2010 marks the twenty year anniversary of Pantera’s legendary release ‘Cowboys from Hell’. And what better way to celebrate than Rhino’s three-disk Ultimate Edition of the iconic album. Featuring remastered versions of the original tracks, a disk of previously unreleased live tour performances, the ‘Alive and Hostile’ EP and a selection of raw demos, this fresh compilation contains much to please fans.
‘Cowboys From Hell’ moved Pantera away from their glam roots and into the spotlight. With it came the birth of their unique sound, the now famous “power groove” style which was a combination of groove and thrash metal. The album has been hailed as one of the defining metal releases of the 90s, and in this beautifully remastered edition you can hear why. Anselmo’s distinctive vocals are shown at their best, with his gravely power and incredible falsetto heard in awesome definition. Dimebag Darrell’s brilliantly original solos shine against the backdrop of drummer Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex Brown’s impeccable rhythms.
With the exception of ‘Shattered’, ‘Medicine Man’ and ‘Clash With Reality’, all the tracks appear in live versions on the second disk. The first seven tracks are recordings from the 1990 Foundation’s Forum metal convention in California. These previously unreleased performances burst with raw energy and the band’s stage presence can be felt. Anselmo’s uncensored monologues between songs are also included. Our personal favourite is his musing at the end of ‘The Art Of Shredding’ on the stereotyping of Texan rock bands. Unfortunately his comments are unprintable, so I’ll have to leave you to discover his opinion for yourself. The most breathtaking moments of the performances are when Dimebag comes into the spotlight. He carries off daring solos and mindblowing shredding with apparent ease, before dropping straight back into solid riffs in perfect sync with the band. These raw recordings show the true talent of a musician whose career came to such a tragic and abrupt end. The disk ends with five songs from the 1994 ‘Alive And Hostile’ EP, which was previously released only in Australia. It contains recordings from the 1991 Monsters of Rock festival in Moscow, where Pantera appeared alongside headliners Metallica and AC/DC. The festival is considered one of the most attended in history with an estimated crowd of between 700,000 and 1.6 million. All the tracks are still from ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and are repeats of those used earlier on the disk but with re-doubled energy for the momentous occasion. The crowd roars in appreciation for what was the first open air rock festival held after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The last disk in the set contains demos of the original album’s 12 tracks. The exception is the opening track, ‘The Will To Survive’, which was recorded in the same session as the rest of the album but not included in the final cut. It opens with haunting harmonics, which are joined by the customary hard rock riffs and shred solos. Anselmo sings almost entirely in falsetto with a less raw delivery and the feel is far lighter than the tracks of the released album. This one harks back to Pantera’s glam roots, while sowing the seeds of their eventual sound. It feels incongruous with the rest of the album and was rightly excluded from the original ‘Cowboys From Hell’. But as Vinnie Paul commented, “It shows the true musical diversity of the band at that time”. It is a great stand-alone track that will remind fans of the often forgotten creative journey that took Pantera to ‘Cowboys From Hell’. Listening to the rest of the demos is like a game of spot the difference. Less sophisticated effects, unrecognisable solos, alternative song structures and the raw, un-edited sound are the only tells. The talent and technical prowess of the band is again unmistakable, with the quality of performance being only negligibly less than that of the released album.
It might be repetitive, but the 20th Anniversary Edition of ‘Cowboys From Hell’ provides a comprehensive range of performances that will delight fans. The release pays due homage to a band that suffered a sad disintegration and tragic end with the murder of irreplaceable guitarist Dimebag in 2004.