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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.