The Transformers of Metal !!! - The first episode in the series: "The Rise of the Transformers of Metal"
Beyond the fact that they are made of metal, the Transformers are alien robots - "Shape Shifters", who are in a constant struggle to preserve the good and protect life.
On July 24, 1990, "Pantera" proved to the world that they are "the transformer of metal". What's more, the band members have proven that they belong to a very rare breed of "Shape Shifters" - a bunch of aliens of two shapes and insanely talented, just like the Transformers. Not only that, but the same group of "Shape Shifters" have set themselves a goal - to fiercely defend all the good that exists in metal. On the way to achieving their goal, "the transformer of metal" (Panthera) fought the "Decepticons" - the big record companies who were just looking for ways to institutionalize, refine, and trade thrash metal in exchange for piles of silver and gold.
If you are currently rubbing your eyes and are sure you have accidentally stumbled upon a Fox Kids or Disney Jr. page, check back. And if you still do not understand what the hell we are talking about, then we are talking about "Cowboys from Hell" released by "Pantera" on this day in 1990.
This is Pantera's fifth album that marked the completion of the band's transformation and the end of the transition from glam and heavy metal to thrash metal to what would be called groove metal or post-thrash. The band simply changed its face from end to end (and not just in appearance) and moved from music influenced by bands like "Van Halen" and "Kiss" to "Slayer", "Metallica" and "Black Sabbath".
It is enough to look at the cover of the band's previous album - "Power Metal" from 1988 and compare it to the band's photos from 1990 to understand the magnitude of the change that has taken place in the band. On the album cover appear a band with puffy haircuts rich in hair spray. It seems that Panthera's external change was enough to justify the title "Transformers of Metal". but no!
The external change the band went through was just the tip of the iceberg in the process. The band abandoned the musical styles that characterized it on the previous four albums - glam, hair, and heavy metal and adopted a completely new style, which was expressed in a lot of brutalities, speed, powerful rhythms, and musical techniques that were familiar mainly in the thrash metal genre. The change in style was not only in playing but also in singing, as singer Phil Anselmo began to add a lot of rage and power to his singing, screams, roars, and growling motifs that did not exist in previous albums.
The overall sound of the band also changed substantially and became rough, heavy, metallic, and even sawing. Listen to the guitar sound of Dimebag Darrell (then called Diamond Darrell) already at the opening of the album and you will immediately understand the comparison to an electric saw.
Although the process of "transformation" began on the previous album from 1988 with the addition of Phil Anselmo as a singer, that album still included motifs of glam and heavy metal that disappeared completely on "Cowboys from Hell". To complete the picture, we should note that the process that the band went through even gone further in the band's next album "Vulgar Display of Power" from 1992, an album that as its name implies - A vulgar and edgy purposeful display of anger, power and strength designed to be a deliberate protest against the “commercialization” process that bands like Metallica went through in their "black album". At the time "Pantera" felt there was some vacuum that Metallica had left and this was an opportunity to fill it, so they thought of making their heaviest album ever.
We said Transformers, so this process that "Pantera" went through required a lot of courage, since they went the exact opposite way thrash bands went, and moved from a friendlier sound they had in the 80s to a much less accessible sound from the early 90s. "Metallica", "Testament" and even "Megadeth" succumbed to the pressure of the record companies and tried to produce "metal for the masses", but "Pantera" swam against the current and fought to achieve just the opposite.
And the result was accordingly. "Cowboys from Hell" introduced us to a masterpiece of a reborn band. Awesome drumming by Vinnie Paul, ingenious solos by Dimebag Darrell with his whistling sound technique first introduced here, perfect singing by Phil Anselmo, and the lyrics .... just listen to "Cemetery Gates" and understand what we're talking about. From the breaking and sawing opening riff of the theme song to Anselmo's shaky scream at the end of the song "The Art of Shredding", this album explodes with absolute intensity. It's a powerful and forceful show, violent and aggressive, frantic and raging, screaming with full throat the arrival of "Pantera" to the world of thrash metal, a world that was not exactly ready for the atomic bomb that was about to fall on it.
By the time the grunge was about to burst out and most of the 80s metal bands become non-relevant, "Pantera’s" resurgence was like an adrenaline rush into the sick heart of metal.
The change the band went through was so substantial that until this day some fans and critics see "Cowboys from Hell" as the band's first album and not the fifth.
The Abbott brothers, Phil and Rex created a style that although sounded as familiar as thrash metal, was still more innovative and energetic. They took the thrash and slowed it down to emphasize the heaviness of the riffs and the grooves of the rhythm. They combined the melodies of "Judas Priest", the rage of "Metallica" (in its heyday), and the Texan and groovy rhythm of "ZZ Top" to create a new sub-style that will breathe life into the metal scene.
Between Dimebag's fast and catchy riffs and Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown's tight and impressive rhythm division, there's one singer who pushes this whole enterprise forward and does a most impressive job on all the tracks on the album, without exception. He manages to stretch his voice from a low, animalistic growling growl to the high-pitched screams and pushes this album along with the entire band forward. It is interesting to note that to reach the amazing range of sounds and some of the high notes, Phil Anselmo used sweet and strong port wine, all on the advice of producer Terry Date who produced "Soundgarden's" album "Louder Than Love" which "Pantera" members loved. Date told Anselmo that singer Chris Cornell used to sip port wine before recording his voice roles, Anselmo got the advice and it was a huge success. This may be what earned Terry Date the role of producer on subsequent "Pantera" albums.
The theme song "Cowboys from Hell" became the band's anthem and gave the band members the nickname - "The Cowboys from Hell".
"Cemetery Gates" is considered one of the band's greatest songs and is without a doubt one of the favorites of its fans. Dimebag's solo in this song was ranked in a survey conducted by "Guitar World" magazine in the 35th place on the list of the 100 best solos of all time. The song was inspired by the suicides of two of Phil Anselmo's friends from New Orleans. Not many know, but bassist Rex Brown was the one who wrote the classic intro to the song, and also played rhythm guitar in the theme song "Cowboys from Hell".
"Psycho Holiday" got its name after bassist Rex Brown purchased a plane ticket to New Orleans for Phil Anselmo and wrote the words "Psycho Holiday" on the envelope. Phil was then into LSD and Rex thought it would be good for him to fly to his hometown city and clear his head a bit.
"Primal Concrete Sledge" was the last written for the album, in 10 minutes. It started with an impromptu jam session with Vinnie Paul's nervous drumming at the end of the recordings. Dimebag Darrell got excited and asked Vinnie to continue with it and added the iconic riff that created the song.
The phrase Vinnie Paul shouts at the beginning of the song "Domination" is: "First take like a motherfucker!" This actually was the first take of the song which was also chosen as the one that would eventually enter the album.
The entire album was ranked by readers of "Guitar World" magazine at number 11 on the list of the 100 best guitar albums of all time.