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A Review of "Cowboys from Hell": The Best Album of Pantera's Career

Ara is a journalism graduate from California State University, Northridge, who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.

The cover shows the band members of Pantera having fun at a bar or saloon. Vocalist Phil Anselmo is shown at the top right of the photo as he is in the air celebrating.

The cover shows the band members of Pantera having fun at a bar or saloon. Vocalist Phil Anselmo is shown at the top right of the photo as he is in the air celebrating.

Why is Cowboys From Hell Such a Memorable Album?

There are albums in a band’s career that really put groovy thrash metal in an elite category. The album Cowboys from Hell by Texas thrash band Pantera is one such example. The album was released in 1990 and contrary to what is believed, this is not the band’s first official album. But it is the album that was significant enough to put Pantera in a category that helped them get considered as an elite band. It is an album of 57 minutes of falsetto type vocals, great guitar solos, good bass lines, and songwriting which will leave heavy metal fans so impressed that they will want to come back to this album for more. This is the first album to feature Philip “Phil” Anselmo on the vocals. After I initially thought about giving up on the idea of writing album reviews, I reconsidered and here is another one for my readers! If Reign in Blood was Slayer’s finest album, this one is definitely Pantera’s best work in their career. Cowboys from Hell could be described as groovy thrash metal. The band has since influenced artists such as Finland’s Mental Care Foundation or Canada’s Annihilator. Pantera’s music on this album would not be a life saver if you are upset but it does provide some very entertaining groovy thrash metal. In 2020, Cowboys From Hell will be 30 years old!

One Aspect That May Be Missed About Pantera

We would be doing a serious disservice to this album if we did not also say that it is the first Pantera album of significance and not the first Pantera studio album overall. The album shows that these guys came out of the gate with highly creative and technical groovy thrash metal that works! This is particularly the case with the 4th song "Heresy" which we will get to soon.

This Album Was an Instant Success for Pantera and They Toured With Bands Such as Exodus

The album Cowboys from Hell was released on July 24, 1990 and it would reach the charts in 1992 peaking at #27 on the Billboard Music Charts. This album became Pantera’s breakthrough album. It has gone on to sell over one million copies in the United States. I first heard the album on cassette tape and I was very impressed! Pantera would go on to tour with the bands Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies. Rob Halford would perform with these guys on stage and Pantera would then open up for Judas Priest’s first show in Europe.

Analysis of the First Four Songs Including Heresy

After the famous title track, we are introduced to the very short song "Primal Concrete Sledge" which features some good bass guitar work by bassist Rex Brown. Halfway through this song is a guitar part that is very melodic and sounds like Middle Eastern influenced music. "Psycho Holiday" is a very good blues style solo. Then we get to the song called "Heresy" which is one of the heaviest songs in Pantera’s career. I would listen to this one frequently in the car when we would take road trips to Las Vegas, Nevada when I was a teenager. This was well before the time of MP3 players, DVD players, and mobile phones. This song is memorable for that reason. The song is basically about human nature being corrupted by the rise of religion as people will go to war and sacrifice their lives for this ideology. Religion is a very controversial subject and the band brings up the subject for thought. All of us have to decide what principles and values are important to us and stand up for those that we believe in strongly. Get ready for some very high quality groovy thrash metal!

Cowboys From Hell is the album in which Phil Anselmo delivers his best vocal performance with these high-pitched falsetto vocal shrieks.


Cowboys from Hell: the Songs Cemetery Gates Through Shattered

Next is one of the most classic songs in the history of heavy metal. It is called "Cemetery Gates" and features some of the most passionate falsetto style vocals by Anselmo. He has one of the most powerful vocal ranges that I have heard, perhaps even higher than that of Eduard Hovinga of the band Elegy. After the very strong song Domination, Shattered features Anselmo’s voice going even higher as he can scream loud enough to shatter glass!

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Favorite song on Cowboys from Hell

Analysis of the Songs Clash With Reality and Message in Blood

On the song "Clash With Reality," Anselmo gives one of his most memorable vocal performances as he utters “clash with ow!” This is the real Pantera that was at their best. Particularly at the end of this song as the speed intensifies and the title of the song is repeated incessantly, this is where the band shows that they can play guitar with superb brilliance! "Message in Blood" in particular puts the groove to the test, adding a blues style to it. The guitar work of Dimebag Darrell will always be remembered. It is a real shame that Darrell did not live to see how well this album has aged! For me at least for the early part of the 1990’s Pantera may have been the best thrash metal band from Texas. This album definitely beats anything that has been released by the band Mental Care Foundation but that’s not even a fair comparison. Even so, Cowboys From Hell was Pantera’s most solid album with no bad songs on it whatsoever. You could listen to the weakest song on this album and that one would still be good!

"Clash With Reality"

Analysis of the Songs "Clash With Reality" and "Medicine Man"

After another heavy and sometimes fast song called "Clash With Reality," "Medicine Man" has one of the most memorable riffs that I have heard. The album has lots of speed, grooves, great lead guitar work by “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, and an excellent vocal performance by Anselmo. Every single song on this album is good enough to be considered at least good. The strongest songs on the album are Heresy, Cemetery Gates, Domination, Medicine Man, Clash With Reality, The Sleep and The Art of Shredding. If there is one heavy metal album that is a must have for heavy metal fans worldwide, Cowboys From Hell is one of them. I give the album a 95 points out of 100.

"Message in Blood"

Cowboys From Hell still remains a special album

Since Cowboys From Hell is an album that will turn 30 years old in 2020, it is important to put things in perspective. Pantera turned the page on their previous glam metal style and came up with an excellent groovy thrash metal album that has stood the test of time. "Domination is a song that features a laugh from Phil Anselmo in the middle of the song as well as some fast and creative lead guitar work. We could keep writing about this album it is so good!

The last vocal parts done by Phil Anselmo in Cemetary Gates is memorable also because it was one of the best vocal parts he has ever done on his career. Just listen to when he utters the word “gates” and you’ll see what I mean. This is the kind of groovy thrash that Pantera should have continued to write because this is the type of music they were most skilled at. Cowboys From Hell was definitely Pantera performing at their peak, a level that they have not reached since. Like the song Domination says: “it’s domination” and with this album, Pantera showed how they had the capability to dominate the groovy thrash metal scene.

"The Sleep"

Rate Pantera's Cowboys From Hell

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Ara Vahanian

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