Under The Lights Where We Stand Tall, Nobody Touches Us At All
It was the 24th of July in 1990, when music history as we know it right now, changed for good. It was the time when the former glam metal band called Pantera, decided to unleash the album that made them one of the most respected acts of all times. And it is not only the change of their style that brought surprise, but also the feeling that something so fresh emerged from Texas to bring the musical revolution, regarding not only heavy metal, but music in general. I can really only imagine the faces of all those who were listening to this for the first time. They must have felt as if a massive vehicle crushed them to the ground but didn’t kill them, just leave them unable to do or say anything understandable.
What the fuck was that anyway? How did we come to this? Who was that muscled singer with the mohican look and the certainty along with iron will to soon become the epitome of a monstrous frontman? Why were the riffs of the goat-bearded guitarist so heavy and whistling? How could he produce such a gigantic sound? And this rhythm section… This skinny bass player with his hair always covering his face because of the constant headbanging, accompanied by the unbelievable foot technique of the chumpy drummer, felt like they could move everything still to any direction. This quartet was destined to become the driving force of all heavy metal for the next 14 years, just because they could, just because they were born ready for this, and of course, because they had the skills and guts to prove it through the years.
Showdown, Shootout, Spread Fear, Within, Without
Yes, Pantera had released four albums before ”Cowboys From Hell”. But for the band and their fans, this will always be their ‘debut’ album. The birth of something that inspired future generations, especially in attitude. Because Pantera were something more than music, and this started showing from that point and on. Be it ignorance of danger or just the fact that they got pissed off with the whole music industry back then, they made this album first for themselves and then for the fans. Because they always believed in the bond between artist and fans. Since their new direction was something that satisfied them, none could get in their way. The big question ”Who the hell are these people?” that rose when the title track’s video clip was constantly played on MTV, just made things easier for them. The course was already set.
Their rumour was constantly growing, the highest point was their live appearances, where everything you listen to the album, was becoming even heavier and larger in form while watching them from close distance. The frenzy behind Pantera took gargantuan size and soon the whole world was at their feet. The highlights of all this was that they were included in the slot of Judas Priest ”Painkiller” tour, alongside Canadian metal masters Annihilator. And believe it or not, few were the times that they didn’t steal all attraction, even from the metal gods Judas Priest. The fact that Rob Halford tried to produce something like Pantera with his project Fight, after leaving Priest, can’t be hidden. The rumour that he was seeing Philip Anselmo more as a ”friend”, raised even more the group’s status.
We’re Taking Over This Town
Let’s stay on the album itself, as this is the main reason of this article. First of all, praises must be given to the producer Terry Date who unofficially, could be called the fifth member of the band. He managed to give an amazing sound to the album, by also taking 100% of each member’s skills and talent. This is clearly put to the album, which was recorded at The Sound Lab, located in Irving of Texas. With its duration being more than 57 minutes long, the big bet was ready to roll the ears of unsuspected listeners. The guitar sound of Diamond Darrell (before becoming Dimebag) was something pouring out of the glory days of Metallica, but even more twisted and heavy. If you put a little Exhorder groove metal dose, the recipe of world domination is ready and all you have to do is just sit, wait and then enjoy.
But the other wild card of the album was undoubtedly Philip Anselmo. Furious, neurotic, horny as hell and above all, aware of what the band was doing, he spit every lyric of the album with profound convincing ways. His presence on the scene during the tour is still commented after two decades. How couldn’t he be acknowledged for that, since all he was representing, alongside the other three companions, was a mass of relentless energy, driven by a lunatic feeling of giving blood, guts and sweat every night in every place they could play. Not bad for a former boxer who joined the band in the previous album called ”Power Metal”. He is considered as the main responsible of the group’s musical change. Not that it matters much, or if we ever really know. But just in case, let’s mention it to be left out of unnecessary doubts.
You See Us Comin’ And You All Together Run For Cover
Combining the energy of thrash metal and with a very bright look to the future, ”Cowboys From Hell” stands out until today as the landmark of ’90s metal. It is not the best Pantera album (that is ”Vulgar Display Of Power”). It is not the heaviest Pantera album (that is ”Far Beyond Driven). It is not the most angry and brutal Pantera album (that is ”The Great Southern Trendkill). And it is not the most mature Pantera album (that is ”Reinventing The Steel”). But it sure was, is and will always be the most important. Not only because through the years it proved to be the salvation of all heavy metal and because Pantera brought many fans to extreme music. But mainly because everyone and everything inspired by the band, owe a big thanks to this release. In terms of music, feeling and above all: ATTITUDE!
”Cowboys From Hell” has reached number 27 on Top Heatseekers in 1992. It must have overcome 2 million record sales by far, it has been already certified double platinum, it has been voted among the best and most influential albums of all time. It is the album that made them play in Monsters Of Rock in Moscow in a gigantic crowd of more than half a million people. It is the album that created the CFH acronym, which Anselmo has tattoed in his head and many fans have marked it on their bodies since then. It is the album that saw three singles becoming large, the title track, ”Cemetary Gates” and ”Psycho Holiday”. It is the album that started the revolution and it is the album that no matter the taste in music, everyone respects and has something to say about. What else could you be asking for?
Track By Track:
01. Cowboys From Hell
The title track of the album is nothing less than a statement on behalf of the band. It’s like saying ”we’re here and we came to stay, so everyone and everything in our way…back off!”. The lyrics show nothing more than self esteem and the feeling that those kids knew what they created. Yes, it is also a reference to their Texas origin, home of all brave cowboys of the past. And it also could be the statement that they came to raise hell. You know what? They certainly did. The initial whistle of the main riff always brings yells to every place it’s played, and despite the fact Pantera have many great songs and much better than this one, it will always be a song you can’t help dealing with.
02. Primal Concrete Sledge
Rough and raw. Short and full of hate. Violent and without any sort of emotion. Two minutes of riffs that could make a whole discography of a new born group. The song that Dimebag rapes his six string without condom and the guitar not only doesn’t complain, but also craves for more. Anselmo is unleashed and the vocal melody follows the diverse riffing and the insane drum playing. The break after the second verse and before the solo is orgasm itself. The Aeolian winds are free and blessed be the ones left on the wake of the tide it creates.
03. Psycho Holiday
One of my personal favorites and maybe the best riff on the whole album. The initial sound is not gunfire but Vinnie Paul torturing the skins of his drumset and hitting as hard as he can. Anselmo shows that he can not only be aggressive but also have some high pitched moments full of quality. It was picked as one of the album’s singles and it proved to be a live classic back then. Pure energy and sonic pandemonium. The band at its best. Psycho you said? Does it really matter? Not if you put your head down and do what you HAVE to. Close your eyes and the riff will make things easier.
This is the answer to all critics and haters that Pantera are not a group whose new direction’s origins lie on thrash metal. Tell me how many bands could write such a song and then we can sit back and relax about the rest. The song grows as it flows, relentless riffing by Darrell, continual changes from fast to slow and slow to fast. The part after the solo wakes up the dead and makes them conquer the living. Honesty, born in me… The lyric that sums up what Pantera represented back then. Because what they did was honesty itself. It takes guts to be different. Can you take it?
05. Cemetary Gates
A ballad? Not quite! This is the emotional song the Pantera way. Probably the favourite track of the album for most fans. A seven minute opus starting with a brilliant acoustic intro and Anselmo providing a mature performance. The outburst after the initial shock brings one of the most trademarked Pantera riffs. That whistle and lead haunts many fans until today. I guess that everyone that listens to this for the first time, will remember it for the rest of his life. The screams of Anselmo at the end bring chills upon your spine. Covered even by Dream Theater, one of the best songs in history of music.
Truth be told, Pantera dominated planet Earth with such an ease that many people would be jealous about (and still are until today). After Vinnie giving the signal at the beginning, Darrell opens the box of riffs and puts a ton of them on this one. Breaks, speed and above all: THE riff after the middle of the song. The part that the whole band played while jumping to the height of God and the fans were unable to hold the fury inside them and made them want to kill the person next to them. Even if it was a friend of theirs. Also covered by many bands, including also Apocalyptica. Who said that cello players aren’t metal fans enough?
This is the song where Anselmo takes over everything. Hellish playing by the rest but Philip owns the song from the very beginning. Convincing in every lyric, with some of the best lyrics he ever wrote, he is the driving force to this one. The shortest song after ”Primal Concrete Sledge” but also very full of quality. It used to be also one of the live classics of the old era with stagedives following one another. A great example of the changes that Pantera brought to the whole scene. Dig it anytime, it still sounds like it was released… tomorrow!
08. Clash With Reality
The meaning of groove metal is hidden behind the notes of this song. They have been accused many times of not being ‘metal’ enough. Yeah right, this is a song for rappers and emo fans after all, isn’t it? Let’s be serious for a moment and just witness the power of this one. Slow but also huge in form, it showcases the fact that Dimebag still is one of the best guitar players of all time and mainly, the fact that he is the responsible for the ressurection and renewal of all metal scene on the ’90s decade.
09. Medicine Man
Awkward but still crushing, ”Medicine Man” is also another groovy one that slows the tempo of the album as much as it can. After the assault of all previous tracks, this one is put in order to make the listener relax (!!!???) a while, before untying his ponytail for the hundredth time and making his neck seem more like a windmill than a part of his body. Again Anselmo is the leading figure in this one, spitting venom in each opening of his mouth. Add some screams from outer space and you’ve got what you’ve been asking for.
10. Message In Blood
For sure the strangest song in the album. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t stand out equal to the rest eleven tracks. Here the rhythm section of Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown does miracles, the sound is so clear and somewhere here is where you understand the width of Terry Date’s production. Pantera sound like a Swiss clock that doesn’t lack the simpliest second. Punctual and ready for everything, they make you proud as their fan as the album is about to end.
11. The Sleep
Starting also with an acoustic intro, just as ”Cemetary Gates” does, it is the calm before the storm at the end of this album. The huge riff that follows creeps like a rattle in the desert, ready anytime to stalk his victims and make them preys instead of hunters. Anselmo and Dimebag in perfect culmination, leaving space for each other where needed. An amazing solo takes place, making us wonder where this guy came from and also, why he is not still with us and he left so unfairly.
12. The Art Of Shredding
Last but not least, as Americans say, this track is the ideal to close the album with its bass intro and the doublebass of Vinnie Paul showing that if you have skills apart from talent, everything can happen. A fast one after some mid tempos, it comes right at the point where someone not familiar with the band, could get a little bored. Anselmo explains how his presence shreds everything in his way and Pantera’s world domination is reality after that. Not bad for a quartet of ex-glam metallers, right?
Dedicated in memory of Darrell Lance Abott, also known as Dimebag or Diamond Darrell (August 20, 1966 – December 8, 2004). You are so sorely missed!
Aggelos “Redneck” Katsouras.