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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.