Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Pantera "Cowboys From Hell"

I’m going to take the time to write an article on another not-new album. This time I’m going to go back to the summer of 1990, when heavy metal would forever change. Many who know Pantera (and let’s face it, there are MANY) know the band to have been the band to create the “groove” metal genre, though I’ve never truly understood, beyond the music of Pantera, what classifies as a “groove metal” band. The band didn’t truly break ground on this new genre until their 1992 album Vulgar Display of Power, but before that, the world got a glimpse of what was to come with Cowboys From Hell.

While not officially the band’s debut album, the band and fans alike choose to call it such, seeing as how it is their first major label release, though the band did release four full length albums before hand as an underground act, all of which being of a more “hair metal” nature in terms of image and sound. With the exception of a change in singers, the line-up remained consistent with the Abbott brothers, under their stage names Vinnie Paul on drums and “Dimebag” Darrel (then known as “Diamond” Darrel until the mid-90s) on guitar as well as bassist Rex Brown. It was their fourth of these underground albums, an album called Power Metal, when the band introduced vocalist Philip Anselmo. This line-up would be the line-up that would remain until the bands demise a bit over a decade later.

We’re introduced to the bands new sound on their first major label album by a song that would come to define the band; the album’s title track Cowboys From Hell. The riff that starts after the looped guitar intro would end up becoming one of the most recognizable heavy metal guitar riffs of all time. Vocally, the song introduces Philip’s unique vocal style, one of high pitched screams and raspy growls that pound ear drums.

The album continues its metal onslaught with fast, take no prisoners heavy metal with aggressive tracks such as the thrashing Primal Concrete Sledge, the anthemic Psycho Holiday  with its easy to sing along with chorus and the double bass drum attacking Heresy. Then things are toned down with Cemetery Gates. I’ve said this before to people to very confused faces, but I stand by this when I say that Philip Anselmo had the capabilities of being the best metal vocalist since Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, but with a then modern twist. People never truly listen to Philip’s vocal capabilities on this album, which is a shame, because I don’t see how anyone can deny the excellence of the vocals on Cemetery Gates. As per most of the album, the guitar playing of Dimebag does do a good job at overshadowing anything else on the album, and this song is no exception. The albums spooky yet beautiful sound could only be matched with a voice such as Philips in this era of the band. He practically hits four octaves (which any vocalist knows is not easy) and the song has one of the greatest endings in heavy metal history, thanks completely to Philip’s perfectly pitched vocal scream calls and Dimebag’s perfectly pitched guitar scream answers.

The album then furthers its wrath songs such as Domination and my personal favourite track from the album, Shattered, the latter being another example of Philip’s vocal superiority. Almost the entire song is sung with Philip’s high pitch scream (a capability that he waved “bye bye” to many years ago) glued together with his raspy growl of a voice singing the choruses of the song, but with each chorus ending with a high pitch scream. This doesn’t take away from the superior guitar playing of Dimebag and the rhythm section of Rex and Vinnie. Again, I feel when and if most fans listen to this track, they pay more attention to the music playing behind Philip, not truly appreciating his voice.

Clash With Reality is one of my favourite examples of “groove” metal, with Dimebag playing a simple two chord riff while Vinnie plays an off-beat drum beat behind it. This can be heard momentarily before the singing starts and during the chorus. Medicine Man and Message in Blood are among the many examples on this album that show how they were really hard to categorize at the time of the album. Not sounding like thrash metal songs, but too heavy to be traditional heavy metal.

The album takes one more change in direction with The Sleep, another slower track which is essentially a heavier Cemetery Gates with segments of acoustic guitars, before ending the album on a heavy note. First I’d like to point out that the guitar solo for The Sleep is among the best on the album. The albums last song The Art of Shredding doesn’t stand out ahead of other songs on the album in any specific way; it is as heavy as every song, has as incredible of a guitar solo as any other song on the album and has Philip’s never-to-be-heard again vocal pitches. While it doesn’t stand out, that doesn’t take away from its magnitude to the album. On an album such as this, with so many incredible songs, the best thing I can say is that the album couldn’t have gone wrong ending with any of the twelve songs that are featured on this album.

While this is my personal favourite album by the band, it is overshadowed by the success of the albums that would follow, especially the previously mentioned Vulgar Display of Power. It is on that album that Philip adopts what his vocal style would be from that point be on; raspy growls that have more anger than anything, losing any sort of pitch capabilities in the gutter. As the years would go on, he would just get more and more angry, especially, understandably, after the death of Dimebag, of which Philip has unfortunately been given so much blame for.

While Dimebag will always be remembered for every song he ever recorded, with unforgettable, yet simple riffs such as Walk, or heartfelt guitar solos like on Floods, I find that he never quite matched this album afterwards. I do feel his playing got better, but I feel he got more experimental with sounds, and less experimental with riffs. Regardless, throughout every Pantera album from this one until the bands last, 2000’s Reinventing The Steel, he had been not only the most innovative metal guitarist of his era, but one of the most innovative guitarists of all time, and remained the only constant in the bands ever changing sound.


Cowboys From Hell” –­ I could have easily taken another direction here. I could have pulled a surprise choice like Shattered, but I can’t deny that this song truly is one of the most defining moments in the bands career. Many fans have said how the introductory looping sound of a heavily distorted guitar strumming an open E-string has given them goose bumps. Anyone who has never listened to Pantera, I unfortunately do know of a few who haven't, would get the best general idea of what the album, and band in general, sound like thanks to this song. It is probably the best example of “groove” metal on the entire album, and features some of Philip’s most intense vocals, while showing some of those pitches.


9.5 (Out of 10)

Track List:

Cowboys from Hell 
Primal Concrete Sledge  
Psycho Holiday  
Cemetery Gates  
Clash with Reality  
Medicine Man  
Message in Blood  
The Sleep  
The Art of Shredding  

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