Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pantera ~ Cowboys From Hell

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: thrash, heavy metal
Label: Atlantic
Year: 1990
Home: Texas (disbanded)

Members: Phil Anselmo ~ vocals
Dimebag Darrell ~ guitar/b. vocals
Rex Brown ~ bass/b. vocals
Vinnie Paul ~ drums


So, I'm mixed on this album. Certainly I can see how its a legacy maker, but its so dense sonically that I'm a bit befuddled. Its too dense for me. I remember when I heard Countdown To Destruction by Megadeth, it was so undense I literally freaked out, got rid of it & then bought it again. It was sparse & cold, yet full of emotion. This is the opposite & the onslaught of distorted guitars has its limits for my ears, particularly with little emotional foundation underlying its denseness. People call this groove metal, but I find Megadeth to be more groove & far more memorable. While I can appreciate the playing technique & the groundwork it is laying for later bands, the songwriting & lack of mood leave me cold & bored. The late Dimebag Darrell's riffs are also single note lines & lacking chordal texture. While his riffs for verses suffer from endless repetition & a major lack of variety making too many songs sound musically like filler. Further, there's no air between any of the notes. There's no breathe. It's an endless array of notes that range from memorable to just boring & draining. Having said that, I'll get myself firmly seated for the barrage from Dimebag fans proclaiming his great playing. But, there's a difference between great playing & great composing. If there's anything that saves the album its the vocals. Phil Anselmo was moving away from typical hair metal vocals into diversifying his range & that's what gives so many songs character. At times he's a bit manic trying to go too many directions. He's obviously in experimentation/exploration mode, so I give some leeway. Having said that I should also give Dimebag some guitar leeway, as Cowboys From Hell is really an experimental album as Pantera was moving from a hair metal band into something heavier they could call their own. If it doesn't breathe enough or is too manic, it's a band in transition & still finding their footing on new ground. In many ways this reminds me of what Metallica have tried to do over the last decade. This is the album Metallica have wanted to create, but it, obviously, was always done. Though, sadly, the last decade have not seen Metallica at their highs after a great early era. Too many albums feeling like they're looking for something after having lost something. My feeling with Pantera is that they started on a low & now this is the transition, they never had something & thus are finding something. They're not there yet & the legacy of this album makes it better than it is taken out of context, for me anyways. But, also, I didn't hear this album when it debuted so I have to think back to the metal of 1990 & try to find the context. Listeners younger than me won't, let alone can't remember. At the time this album had a great impact. Today it's been so imitated it's hard to find the context & hear what makes it so great, as what was new is now often imitated. & I'm not one of those people who just likes crazy guitars riffing mindlessly. I like a bit more substance. So, even with context I'm still numb. But, it's not all cold unfrienly music. There is a highlight of highlights that is a heavy metal masterpiece, re the seven minute "Cemetary Gates." Where does this track come from, as it finds few musical relatives on this album? An acoustic opening, slowed down, every note hangs in the air, the mood is dark, menacing, the vocals are great & the composing absolutely perfect. If this was Pantera always I'd be a fan. As it is, I'm left bewildered as there's a masterpiece of art sitting in the back of the run down barn & I'm wondering how it got lost there. It has a few cousins in the vocally exploratory "Medicine Man" & "Message In Blood", but they both suffer from uninteresting riffing. "The Sleep" is also in this group & saved by a great guitar solo, considering most of the solos bother me with their cut & paste overdubbed feeling. They all feel like they're glued on interchangeably after the fact & have no connection to the song except being in the same key. "The Sleep" just happens to have some good playing. This album has since been reissued as a 3CD collection with demos & live tracks from two shows. Not too many "Cemetary Gates" & just a lot of onslaught. Hardcore fans only. I assume that later albums by Pantera got better, considering of the 4 Pantera albums to reach the Billboard three were in the top five. This was number 117.

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