Pantera’s ‘Cowboy’s From Hell’ Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary
The metal universe has been impacted by a number of albums throughout the genre’s expansive history and inimitable canon. Pantera released several albums that landed like nuclear warheads, but the one that is perhaps the most definitive is ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ Sure, any metalhead worth his salt can’t resist banging his head to ‘Walk,’ from ‘A Vulgar Display of Power’ — nor can he stifle a smile when the demonically possessed Regan in ‘The Exorcist’ proclaims that it would be a “vulgar display of power” to free herself from the restraints which chain her to the bed. Singing along to ‘I’m Broken’ or ‘Five Minutes Alone’ from ‘Far Beyond Driven’ is like having exclusive membership in a secret club.
But there’s still only one ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ All you need to do is look at the legions upon legions of folks permanently etched with the ‘CFH’ logo as a tattoo. It was not just an album that truly marked Pantera’s arrival; it changed the playing field for every metal band that came after them. It set the table for the band’s career.
So when it came time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album’s release, Noisecreep sat down with vocalist Phil Anselmo and drummer Vinnie Paul — separately, of course, since the two no longer speak after the drama that ensued from the breakup and before Dimebag Darrell’s tragic death — to discuss ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ I found it beautifully and painfully ironic that the duo said very much the same thing in different ways.
The album is being reissued with a brand-new song, as well as in deluxe editions, on Sept. 14.
Did you have any sense of the album’s importance and that you were onto something really special and life-altering when writing and recording ‘CFH’? I think that we all knew that we had the goods and loved the songs we had written. All we needed was an opportunity to take it to the next level. At that day and time, all we needed was a major label as the key ingredient. We had been playing every night club in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas … we had been turned down 22 times before we got that break.
I think we channeled all that energy and anger into the record and it became a great album. Every time we did demos, we sent them to labels, who would act like they were a little interested, but it didn’t click. Everything in metal came from New York or L.A., and we were from Texas. That’s where the phrase ‘Cowboys From Hell’ came from: We were out of place. We were heavy metal from Texas.
How do you feel about how the record has stood the test of time?
I think that it is a separate time now, but it sounds as good as any record that came out today. We did it old school, the hard way, and still sounds good as digital records. We channeled anger and energy, and Terry Date helped us paint the picture we were trying to paint. It was amazing. It didn’t feel like 20 years to me. But bottom line is that I can take a brand-new record from any band today and it sounds just as good.
What is your favorite memory from recording ‘CFH’?
My favorite thing happened by fate, like the record deal. We were done recording and had a couple days doing overdubs. We were in Stamford, Conn. to mix the record and had a live show in NYC. at the Cat Club, I think. I took my snare drum off and was messing around with bass drum and toms and came up with the groove of ‘Primal Concrete Sledge.’ Dime came over and said, “WTF is that?” I said that it was a groove I came up with. He said, “Don’t touch it.” Then Terry came around and asked, “What are you doing? F—ing around?” I said, “We have one more song.” And he said, “We don’t have time! You’re f—ing up the schedule.” It’s two minutes and 38 seconds, and you want to know why it is so short and brutal? That’s why. It adds muscle to the record and is the precursor of what was to come on ‘Vulgar Display of Power.’
‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ is the bridge between the two albums. How are you feeling celebrating this anniversary and reissue with Dime being gone?
Of course it’s bittersweet for me. The band was the biggest part of my life for the longest part. We had 14 amazing years, six incredible records and it was great till 1996, when things went sideways with certain people and it got real difficult. The beautiful thing was Dime loved the music he made and he will always live on through the music. It was his heart and soul, from the CFH logo to t-shirts that were his design. It pisses me off when people say, “Why don’t you get Zakk Wylde and put the band back together?” While I love Zakk Wylde, he’s not Dimebag! Dime and Zakk were bros, and to say that is disrespectful.
It angers me to hear it, because it isn’t Pantera without Dimebag. So why did you guys decide to exhume the new “old” song, ‘The Will to Survive’?
It’s the song that I’ve forgotten about and when we were putting it together, it really reminded me of the diversity of the band and the talent of each member and the songwriting skills. It is a killer song and had the ‘Power Metal,’ ’88 sound that we had — but once again, we finished the record, moving in a much heavier direction and it didn’t fit that record. But it is a great song and that is beauty of Pantera. All the way back to ‘Metal Magic,’ you can see the evolution through each record, from ‘Power Metal’ to ‘Cowboys’ to the whole different direction, and further from ‘Cowboys’ to ‘Vulgar,’ then to ‘Far Beyond Driven.’ I had forgotten about it, but it is something new for fans.
Now that you’ve moved on and Pantera is in the rear view, what is your perspective?
I am proud of Hellyeah, and it has that same energy and spirit Pantera had, so that’s one of the things I thrive on. It’s real and honest, power and energy and it pops. Back then, I can say the same thing. We were a band of brothers and if you f—ed with one of us, you f—ed with all of us. We wouldn’t take no for an answer and we stayed at it. We knew what we had was good.
What is your favorite song on ‘Cowboys From Hell’?
I’d say ‘Cowboys From Hell’ itself since it is our anthem and theme song and our nickname. It was the “cowboys from hell” coming to town and there are the fan tattoos. The song is our theme. We were out of place and the album cover, carried through on that theme. It was an 1849 saloon, and we were a heavy metal band with hillbillies.
‘Domination’ is probably my favorite on the record.
Ah, that was the heaviest ever — live, it was a sight to be seen.
Phil, what is your fondest memory of the ‘CFH’ recording process? I remember we had demoed the record and had written the songs for ‘CFH’ from a period of ’88 and ’89 and ended up recording them in 1990. We were all changing dramatically, as far as our mindsets with music and whatnot. We had found the power of that money riff. Most people save the money riff for the end, and the money riff is what motherf—ers wait for — so make every riff the money riff. I knew going into the studio that some of the stuff we had was slightly dated and we were changing, and there is no way I cannot touch on this. The last song we wrote for the record was ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ and that was f—ing something you could feel … the turning point was right there. We wrote that last, and that was the icing on the cake. It also showed where are minds were going into ‘Vulgar.’
I mention on the liner notes, when we were all stuck in there — and believe me, we were stuck — I was doing vocals for ‘Cemetery Gates’ and it wasn’t so much the super-high vocals at the end. It was the line the “memories now unfold,” and that last note, right in the middle of a pitch in my throat that did not want to be, and it is forced. It is a forced way of singing. I know how to sing, and then I know how to throw some throat into it, where I half-sing, half-force. It took f—ing forever, and I f—ing smashed a stool against the wall, kicked a chair and it took six hours. I had to do it twice, of course, back in the day, before Pro Tools. It was really authentic. It had to be.
Why did the new song ‘The Will to Survive’ not make the album?
Honestly, it is such a dated song. That is why. It is coming from way back from the 1988 era, and I have to say that I don’t even think it was chosen for the ‘Power Metal’ record. It was never in total consideration. To my ears, it’s a dated listen, but for what it’s worth, we were all young motherf—ers. You can hear the influence of Judas Priest, Judas Priest — and even more Judas Priest in power ballad mode. It is not one of my favorite ventures, and that is why it didn’t make it out until now, 20 years later.
How do you think Pantera fans will react?
I don’t care, but I think people will enjoy it for what it is. It is not going shake up the world, but it is different and it is a different song. It is a new Pantera song to them but very, very, very old to me in spirit. And coming from a young spot in our hearts.
What is your favorite memory of Dime during that era?
I tell people all the time, one thing about Darrell, and this is when you know … that … the gift that that guy had was once in a lifetime. I figure, definitely in my lifetime, that I will never come across a character like that, who can grab an instrument. He was always as bad-ass as he was. From the beginning, he was always as good as ever. Watching him to finally get the chance to … let me say this … let me point out that Dimebag, no matter what era, especially when I joined the band, had that roaring motherf—ing guitar sound. Production was changing, and we were changing how heavy metal records sounded and were produced. With ‘CFH,’ we had Terry Date — and he is fantastic — in one room with a mic to get it on tape as best as possible. ‘CFH’ was a launch pad for that badass guitar sound. That was always a factor. How the hell do we get this monstrous sound onto a record and make it shake?
How do you feel now that he is not here with us to celebrate the album’s anniversary?
I have days; many, many days. Not a day that goes by that it doesn’t cross my mind once, twice, 10 times. I know that if he were still around, we’d be a major mega f—ing force, literally. It is being reintroduced into a new generation, and it is a good thing, man. It shows some roots and the arteries of music are vast and the tentacles are long. It’ll give new whippersnappers a chance to see sounds they love where they came from.
Twenty years later, what does ‘CFH’ mean for you? How does it sound to your ears?
When I listen to it today, I realize how absolutely hard it was to judge Pantera when I was there on the spot. I can sit back and listen. I am underestimating the power of that record. I thought things were simple, but they were tricky. It is surprising stuff and it is rhythmically, insane. I can only pick apart my performance. For it’s time, it was an extreme record. I am stunned, in a good way,
Has the promotion for the reissue opened lines of communication with Vinnie?
I wouldn’t say it has opened the lines of communication, but collectively we know it is important to do this, 20 years later. We work through a nice lady named Kim. She mediates and does a great job at it. Everybody else, me, Rex and Vince … it is a consensus thing. Whatever they decide is normally cool with me.
Famous last words for ‘Cowboys From Hell’?
It is amazing. 20 years have gone by. I am doing an interview talking about it having lived it. It is an honor. It’s a privilege and it’s a f—ing golden chapter of life. It is a fantastic monument.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary, Rhino is offering up several configurations of the classic “Cowboys From Hell” album to satisfy every generation of Pantera fan. There will be a three-disc Ultimate Edition, a three-disc Deluxe Edition and a two-disc Expanded Edition of ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ All three editions include a newly remastered version of the original album along with unreleased and rare live performances from the era and unreleased demos for nearly every track.
The Ultimate Edition box lands November 22 for a suggested list price of $99.98, just in time for headbanger’s holidays! The box includes custom artwork and a 60-page booklet with rare photos, expanded liner notes and replicas from the “Cowboys” era as listed below.
· New Years Puke Party T-shirt – designed by Dimebag Darrell (XL)
· ‘We’re Takin Over This Town’ flyer reproduction (8 1/2″ x 11″)
· ‘It’s Up To You/Censorship’ flyer reproduction (8 1/2″ x 11″)
· Arcadio Theatre poster reproduction (11″ x 17″)
· “Cowboys From Hell Fucking Hostile button
· ‘All Access Tour Pass ’90’ Fabric Sticker
· Cowboys From Hell Texas Guest Laminated Pass
· ‘U.S. Tour ’91’ All Access Laminated Pass
· Ticket reproduction, June 14, 1991
The previously announced Deluxe and Expanded Editions will be available on September 14. Suggested list price for the Deluxe version will be $29.98 (physical) and $17.98 (digital). Suggested list price for the Expanded Edition will be $19.98 (physical) and $12.99 (digital). A complete breakdown of all packages appears below
COWBOYS FROM HELL
Disc One – Ultimate, Deluxe, Expanded
1. “Cowboys From Hell”
2. “Primal Concrete Sledge”
3. “Psycho Holiday”
5. “Cemetery Gates”
8. “Clash With Reality”
9. “Medicine Man”
10. “Message In Blood”
11. “The Sleep”
12. “The Art Of Shredding”
Disc Two – Ultimate, Deluxe, Expanded
1. “Domination” – Live*
2. “Psycho Holiday” – Live*
3. “The Art Of Shredding” – Live*
4. “Cowboys From Hell” – Live*
5. “Cemetery Gates” – Live*
6. “Primal Concrete Sledge” – Live*
7. “Heresy” – Live*
8. “Domination” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
9. “Primal Concrete Sledge” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
10. “Cowboys From Hell” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
11. “Heresy” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
12. “Psycho Holiday” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
Disc Three – Ultimate & Deluxe
1. “The Will To Survive” – Demo*
2. “Shattered” – Demo*
3. “Cowboys From Hell” – Demo*
4. “Heresy” – Demo*
5. “Cemetery Gates” – Demo*
6. “Psycho Holiday” – Demo*
7. “Medicine Man” – Demo*
8. “Message In Blood” – Demo*
9. “Domination” – Demo*
10. “The Sleep” – Demo*
11. “The Art Of Shredding” – Demo*
* Previously Unreleased
† Unreleased in the U.S.