"Cowboys from Hell: 20th Anniversary Edition"

(Rhino 2010)Pantera - Cowboys from Hell: 20th Anniversary Edition

I shouldn't need to tell you what "Cowboys from Hell" sounds like. Any metalhead worth their sleeveless jean jacket probably owns this album, or at least has a healthy familiarity with its more prominent cuts. The fifth full-length (betcha didn't know that shit, huh?) from one of the most popular metal bands of all time set Pantera on the path to glory, ditching the glam rock of their previous four releases for the groove metal that they would perfect just two years later with "Vulgar Display of Power." And so the 20th anniversary of the album's release, which in addition to making guys like me feel old, marked as good a time as any to honor one of metal's seminal records with this special, three-disc treatment.

The album itself is just as ass-kicking and fun to listen to as it was when you were 16 and cruising around town in your friend's car for no apparent reason. Dimebag (still going by "Diamond" at this point) Darrell's legendary shredding, Vinnie Paul's rat-a-tat drumming, the oft-overlooked bass work of Rex Brown (mercifully ditching the ludicrous "Rex Rocker" handle), and Phil Anselmo's unmistakable brawny roar all coalesced into a singular slab that still holds up now, two decades later. There are only a few ragged remains of Pantera's former life, most notably when Anselmo busts into some hair metal style nut-clenching wails. Although not as deep as the next couple of albums to follow, all of the "hits" - "Cemetery Gates," "Domination," the title track - are among metal's most iconic tracks.

The second disc on this reissue is filled up by two live sets from around the time of the album's release, one previously unreleased and one from 1994's "aLIVE and hostile" EP. The quality's about what you would expect from some archived stuff recorded so long ago, but both shows illustrate just how tight the band was at this point, having already had four forgotten records' worth of tour cycles under their belt. Disc three contains demos recorded in 1989 of all eleven "Cowboys from Hell" tunes, plus the much-hyped "The Will to Survive," a Pantera song unheard until now. There's a reason it's been kept in the dark for so long. It's bad. An obvious throwback to the band's glam roots, it was out of place amongst the heavier material, and wisely excised from the final cut of the album. The rest of the demo tracks, well, sound like demos. Obviously rougher than the recorded material and not as carefully arranged, they nonetheless provide insight into the stylistic shift Pantera would undergo in the process of writing "Cowboys."

The 20th Anniversary edition of "Cowboys from Hell" is an interesting look at Pantera not only from 1990, but through the demos, where the band was immediately before the release of the album, and through the live recordings where they were immediately after. This was a band just dipping their toes into the pool of greatness, and the set captures that feeling quite well. The additions to the original album, while welcome, aren't really going to warrant many repeat listens. Still, Pantera nerds will find plenty to dig into here, and if you somehow don't already own "Cowboys from Hell," this is the way to go.


buy it!