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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.