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Review

Pantera – Cowboys From Hell 30th Anniversary Review

Band: Pantera
Album: Cowboys From Hell
Label: Atco Records
Genre: Thrash Metal, Groove Metal
Country: U.S.
Release Date: July 24, 1990

The 90’s are often maligned as a decade in which metal in the mainstream was at maybe its lowest point. The underground was constantly innovating with the rising popularity of Death Metal and the introduction of 2nd wave Black Metal, however, Grunge and Nu Metal had more or less killed the metal mainstream, with even some of the biggest bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth releasing albums with a more commercial sound. This gap in quality mainstream metal allowed for a little band from Texas to come onto the scene and take the world by storm. 

Often mistaken for their debut, Pantera had released 4 albums during the 80’s. “Cowboys From Hell” marked the band’s first release on a major label with a new sound that incorporated the heaviness on thrash with the guitar skills of hair metal and NWOBHM, while adding a groove that was almost unheard of in metal up to this point. The album was released in 1990 and opened the decade with an album that proved to many people that Pantera was here to take over the metal scene with an all out assault that could simultaneously capture the mainstream while pleasing the most diehard metal elitist. 

There are very few albums that can be cited as creating a new sound, but “Cowboys from Hell” is firmly in this category. From the opening riff of the title track (you know the one), the listener can immediately see that they are in for something new. While Pantera’s biggest innovations and influence may come more from later albums like “Vulgar Display of Power” and “Far Beyond Driven”, this was the album that put them on the map. Despite not yet fully leaving their hair metal influences behind at this point (note Phil’s falsetto that appears all over this album), there is an uncompromising heaviness and aggression combined with song structures that almost feel designed for the radio that would prove to be a precursor to the direction that heavy music was headed throughout the decade, with even some of the bands that Pantera has cited as influences adopting this sound. Direct lines can be drawn from Pantera to the advent of Groove Metal and the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, and you can even see the influence on Nu Metal, for better or for worse. 

“Cowboys from Hell”, boasts hot after hit and sees a band come on to the scene with a chip on their shoulder and ready to show the world that they are not a band to ignore. Phil Anselmo’s vocals are dynamic and throat shredding, the combined rhythm section of Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul Abbott create infectious songs that get heads banging and, perhaps the greatest gift that “Cowboys from Hell” gave the world was accessibility to the guitar god that is Dimebag Darrell Abbott. Among the most influential guitar players of all time, Dimebag displays some of the best guitar playing of his entire career on this album. Combining simple song structures with complex riffing and solos, Dimebag brought a new approach to the instrument that has been attempted by many but equalled by none. Pantera were able to write and perform with a unity that is often seen in the best albums of all time. At no point is this more apparent than on the song “Domination”, from the opening riff, to Phils vocals, to the breakdown, to the soloing, this song, like most others on this album, is evident of a band firing on all cylinders. 

Despite being among their best, this is probably not most people’s favorite Pantera album, but you would be hard pressed to find someone that says that this is not a classic. From the first song to the last, the album is flawless and is full of songs that fans still consider to be Pantera classics, like “Cemetery   Gates”, “The Art of Shredding” and many others. The album is not just simply influential, it created the Groove Metal subgenre and is directly responsible for crafting a sound that would become the norm for years to follow. “Cowboys from Hell” introduced the world to a band who would sit among the metal greats until the end of time and continues to prove to be one of the most influential albums ever made.

Tracklist:

  1. Cowboys From Hell
  2. Primal Concrete Sledge
  3. Psycho Holiday
  4. Heresy
  5. Cemetery Gates
  6. Domination
  7. Domination
  8. Shattered
  9. Clash With Reality
  10. Medicine Man
  11. Message in Blood
  12. The Sleep
  13. The Art of Shredding

Total Playing Time: 57:38

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