Pantera Cowboys from Hell Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Remastering brings clarity and punch to what was already an iconic metal landmark.

Greg Moffitt 2010

When an album sounds as vital and vibrant 20 years on as it did on the day of its release, you know you’ve got a cast-iron classic on your hands. Pantera’s major label debut doesn’t contain a single dud track and remains one of the defining moments in modern heavy metal.

Although Cowboys from Hell is actually the Texan quartet’s fifth album, it’s widely considered to be their official debut. Formed in 1981, the band laboured largely in vain throughout the remainder of the decade, releasing the albums Metal Magic (1983), Projects in the Jungle (1984), I Am the Night (1985) and Power Metal (1988) to widespread apathy. But even having virtually every record company door slammed in their face didn’t discourage them or dampen their self-belief. This dogged determination eventually paid off when an Atco executive – stranded in Texas by Hurricane Hugo – caught the band performing live and was so blown away he felt compelled to sign them.

Largely dispensing with the more conventional, clichéd sound of their first four outings, Cowboys… saw Pantera reborn. From the scything title-track to the bruising body slam of closer The Art of Shredding, the album explodes with sheer intensity. It’s a fiery, frenzied and utterly rampant show of force that screamed the group’s arrival at an unsuspecting world. At a time when grunge was about to go global and much 80s metal had attained virtual pariah status, Pantera’s bulldozing exuberance was a red-hot injection into metal’s ailing heart.

The band’s newly introduced riffing style unwittingly pioneered the somewhat ill-defined groove metal sub-genre, and commentators continue to lament the legions of half-cocked copycats which have proliferated in subsequent years. But where most imitators merely pile riff upon riff, Pantera wrote songs, and Cowboys… doesn’t just hinge on an all-out aural assault. Tracks such as The Sleep and the epic Cemetery Gates demonstrate a canny capacity for depth and restraint.

The album’s sound was equally influential. Terry Date (Korn, Slipknot) scooped out much of the mid-range to deliver a razor-sharp yet bottom-heavy mix that sounds crushing even today. It’s yet another reason why Cowboys… still sounds fresh, and this gleaming re-master brings further clarity and punch to what was already an iconic metal landmark.

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