Cowboys from Hell
Pantera had excised nearly all remnants of their hair-metal days when they signed with a major label and released 1990’s Cowboys from Hell. Only the strutting single “Psycho Holiday”—which boasts banshee-scream vocal outbursts from Phil Anselmo, squealing guitars, and crashing chorus hooks—feels like a link to the Texas band’s glammier past. In all other respects, Cowboys from Hell ripped up metal’s existing rulebook and replaced it with something harder, faster, and heavier.
That was made clear from the album-opening title track, a ferocious, confrontational tune that doubled as Pantera’s mission statement: They were swaggering, dangerous hell-raisers ready to steamroll the competition. From there, the band melded several prominent inspirations—especially speedy ’80s thrash, lightning-fast hard rock, and pounding groove metal—into something potent and fresh. The bludgeoning proto-death-metal blast “Primal Concrete Sledge” lived up to its name. So did the album’s final song, “The Art of Shredding,” which segued from vicious, Metallica-like grooves to choppy, whiplash-inducing guitar heroics.
Yet the sprawling, seven-minute centerpiece “Cemetery Gates” was perhaps the album’s most influential moment of all, as the song served as a blueprint for modern hard-rock ballads: elegiac acoustic guitars intertwined with mournful, subdued vocals before giving way to anguished harmonies and Dimebag Darrell’s epic, smoldering electric-guitar work. Cowboys from Hell became Pantera’s first album to be certified platinum and grace the U.S. charts—and it kicked off a decade of uncompromising, unrelenting metal domination.