“Cowboys From Hell” (Deluxe Edition) by Pantera

Artist: Pantera
Title: “Cowboys From Hell”
Label: Rhino Entertainment
Release Date: 9/14/2010
Genre: Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5

Continuing a year of interesting anniversary releases comes Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” which is celebrating its being first delivered some twenty years ago. It was an album that while arriving at the beginning of the Grunge Era was one that said “F You! We’re dishing out some Metal with this band so hold onto something”. The album was the groups major label debut and originally came to us on ATCO Records with their signing coming care of Mark Ross who witnessed them in action after being stranded in their region by a hurricane. In today’s Metal Republic there are few fans among us that have not heard this album nor been impacted by its level of power. It was truly a beacon to all fans and one that showed just how much life the true Heavy Metal sound still had in it despite what the conventional radio stations were pushing down our throats at the time. To celebrate the milestone those folks at Rhino Records have given us the 20th Anniversary Edition in a number of different formats and the one we are examining is the 3CD version. This particular one features the original remastered album, a CD of previously unreleased live material and a third CD of demo recordings. With each disc being special in its own right I have decided to break up my thoughts on each of them one at a time. Strap yourselves in for the ride as we shall begin with some thoughts about the bands debut.

“Cowboys From Hell” (remaster): My earliest recollections of “Cowboys From Hell” as an album come from hearing either the title track or the eventual staple of “Cemetery Gates” on WSOU which is a college radio station in my part of the USA. I admit to being a little foggy on the absolute specifics from those twenty years ago and feel that perhaps it was even an album side that they were showcasing and this was a station that every Metal head was tuning into back in the day (if they were able to receive the broadcast of course). Either way, I loved what I heard and ran down to the local CD shop and asked if they had a copy for me and they luckily had just had gotten one in. Once home this became a regularly played album because it was a killer and one that delivered solid and riveting Metal from beginning to end. As a musician as well I was left awestruck with what they were doing on the record and this also helped to inspire my own efforts of the time. Without looking too much into the actual tracks on the release based on there not being much more that I can add about an album of this kind, is how the music still sounds incredibly fresh and exciting to the ear. That is nothing short of impressive and while my own favorites fell to the expected tunes of “Cowboys”, “Cemetery Gates” and “Primal Concrete Sledge”, there really didn’t seem to be a lackluster track on the whole album. “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott’s guitar work was insane and his tone far different from what other players were doing at the time and under it all was this on point double bass drumming of his brother Vinnie Paul. The pair seemed always to be in sync and anticipating the others musical movements which made them a finely tooled machine without question. With Grunge being the format of the day, the vocalists were not the same kinds of individuals that we found in Pantera’s singer Phil Anselmo. They might have been droning their displeasure at society’s ills with depressing tone, but Anselmo challenged the world with rage and venom and you felt his anger as note after note went by and with some tunes you even felt levels of pain and anguish. Wrapping up the lineup would be of course Rex Brown who somehow managed to keep all of these others in place with thundering bass rhythms. I think one of the things that stands out most for me with “Cowboys From Hell” was not only how vital this was for the Metal scene at the time, but also how well it has held up over time. The remaster gets a little bit of a sonic overhaul and I had to say that I never felt that it needed one. To my ear there seems to be a little more brightness in the tracks even though they did the trick when it was released two decades ago.

“Live At Foundations Forum (1990) & “aLIVE and Hostile E.P.”: During my younger Metal years I had always read about the Foundations Forum in the Metal magazines of the day so that made it cool to hear a full live set of Pantera being done for such a convention. I know that this recording was supposed to be used for radio broadcast (after editing some of Anselmo’s colorful verbiage of course) and while I don’t know if it ever aired, I do know that it was never put into the hands of the fans (at least not legitimately). This had tape trader written all over it in my humble opinion since that was common practice back then. The set obviously focused on the “Cowboys From Hell” album and found the band tight and aggressive and showing that they were a take no prisoners kind of group. Clearly one would never leave a Pantera show unscathed by their overpowering Metal assault. Its seven tracks are sure to please all Metal fans. The live stuff continues with material from the bands “aLIVE and Hostile” EP, which saw limited release in the World and now perfectly compliment the bands “Cowboys” special edition. These five tracks do offer some duplication from the Foundations set but they were done a year later in terms of the bands life and seem to hail from a soundboard recording which gives the listener a different experience to enjoy. Each of these concert presentations are aggressive and get the blood pumping which is exactly what one would expect from a Pantera live show.

The Demos: The Will To Survive, Shattered, Cowboys From Hell, Heresy, Cemetery Gates, Psycho Holiday, Medicine Man, Message In Blood, Domination, The Sleep, The Art Of Shredding.

*** Depending on the band I will have to admit that I am not always all that keen on the presentation of a bands demo recordings. That viewpoint of course changes when we are talking about a critical release for a genre and an album as important to the form as we eventually all found “Cowboys From Hell” becoming. That being said it was interesting to hear the bands demos for the recorded work that has been a respected piece of Metal history since its 1990 release. The demos start off with the never before released track “The Will To Survive” and this was not at all the Pantera sound that many might be expecting or had come to know. With this tune the band sounds like they are adventuring into TNT or third album Yngwie Malmsteen territory based on the soaring high vocals of Phil and the often Neo-classical sound of the guitar playing that Dime was doing for it. It’s an interesting treat for the aural sensors without a doubt. It’s followed by ten of the twelve “CFH” tracks and these sounded like the albums pre-recordings more than musical work that was still actively being fleshed out for the eventual recording of the album. This view comes from my feeling that the tunes are not too different from the ones we would all come to know and love from the band on the album. Given that they are demos, there is a little more bottom to them as opposed to high end. The playing is of course sound and this is sure to appease the hardest core fans the most.

The packaging was nice for the special anniversary edition as well and the release comes in a tri-fold digipak holder which keeps all of the CD’s nicely in place and houses the booklet which I was happy to find included. The booklet speaks to all of the members of the band with the exception of Dime for obvious reasons and gives us their own thoughts about the recording when it was being done. Anselmo recants how he lived only a short distance from the studio where they were working on the release while Vinnie Paul remembers how when it was released that you could never find the material being played anywhere nor did the album even chart in Billboard Magazine. That is true and the album found more attention on the college Metal stations of the day more than WNEW and the like. We also hear a little bit from the man who signed them after seeing that show twenty years ago. I would have liked to see some archival interview text about the album from Dime being included but they did not choose to do that with the release. The sad absence of Dimebag Darrell views for this album is just one of those cruel twists of fate’s hand, but he lives on forever in our Metal hearts for the amazing music that he left us with and for the larger than life musician that he was to so many people. Clearly no one will ever forget Dimebag. This release is worth having for a number of reasons as you’ve just read and if you still have an old cassette version or original CD, maybe you should think about passing them onto one of those younger Metal fans to school them properly. Think about it.

Diehard collectors and the bands most rabid fans might want to shell out the additional bucks for the super premium edition of the album. It comes with these same three CD’s being discussed but also a specialized case, a number of posters, laminates and more. It’s pricy, but you know it’s worth it if you are in that level of fan of the bands seminal work.

Track Listing CD1:
1. Cowboys From Hell
2. Primal Concrete Sledge
3. Psycho Holiday
4. Heresy
5. Cemetery Gates
6. Domination
7. Shattered
8. Clash With Reality
9. Medicine Man
10. Message In Blood
11. The Sleep
12. The Art Of Shredding

Track Listing CD2:
1. Domination (live)
2. Psycho Holiday (live)
3. The Art Of Shredding (live)
4. Cowboys From Hell (live)
5. Cemetery Gates (live)
6. Primal Concrete Sledge (live)
7. Heresy (live)
8. Domination (live)
9. Primal Concrete Sledge (live)
10. Cowboys From Hell (live)
11. Heresy (live)
12. Psycho Holiday (live)

Official Website: http://www.pantera.com

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