Pantera: Cowboys from Hell [1990]

Released July 24, 1990
Recorded 1989, Pantego Sound Studio, Pantego, Texas
Genre Heavy metalgroove metalthrash metal
Length 57:37
Label Atco
Producer Terry Date

Cowboys from Hell is the fifth album by American heavy metal band Pantera, and their first Atco Records album, recorded at Pantego Sound Studio in Pantego, TX and released on July 24, 1990. This was their first commercially successful album, exposing the band’s groove metal style to mainstream audiences. Cowboys from Hell is seen as Pantera’s “official” debut by most fans, as well as the band itself as they left behind their glam metal past and began to focus on groove metal. After its release, a logo for the band was made featuring the letters ‘CFH’ (the abbreviation of the album title) in a circular design.

After being turned down “28 times by every major label on the face of the Earth”, Atco Records representative Mark Ross was asked by his boss, Derek Shulman (who was interested in signing them), to see the band perform after Hurricane Hugo stranded him in Texas. Ross was so impressed by the band’s performance that he called his boss that night, suggesting that Pantera be signed to the label.

Ross on the performance:

“By the end of the first song, my jaw was on the floor. The sonic power of it all — the attitude and the musicianship — blew me away. Basically, you had to be an idiot to not think they’re amazing. I mean, how could you see these guys and not think, Holy shit!?”[1]

Atco Records accepted, and at the close of 1989, the band began writing and recording its major label debut at Pantego Sound Studio. The band adopted a new sound and attitude, and the writing of what would become Cowboys from Hell saw the band exploring darker subject matters, while the guitar would be notably heavier, despite occasionally reverting to the hair metal formula. The band recorded Cowboys from Hell: The Demos, a self-produced demo album which featured 11 tracks, 10 of which would make the album cut. The last two tracks to be written were “Clash With Reality” and “Primal Concrete Sledge”, while a song entitled “The Will to Survive” would be discarded early in the recording sessions.

Recording took place in Pantego, Texas at the Pantego Sound Studio and the band were feeling confident about their material and themselves, finally feeling that they were making the kind of album they believed in. One key track to emerge during the writing was “Cemetery Gates“, a seven-minute power ballad that would be the first song to show both their diversity and Anselmo’s vocal range. Although they had already recorded four albums prior to Cowboys from Hell, Pantera felt that this was their true debut, working with a professional producer and a major label for the first time and creating music that was not simply stealing from other similar bands in an attempt to attract attention.

Commercial performance

The album was released on July 24, 1990 and was available on tape, CD, vinyl and a Limited Edition version (same album but in a long box). The album would become the band’s breakthrough record as it became their first album to chart in 1992, reaching #27 on the Billboard Music Charts Top Heatseekers. In March of 1995 the album entered the Swedish Charts for one week managing to peak at #46. The album has since gone on to attain both Gold (500,000 units) and Platinum (1,000,000 units) certifications in the U.S. as well as Gold status in the U.K. for sales of 100,000.[4]

Critical reception

The album has been praised by most critics as it would prove to be one of the most influential albums in the metal scene in the 1990s and of all time, and would inspire a generation of musicians, particularly guitarists. IGN named Cowboys from Hell the 19th most influential heavy metal album of all-time.[8]

They said about the album:

“Along with Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera’s fifth album is not only considered one of the band’s best, but is also one of the defining albums of early ’90s metal. The band’s chemistry really begins to gel with collective symmetry here, as a pre-Dimebag Darrell (he was known as Diamond Darrell back then) rips the strings of his axe like a rabid weasel, frontman Phil Anselmo following in kind with chaotic vocal utterances, and the rhythm section of Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown keeping the rhythms in check and the whole mess glued together with low end prowess.”

Allmusic says about the album:

“Pantera’s breakthrough album, Cowboys from Hell, is largely driven by the band’s powerful rhythm section and guitarist Diamond Darrell(s) unbelievably forceful riffing, which skittered around the downbeats to produce unexpected rhythmic phrases and accents, as well as his inventive soloing.”

Re-release

On November 22, 2010,[9] a 20th anniversary edition was released with a remastered mixed from the original analog recordings. The expanded edition features a bonus CD of previously unreleased live recordings and the Alive And Hostile E.P. The deluxe edition features an additional third CD[10][11] with the previously unreleased demo track “The Will to Survive” (parts of the song were later used in the song “This Love” from Vulgar Display of Power) along with demo versions of ten songs from the original album.[12]

The third disc of the deluxe set, Cowboys from Hell: The Demos, was released as a separate limited-edition vinyl LP at the same time.[10] It was exclusively available at Metal Club record stores.[9][11] The 2010 reissue of the album managed to reach #117 on the Billboard Top 200 and #8 on the Catalog Albums selling 4,200.

The album was ranked #11 on the October 2006 issue of Guitar World magazine’s list of the greatest 100 guitar albums of all time.[15] It was ranked the #85 best heavy metal album of all time byMetal-Rules.com.[16] IGN named Cowboys from Hell the 19th most influential heavy metal album of all-time. “Cemetery Gates” was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards, but lost to “Ænema” by Tool.

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Pantera.

No. Title Length
1. Cowboys from Hell 4:06
2. “Primal Concrete Sledge” 2:13
3. Psycho Holiday 5:19
4. “Heresy” 4:46
5. Cemetery Gates 7:02
6. “Domination” 5:04
7. “Shattered” 3:22
8. “Clash with Reality” 5:16
9. “Medicine Man” 5:15
10. “Message in Blood” 5:10
11. “The Sleep” 5:45
12. “The Art of Shredding” 4:19

Lyrics

1. Cowboys From Hell

Under the lights where we stand tall
Nobody touches us at all
Showdown, shootout, spread fear within, without
We’re gonna take what’s ours to have
Spread the word throughout the land
They say the bad guys wear black
We’re tagged and can’t turn back

You see us comin’
And you all together run for cover
We’re taking over this town

Here we come reach for your gun
And you better listen well my friend, you see
It’s a pistol is down below aimed at you
We’re the cowboys from hell.

Aimed at you we’re the cowboys from hell
Deed is done again, we’ve won
Ain’t talking no tall tales friend
‘Cause high noon, your doom
Comin’ for you we’re the cowboys from hell

Pillage the village, trash the scene
But better not take it out on me
‘Cause a ghost town is found
Where your city used to be
So out of the darkness and into the light
Sparks fly everywhere in sight
From my double barrel, 12 gauge,
Can’t lock me in your cage

You see us comin’
And you all together run for cover
We’re taking over this town

Here we come reach for your gun
And you better listen well my friend, you see
It’s a pistol is down below aimed at you
We’re the cowboys from hell.
Deed is done again, we’ve won
Ain’t talking no tall tales friend
‘Cause high noon, your doom
Comin’ for you we’re the cowboys from hell

2. Primal Concrete Sledge

There’s a double standard for the way we live
If there’s nothing to have, well then there’s nothing to save
I’ll break a sweat and I don’t regret
What you’d kill to see brings out the god in me.

Come and be with me
Live my twisted dream
Pro devoted pledge
Time for primal concrete sledge

The man of a thousand retirements
Will always be the one to tell you when to quit
I won’t take stock in a withered man
I’m reaching into you, I’ll make you understand

Come and be with me
Live my twisted dream
Pro devoted pledge
Time for primal concrete sledge

3. Psycho Holiday

Empty and sweating
Head lying in your hands
Shaking in the corner
Done too much alcohol
Gotta get away from it all
‘Cause it feels my blood is freezing
My self insanity has taken its toll
Frustration has taken its control

Now I’m far from home
Spending time alone
It’s time to set my demons free
Been put to the test
My mind laid to rest
I’m on a psycho holiday

Shot down on sight
You are the target of attention
One woman here another there
You can’t please all the people all the time
Can’t tell the strangers
From the friends you know
Frustration has taken it’s control

Now you’re far from home
Spending time alone
It’s time to set your demons free
Been put through the test
Your mind laid to rest
You’re on a psycho holiday

I’m strapped in for life
Is this where I lived
Or where I died
You want my money
You take my space
My mind is telling me
To leave this place
My self insanity has taken its toll
Frustration has taken its control

Now you’re far from home
Spending time alone
It’s time to set your demons free
Been put through the test
Your mind laid to rest
You’re on a psycho holiday

4. Heresy

Here we are
In a world of corruption
Human nature is
Of violent Breed
Who cares if there’s no tomorrow
When I die for my future’s
Laid out for me
Can’t you see?
Rise above the lies
Morals on a backwards globe
A sin to you
For me it’s hope.

It’s my life and provision
Black or white
Some pay to pray
You question why they
Act this way
It’s their fucking decision

No more judgement day
Only tranquility
Peace signs, protest lines
Mean nothing to me

Honesty born in me
Heresy

I know what’s right or wrong
And my belief is stronger
Than your advice
People, they go to war
Because religion gives them
Reason to fight
Sacrifice, die for pride
A group that caters
No one’s fees
Or synthetic deities
Is where I belong
My stand is the human race
Without a label or a face
So they can lick my sack

No more judgement day
Only tranquility
Peace signs, protest lines
Mean nothing to me

Honesty born in me
Heresy

5. Cemetery Gates

Reverend reverend is this some conspiracy?
Crucified for no sins
An image beneath me
Whats within our plans for life
It all seems so unreal
I’m a man cut in half in this world
Left in my misery…

The reverend he turned to me
Without a tear in his eyes
It’s nothing new for him to see
I didn’t ask him why
I will remember
The love our souls had
Sworn to make
Now I watch the falling rain
All my mind can see
Now is your (face)

Well I guess
You took my youth
I gave it all away
Like the birth of a
New-found joy
This love would end in rage
And when she died
I couldn’t cry
The pride within my soul
You left me incomplete
All alone as the
Memories now unfold.

Believe the word
I will unlock my door
And pass the
Cemetery gates

Sometimes when I’m alone
I wonder aloud
If you’re watching over me
Some place far abound
I must reverse my life
I can’t live in the past
Then set my soul free
Belong to me at last

Through all those
Complex years
I thought I was alone
I didn’t care to look around
And make this world my own
And when she died
I should’ve cried and spared myself some pain…
Left me incomplete
All alone as the memories still remain

The way we were
The chance to save my soul
And my concern is now in vain
Believe the word
I will unlock my door
And pass the cemetery gates

6. Domination

Agony is the price
That you’ll pay in the end
Domination consumes you
Then calls you a friend
It’s a twisted fall
Binds are like steel
And manipulates the will to be
And it’s hard to see
How soon we forget
When there’s nothing else
Left to destroy
It’s a useless ploy

Your eyes will see
The dawn of the day
And the writing
On the wall
Those words that stare
Into your soul
And to yourself
You will befall

It’s domination pushed into living hell
Domination a now blacked heart
Is reaching out divinity
Body suspended by chains over razors
And nails it’s a penalty
Each razor a vice and each nail
Marks the demise of you life.
Grim construction grows
Has life played a trick
Sealed you in brick by brick
Till your end forcing you to bend

Your eyes will see
The dawn of the day
And the writing
On the wall
Those words that stare
Into your soul
And to yourself
You will befall

It’s domination pushed into living hell
Domination a now blacked heart
Is reaching out divinity
Body suspended by chains over razors
And nails it’s a penalty
Each razor a vice and each nail
Marks the demise of you life.
Grim construction grows
Has life played a trick
Sealed you in brick by brick
Till your end forcing you to bend

7. Shattered

It’s storming broken glass, corpses left in piles
Ungracious bludgeonmnet that breaks the earth for miles
Nothing can stop it, the day has come, from below it’s catastrophic

Freezing, there’s no healing families are dying

This world is shattered… all shattered

Life crushing turbulence, this wrath can’t be denied
Wishing you could help your friends, standing where they died
Echoes haunting, a hollow planet, lacerations, dissected nation

Freezing, there’s no healing everyone is dying

This world is shattered… all shattered

8. Clash With Reality

Sometimes I know
I feel untouchable
Drowning in life
Caught up in the accessible
Back down the ground
I hear the sound
there’s no escape
The concrete cloud
Spilling on me
Drenching me with
Laymen’s sins
I hear the sirens
From the back of me
I’m crashing face first
Into the glass eye

Clash with reality
It rears it’s ugly head
Clash with reality
The indescribable
Let the dogs lie
Where we sleep
Irrelevant theme

A situation and there’s
Nothing but right
In kicks the door
Nobody moves
‘Cause in walks the problem
Dictates your fate
Evicts, convicts
Who’ll sign the writ of life?
This now becomes
Their morbid game
Who’s piss poor excuse
Is this for a world?
It swells my hatred
Day by day

Clash with reality
It rears it’s ugly head
Clash with reality
The indescribable
Let the dogs lie
Where we sleep
Irrelevant theme

9. Medicine Man

Many distant miles away
Past the shores of ever dark
There stays a magic man
Who bears an evil mark
He helps all concerned
Those who come again return
Injecting lies while fires burn
The devil’s heart
With angel’s words
Have you wondered
What heaven’s like?
He can show you in one night
Overwhelming with euphoric lift
To lure you to steal your gift

Intoxication
Seeping down to the bone
And there’s no question
Where you have to go

Understand just take his hand
He’s the medicine man

Once proud and fearless men
With desire in their eyes
Lost strong and fruitful lives
To self-indulgent ties
Their souls were dipped in venom
And put into a box
Then placed upon a crowded shelf
Where countless souls now rot
Have you ever wondered what hell’s like?
He can take you there
Just one taste and you’ll be back
And by the high you’ll swear

Intoxication
Seeping down to the bone
And there’s no question
Where you have to go

Understand just take his hand
He’s the medicine man

10. Message In Blood

There’s a place that I keep deep inside me
It can trigger my mind
All along I knew it has been with me
Since I was just a child

I just summon power within my soul
It has given me life, beyond life I take
Blame for my murderous problem my signature
Always reminds

It’s a message in blood
It’s your cryptic warning
Within the message in blood
Marks the years of pain,
And your godforsaken ending to life

I’m provoked into sick confrontations, brutal
Time after time, bed of nails, suffocation,
life’s ending, slay in different designs
One mans misery is another mans mystery
No one cares to understand my
Demented means
Sticks and stones can break all your
brittle bones, epitaph written at your feet

It’s a message in blood
It’s your cryptic warning
Within the message in blood
Marks the years of pain,
And your godforsaken ending to life

11. The Sleep

Understanding what has
Happened before us
We are confined to a
Darkened hidden tomb
The conquering of our world
As we knew it
Rise above this pit
Of sorrow and pain
Among the few
We are the avant leaders
We’ve got to live
Through this trouble and decay

This question haunts my mind
Will we survive this night?
We’re harboring the meek
Will we survive the sleep?

Unsure and scared
We are planning our reprise
Revolves around this world
We don’t know anymore
The odds against us
Yet we’re stronger and prevailing
Learn from mistakes
Counting souls for sale

This question haunts my mind
Will we survive this night?
We’re harboring the meek
Will we survive the sleep?

12. The Art Of Shredding

Unity is a rare thing
Blind eyes of society bring
The category of minority
Now what are we supposed to be?
Born free to be
Powerless to change the world
With our lives in the hands of madmen

Now in times when society needs us
This is where the sin begins
We’re aware they’re going to free us
Rage from our hearts within
Born of this world
Which is a living hell
But we’ll be closer to heaven

So now, this is the art
To shred… it’s only emotion

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