Cowboys From Hell(1990). Pantera’s breakthrough album (though not the official debut because they had several glam albums in the 80s that the band completely disregards).
Back in the 1980s, Pantera was a completely unknown and different band than the one we know now. They started off as a glam metal act along the likes of Poison and Motley Crue, and released four albums which earned them no success and are now out of print. At the time, only drummer Vinnie Paul, bassist Rex Rocker, and guitarist Diamond “Dimebag” Darrel were in the band. It wasn’t until their fourth album that current vocalist Phil Anselmo joined. After making the four glam metal albums without gaining any sort of fame, Pantera decided to pull all the stops and make a complete 180 degree turn on the band’s sound and image. Gone were the happy songs about partying and the big hair, and in came the dirty, heavy thrash mayhem that measures up to the likes of older Metallica and Testament. And in 1990, the band pressed forth with their fifth album, Cowboys From Hell and never looked back. This ended up being their riskiest yet smartest move and Pantera instantly met with great success. The band now regards CFH as their first album and refuses to admit that they were once a fully-fledged hair metal band. I’ve even heard of cases where fans would bring that subject to their attention and the band would attack their fans for even mentioning their past! Yikes.
Nevertheless, CFH is an astounding thrash metal assault and as it stands, a masterpiece. I first picked it up last year when I had the choice of purchasing either this album and Testament’s New Order or the then-new St. Anger album by Metallica. Needless to say, I’m EXTREMELY glad I went with the former choice. Phil’s singing is at his best on this album, seeing that he was able to hit some blazing high notes before his voice started having problems between this album and the next. “Dimebag” proves right away that he is an absolutely amazing shredder on here in both the rhythm sections and the solos. While CFH is clearly a thrash metal album, you can definitely see how this band was once a glam metal act, especially in some of the song structures. However, it’s all done with some of the heaviest guitar distortions, so the songs on here can best be described as “brutally heavy, but fun”. In a way it acts as Pantera’s transitional album from the older glammy style to the intensely powerful all-out thrash of Vulgar Display Of Power(1992). Other songs are clearly influenced by 80s thrash metal and prove that the band has quite a bit of versatility between the songs. To this day I find CFH to be their best album and future releases would demonstrate to be gradually lesser in quality as time went on.
Onto the songs… The title track sets the pace for the album and kicks things off perfectly, introducing you to the band’s in-your-face brand of heavy metal. That, ‘Psycho Holiday’, and ‘Clash With Reality’ have the stand-out anthemic party quality that the band might have previously done in the 80s. Then you’ve got some real shredding scorchers such as the brief machine gun totting ‘Primal Concrete Sludge’, the Metallica-esque ‘Heresey’ and ‘Domination’, and the Judas Priest-on-steroids ‘Shattered’. The best track on the disc though has to be the mega-epic thrash ballad and my favorite Pantera song ‘Cemetary Gates’. This one doom/gloom ballad is done incredibly well and easily compares to the likes of Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’, ‘Welcome Home Sanitarium’ and ‘One’. It shows that Phil can do a great job singing in a low-key melodic tone. Other tracks include the pulse-pounding ‘Art Of Shredding’, the melodic and haunting ‘Medicine Man’, and the gloomy rocker ‘Message In Blood’. The only track that doesn’t stand out as much is ‘Sleep’, which is not bad at all, just forgettable.
Highlights: ‘Cowboys From Hell’, ‘Psycho Holiday’, ‘Cemetary Gates’, and ‘Medicine Man’
Overall, CFH is an album that all thrash metal lovers need to own. With as many great songs and skilled musicianship that it has, it’s no wonder I’m giving the album 5 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO ALL METAL FANS.
Other similar albums:
-’Vulgar Display Of Power’ by Pantera
-’Master Of Puppets’ by Metallica
-’Legacy’ by Testament
-’Dead Heart In A Dead World’ by Nevermore