Cowboys From Hell
(Deluxe Edition 3CD) 20th Anniversary Edition.
Review by Staff Writer Larry West.
In the 20 years that Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell has been around, we’ve seen 4 presidents, a ton of wars, attacks, the death of hair metal, the rise and fall of nu-metal, and the rise, fall, and rise again of basically every metal band from the 80’s. But through it all, this album has proven to be the ultimate trend killer. Since its release, Cowboys From Hell is the album that every single metal band has been forced to top. So far, arguably, none have matched the impact and ferocity.
Originally released in April 1990, Cowboys from Hell was the first album in which Pantera left the glam-metal focus and emerged the hard-edge, thrash-meets-groove metal juggernaut that would redefine heavy metal music almost overnight.
In the nearly 10 years since Pantera has been in-active, and in the 5 long years since the tragic murder of guitarist “Dimebag” Darrel, we’ve seen a greatest hits and a re-issuing of the first 3 post-power metal albums on vinyl. While there was a virtual cash-grab on the Dimebag and Pantera legacy in recent years, the idea of releasing (of all things) a 3-disc Extended Edition of their modern debut was met with a very weary look.
Contemplation is immediately put to rest the second you listen to these unreleased gems featured on this latest edition.
Disc 2 of this extended edition features 7 songs recorded at the Foundations Forum Metal Convention on September 15th of 1990 and the entire aLIVE and hostile E.P. Disc 3 contains demos of 10 songs, as well as the release of “The Will to Survive”, an otherwise unheard and unknown demo of a song from the Cowboys sessions.
The Foundations Forum show is basically Pantera as you would have imagined them in 1990; Phil sounding somewhere between sober and drunk, and everyone in the band just having the time of their lives. Phil’s voice already shows some wear and tear from the recording sessions from Cowboys, yet it is still clear that the man is in top shape as you hear him belt out some incredible high notes. There’s an energy to the show that is just abundant, and it’s cool hearing these guys right before they became the megastars we all know and love. The shoutouts to Suicidal Tendencies, Exodus, and Dark Angel (Image that; Pantera AND Dark Angel at the same fucking show!!!) are a nice touch, as well as hearing Phil’s little diatribes. “Get in the pit, and pop my zit!” is, hands down, one of the best Anselmo quotes of all time! Although, for the record, the version of “Heresy” heard here was actually already released on the Walk E.P.
The aLIVE and hostile E.P. was originally released as part of the Driven Downunder Tour ’94 Souvenir Collection that was only available in Australia. Recorded in 1991 at the Monsters of Rock festival in Moscow, Russia, this is where the famous video of Pantera playing “Heresey” in front of 1.6 million screaming fans (one of the largest rock concerts in history) came from, and every ounce of energy comes oozing off this set! Although it does lose some impact if you listen to it directly after the previous 7 songs. You can tell right then and there, that these guys were about to take the world in a vulgar display of power… but that’s another story.
Closing out the Expanded Edition are the demos, along with a demo for a previously unreleased song, “The Will to Survive”. To a degree, it’s understandable why they never released it; it’s a mixture of basically 3 different Pantera styles. It starts off with a very Power Metal-esq, almost Survivor “Eye of the Tiger” style riff. It then leads directly into the riff that would later create “A New Level”, and a chorus that mixes the CFH style with that of its predecessor, Power Metal. It’s a simply stunning song that couldn’t exist in its time.
The demos are great, especially since they are remastered from the original analog tracks and are able to shine through. While I normally can’t stand demos of entire albums, this was actually really interesting and felt more like listening to the album for the first time again. For someone who’s owned this album since 2002 and has heard it… well, about 2002 times, it was stunning that there was a completely different way of listening to this album. “Shattered” originally had a massive intro to it, and the original lyrics and presentation of “Message in Blood” had a much harsher, more serial-killer vibe to it. The riffing on “Heresy” is actually different than anywhere else, and the tempo to a few songs, including “Psycho Holiday,” which takes on a different vibe entirely because of it.
For me, the booklet was the icing on the cake. Partly because I’m a graphic designer, but also as a massive Pantera fan. The booklet has a bunch of old photos of the band back in the day. They also include the thoughts and comments of Phil Anselmo, Vinnie Paul, and Rex Browne concerning the recording of the album, as well as the producer Terry Date and Matt Ross. The only thing that I miss based on the original is the iconic photo of Phil in silhouette against a pink sky.
In the end, this album was a lot more than I had expected! From the live tracks to the demos to everything in between, this is one of the single best re-packagings I’ve ever seen! This was made for the diehard fans, and it did not disappoint at all! If you’re a casual fan, then I’m conflicted between making this a must-have or not for you, only because of how much is repeated here.Bottom line? 4 out of 5 skulls! Must-have if you’re a diehard, and a smart move if you’re still new to them!