- Wed, 2010-09-15 14:45
Reissued this week on its 20th anniversary, Cowboys From Hell, though commonly regarded as Pantera’s first album by both fans and the band themselves, was in actual fact their fifth. Admittedly, it was their debut for a major label, but far more significant a reason for the primacy conveyed upon it is what it represents for the band stylistically.
Having come together as a glam metal band in 1981, originally by the name of Pantera’s Metal Magic, it wasn’t until Phil Anselmo took over vocal duties in 1987 that the band began to take a different direction. Combining elements of their original glam sound with those of the newly breaking thrash scene championed by Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth, they came up with a sound that has since been christened ‘groove metal’. Their subsequent album, Power Metal, was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t until the release of Cowboys From Hell in 1990 that the band’s vision was fully realised in a collection of songs that combined blistering riffs with compulsive rhythms in a groundbreaking fashion.
Diamond Darrell - as he was then still known - veers from brutally simplistic to lightning-fast riffs on tracks like Cowboys From Hell and Primal Concrete Sledge, also finding the energy to throw in breakneck solos like that of Domination. Behind him Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown form a killer combination, imbuing tracks like Heresy and Clash With Reality with an unstoppable momentum by dint of rhythms that alternate between astonishing complexity and the unblinkingly straightforward. Capping it all off are the phenomenal vocals of Phil Anselmo. Tracks like Shattered and Psycho Holiday see him go from a piercing Rob Halford wail to a James Hetfield growl, bringing together elements of both the old and new school of metal vocalist but dispensing with the campness of the former and resisting the uber-earnest tone of the latter. From start to finish the combination is ceaselessly inventive, particularly on the epic Cemetery Gates and the ominous Message In Blood, and the twelve tracks are as jaw-dropping today as they were 20 years ago.
Even without the two extra CDs - one live and one of demos - the re-mastered reissue of Cowboys From Hell is a must-have for anyone who loves heavy music. Though most fans would argue that Vulgar Display Of Power is Pantera’s magnum opus, Cowboys From Hell captures four musicians tearing apart and rewriting the metal rulebook in a shared musical vision that they realise with uncommon success. It heralded the arrival of one of the most important metal bands of an era, after whom nothing would be the same again.