to stress how heavy they are, and that’s about it. Some of them are those tremendously irritating stop-go that surely must have inspired mall core bands to come. Just observe certain riffs; all of them contain their share of pathetic groove laden riffs with syncopated strumming on the top two strings and the frequent flowery melodic relief. The only exceptions are the following songs: “Heresy”, which is basically a collection of stolen Metallica riffs; “Cemetery Gates“, which is a laughable display of emotion; “Shattered“, which isn‘t too bad. Although they do contain a viable sense of melody, it is far from being well articulated. The melodies are put together like a pop album, they are mainly displayed as lead melodies for the sake of catching someone’s attention, and to get them hooked. And with catchy riffs like these, any moron will be instantly attracted.
The worst crime here however, is the embarrassingly redundant song construction. Every single song is cyclical and utterly predictable beyond measure. One can even conclude that every song is composed exactly the same. They begin with some lame, unnecessary intro which then leads to the verse riff. The verse riff is repeated a certain number of times, which is then followed by a pre-chorus of some kind. If there is no pre-chorus, then it will lead directly to the chorus. The pattern is repeated, followed by a bridge decorated with an admittedly brilliant Dimebag guitar solo. Once Dimebag is done flashing his skills, the aforementioned pattern is repeated one last time. Every single song is outright predictable, one could literally sit there and guess what paths the song will take, and chances are, they will be correct most of the time.
Pantera does nothing special here, they only prove that you don’t need to be an eloquent composer to impress a crowd of metal heads. There is nothing truly impressive about this, save for of course Dimebag’s solos. On a side note, the macho man attitude is just so hysterically nonthreatening. This album almost deliberately degenerates into a pop album with metal riffs.
Pantera was one of those bands that just were never in the right place at the right time. They had all the ability to break out into the 80s metal scene and challenge most of the others, but for some reason their music just didn’t seem to take. Under such circumstances, it is quite natural that after 7 years of fighting to get a head in the glam scene, the band would want to take a different road. What “Cowboys from Hell” represents is an affirmation of the overall spirit of metal, but with a good deal more aggression than their last album, but still the same signature solos and over-the-top vocal acrobatics.
The primary distinction between this album and “Power Metal” is the lyrical subject matter, which has more to do with the darker side of life rather than the cliché 80s party hearty approach that dominated their previous efforts. In addition, although he has continued to belt out the high notes, Phil Anselmo is now incorporating the rougher low range associated with the thrash genre. Think of a combination between Rob Halford and James Hetfield, both sides of the coin complementing each other rather than fighting each other.
Although the riffs on this album are a bit heavier, there are a lot of similarities in the guitar work on here with that of “Power Metal”. We have a strong collection of mid-tempo rockers, combined with an increased number of speed metal tracks. However, as some bands were starting to shy away from the shredding that had dominated the threshold of the 80s, Diamond Darrel was still tearing it up with the best of them, and exploring the various unconventional approaches to guitar effects first pioneered by his inspiration Eddie Van Halen.
We kick of this masterpiece with the title track, and right away we can tell something is different by the weird guitar intro (it almost sounds like a train), followed by a much heavier set of riffs than heard previously. This track tends mostly towards the more mid-tempo feel, but is loaded with power and amazing guitar work. “Primal Concrete Sledge” is pure thrash in the mold of acts like Overkill and early MegaDeth, loaded with fast drum work and heavily minimalist riffs. “Psycho Holiday” is a more groove oriented thrash in the mold of “Jump in the Fire”, but loaded with some rather rapid changes in feel, and an army of contrasting riffs. The solo on this one probably bears the most similarity to a thrash solo in the Mustaine/Friedman vain, though painted with the occasional Van Halen inspired screech.
“Heresy” has another interesting Van Halen inspired intro, although what follows is pretty much Metallica inspired thrash. One thing I can say for these guys, when they do their Metallica worship, it works a lot better than when all the others do it. “Cemetery Gates” is one of the highlights of this album, combining together a very dreary acoustic section with a set of heavy riffs. This song gets my pick for best lead guitar/guitar solo work, and my second pick for vocal performance. “Domination” is more up tempo thrash with some straight-forward riffs, though a bit heavier. The Metallica worship is starting to get a bit obvious at this point, although as it is still being done well I’m not complaining.
“Shattered” is another highlight of this album, in this case for the extremely intricate vocal performance on the part of Phil Anselmo. Sometimes it reminds me of “Painkiller”, at others it reminds me of “Trapped Under Ice, but in both cases it cooks relentlessly. “Clash with Reality” is another thrash classic with some extremely aggressive guitar and drum pounding, and more Halford worship as only Anselmo can do it. “Medicine Man” is another quasi-groove oriented rocker with some Doom inspired spoken narrations before launching into more amazing banshee wails. Another series of great guitar solos in this one, showcasing how non-contradictory the Van Halen approach to shredding is with the groove variety of thrash.
“Message in Blood” has some great contrasting quiet and loud sections, thought a bit less gloomy, yet vile sounding than “Cemetery Gates”. Another great guitar solo here, loaded with amazing pentatonic licks and some neat feedback and harmonization effects. “The Sleep” has a nice classical guitar intro to it, though it ultimately ends up being another mid-tempo Metallica homage. We then close this magnum opus with the riff driven and change-up happy, “The Art of Shredding”. The tempo is ratcheted up again in many parts of this song, after a set of slower tracks, as the drums have become a main focus yet again. Darrel has put some really great effects on his guitar, as this solo is amazingly agitated yet simultaneously beautiful.
There is ultimately only one drawback to this album, and that is that it didn’t function as the influential piece of art that it was, but was instead a transitional album into a dark time for music. Ultimately only one song off this album would be treated as something worthy of emulating, and that is “Psycho Holiday”. Although a great song, it alone can not do justice to the amazing genre that spawned it, and ultimately would lead to its exile from the mainstream. Even sadder still, Phil Anselmo decided to dumb his vocal style down to mere death grunts, rather than continue working with his versatile range to challenge the musical mediocrity that was fast approaching.
In conclusion, this album is a brilliant hybrid of thrash and power, from start to finish. Fans of thrash and power metal alike will find plenty of head-banging good music to latch onto. Perhaps in time, this album may become the inspirational collection of songs that will help bring thrash back from the gutter here in the States, after the right set of musicians decide to start emulating it. I proudly give it my full endorsement and state without any hesitation that it is the greatest album ever to be put out by this band, and one of the 5 greatest albums of 1990.
“So out of the darkness and into the light”, A lyric taken from the powerhouse opening song, perfectly sums up this whole album.
After four glam-rock albums, although “Power Metal” had some transition elements, something as heavy as “Cowboys from Hell” was highly improbable. Driven by the rhythm section of Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul, and, of course, Diamond Darrell’s (as he was known then) powerful and forceful riffing. Phil Anselmo provides his best vocal performance with the band. Instead of simply grunting or barking the lyrics, he shows off his vocal talents and I must say he is talented. The music is groovy and thrashy, without falling prey to just sounding like any other band which helps this album stand out from the rest.
Also the incredible production of Terry Date is worth mention. He makes the whole thing feel tight, without feeling smothered.
The album starts off with a bang, with the now metal classic, title track “Cowboys from Hell”. “Cowboys from Hell” contains one of the most instantly recognizable riffs ever made, and is hands down the best track on the album.
“Primal Concrete Sledge” follows and is seems to be a showcase for Vinnie Paul’s drumming skills, but also contains one of the best solos on the album. “Psycho Holiday” comes next, which it is my favorite song on the album, has one of the grooviest feels of the whole album.
After “Heresy” and “Cemetery Gates” the album starts to sound bland. Truth be told, the first half really carries this whole album. While the songwriting is solid throughout some of the songs fall suspect to sounding like the one before it and after it. The last track “The Art of Shredding” is a perfect way to the album, showing off the awe-inspiring guitar prowess of Diamond Darrell.
“Cowboys from Hell” is arguably the best thing Pantera ever put to record. This is the band at their songwriting peak, before any rifts or drugs got in the way of the music.
This is Pantera’s breakthrough into the big time and if you could only have one Pantera album this is the one to get.
Pantera grew out of their glam rock origins to form the "power groove" sound they named for themselves. This record set the mark and really propelled this band to great heights.
The music itself still has hints of power metal in it. The vocals have a lot of high pitch falsetto screams and the guitar solos are very flashy, but you could tell these guys were on to something. The riffing on this record is too badass and the drumming is also pretty intense. The vocals are ripe with emotion and attitude as Phil Anselmo was making a name for himself as was "Diamond" Darrell as he was called at the time.
"Cowboys from Hell", the title track which is now a metal classic starts this record off in prime fashion. That legendary opening riff along with Anselmo's "Come on!" gets the heads banging real quick. The best part of this song though is from the solo on. Dime shreds with vicious accuracy and surgical precision before the band gets into a sick riff with harmonics flying all over the place, only to finish with a chorus and to come back to the sae sick riff. This song is a landmark and the delivery is flawless.
"Primal Concrete Sledge" is a very drum oriented track that has a solid feel to it, a good song. "Psycho Holiday" is full of attitude and has a very long but amazing solo section that kicks into high gear and the song ends with some really heavy riffing, another solid number. "Heresy" is arguably the most power metal song on here, with Anselmo belting out the title in almost Halford fashion during the chorus. On to two other classics.
"Cemetery Gates" has a great acoustic intro and some very nice melodic vocals from Anselmo. The song kicks into high gear during the pre-chorus and the chorus with some more kickass riffing from Dime and a solid foundation layed by Vinnie Paul and Rex. Another standout guitar solo, very much in the guitar hero vein. The end is rather intense with the vocals and guitar competing for who gewts the biggest wail, I'll give it to Dime. "Domination" is probably the heaviest song on the record, this one would've belonged on VDOP and probably done well. The start/stop riffing is very cool and the chords are very powerful. This song though is best known for it's ending. First of all Darrell gives what is probably the best solo on the record, followed by a gargantuan breakdown that is so heavy it hurts. The song ends on a slow chugging note and leaves the listener gasping for air.
The rest of the album is also very solid, "Shattered" is a fast paced ripper of a song, "Clashy with Reality" has some groovy riffing and a very catchy chorus, "Medicine Man" is another song in the power metal vein with some very cool instrumental bits. "Message in Blood" is a slow creeper with a lot of time changes, "The Sleep" is a pretty long track with some eerie acoustic guitar and a slow delivery on the vocal front. The album closer "The Art of Shredding" gives us a final kick in the face with intensity filled verses and a steamroller of a chorus that ends things in style.
As far as the songwriting goes this is Pantera at their best. The songs are well crafted and the riffs are simply awesome. I think this album also catches Dime at his peak. There are so many stellar guitar moments on this record it's hard to keep track. This was their breakthrough record and there's no denying the logic behind this fact.
Now sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about a quartet of Texas bad-asses shed their makeup and perms and decided to throw down head-crushing style, my friends. What! You don’t associate makeup and perms with these here gun slingin' whiskey drinkin’ noise makin’ boys with that there stuff. Well wise up, kids, because previously to reinventing themselves as seriously riff-tastic maniacs, Pantera did the whole glam metal look thing, and managed to turn in no less than 4 (yes, four!) full length albums before converting to the thrash cum hardcore style they’d make their beer soaked names in.
And who could blame them? None of those first four Pantera albums are worth all that much musically, only one featured signature vocalist Phil Anselmo, and the music they were to forge thereafter was really and truly innovative, ludicrously powerful and often lyrically acerbic. And Cowboys From Hell was the first warning shot in this equation, and the shot was indeed heard round the world (well, at least the metal world that is).
The ingredients here that matter are as follows. Dimebag (Diamond at the time, but we’ll excuse that early nom de plume) Darrell Abbot was in possession of a jam-packed arsenal of guitar ammunition, not the least of which being his thrash metal style compressed riffing and hi fluid but super thick soloing tone. Backed by tight as a duck’s butt drummer Vinnie Paul and bassist of doom Rex Brown, the band conjured up riff driven grooves that are truly an ugly beast to behold (and hear, for that matter). Vocalist Phil Anselmo brought a grit and roar to this sound that while not approaching the underground shriek/growl of death metal, did borrow from it, and his venom would continue to fester noxiously over the band’s music going forward.
Another nice thing! The band could actually forge their combined strengths into memorable songs, some actually becoming among the best (don’t laugh kid, I’ll sick Vinnie on yer ass) ever penned in this metal age. Doubt me? Okay wise-ass just try and get the riffs and hooks of the title track to this here opus out of your head after one hearing. The same goes for the double bass-thunder of “Primal Concrete Sledge” and “Domination,” both of which accomplish what so many longer standing acts had failed to do; bring the authentic sound of the metal underground to mainstream ears. Somehow the combination of visceral force and tuneful riffs made lettermen and jocks across the nation love this band, as did the metal-heads, causing the band massive loss of street cred from the underground and major influx of cash from everywhere else.
A bunch of the other tracks can kinda run together, but the killer riff count is still a thing to marvel at, especially where “Message In Blood” and “The Art Of Shredding” is concerned. But on the whole, the real triumph here is the ballad (well, kind a ballad, I guess) “Cemetery Gates,” which not only reveals the depth of the band’s song writing, displays the diversity of Anselmo’s voice, it contains some of Darrell’s most inventive, memorable and downright mind blowing axe work ever. From riff to solo to general flourishes, this one is a guitar worshippers altar, man.
The album was produced with no lack of tact by Terry Date, who produces the thing with maximum compression. That means the bass drums are as in your face as the slammin’ guitar riffs, and the bass (usually lost like a set ‘o car keys in metal production jobs) is right up front as well. No complaints here, as this sort of sound is perfect for this type of no frills riff delivery system. And so friends, my advice is to skip the first four Pantera novellas (not like you’ll be able to find ‘em anyway) and hop the train here. And believe me, the ride is only going to get much bumpier from here, as Pantera continue to slither closer and closer to the death metal frontier, dragging many a mainstream here along with them. And bless them for it.
Pantera's "debut" album, is one step up in heaviness from their previous effort, Power Metal. To me, this is also the best thing they've ever released. While Power Metal was very competent, this is raising the bar much further and has a more professional polish to the songs. It's more or less a slightly groovy speed/thrash metal album for the most part. The Exhorder comparisons and ripping off have been really analysed to death in reviews of this period of Pantera's career so all I shall say is that the similarities are indeed there and very prominently shown, but that doesn't change the fact that this is one focused and hard hitting album.
It needs no time to warm itself up and goes straight for it in typical metal fashion, with what could be considered their "flag tune", the title track. It's got the tough attitude, the staple southern sound and all the aggression that you can squeeze into four minutes. Classic. It then speeds up with "Primal Concrete Sledge", a short but menacing tune that holds you firmly down to your seat. "Pyscho Holiday" is a slower, more considered and stretched out song, while "Heresy" does just the opposite and thrashes away with its infuriated riffs. I must mention Diamond Darrell's excellent leads in the former song. "Cemetery Gates" is a semi ballad of sorts, and is a longer song with many different parts to it and a generally mournful and sombre atmosphere. I'd say this is the most unusual song here, but has a fantastic feel. It's definitely the highlight of the album. Back to the all out thrash with "Domination", mimicking the "Heresy" formula and keeping up the quality. It's the same with the next couple of tracks. They're ones that slip the memory the most, but manage to retain something and keep the album going.
Before "Medicine Man" brings us back to the "Psycho Holiday" feel again, with the emphasis this time on a darker and mystic mood. It's continued with the furiously charged "Message In Blood" with the foreboding, doomful verses and the incredible riff that holds that all together. "The Sleep" continues onward with a sort of more a ballady feel, but in the sort of way "Cemetery Gates" dug into a deep gloomy hole. "The Art of Shredding" closes better than I'd fear at this point, it's a monster thrasher with ripping energy and an offbeat structure.
This is far more consistent than the two albums that come after it, and the good songs come thick and fast. The mid paced and slower songs mingle well with the fast thrashing numbers. It's a shame they never retained the same standard again, but there are many great moments still present in the Pantera catalogue.