I've seen a lot of arguments over the years about which album is Pantera's actual debut. You see, once upon a time, this band had a glam metal sound and released a few albums independently before they got their major label deal and recorded "Cowboys From Hell". I say I would have to count myself on the side that considers "Cowboys" the debut. "Cowboys" is where things began to matter and where the metal magic really started, all that came before was simply dust in the wake of this re-tooled missile of power groove that eventually shot to #1 on the charts within two more records. This is the one metal band that had real success during the grunge years of the 90s, where the fortunes of many others waned a bit. "Cowboys" put Pantera on the map because of its carefully crafted balance of guitar shredding, memorable hooks, and overall power in the performances. This band was perfectionist in their recordings, they always wanted the performances to be the best and as the finished album shows, they succeeded. From the opening title track to the thunderous “Domination” (containing a genuine breakdown; metal core musicians: please study) or the balladry of “Cemetery Gates”, this record still sounds relevant twenty years later.
As far as the re-issue, the album has been digitally remastered from the original recordings and to be completely truthful, doesn’t sound all that much different than the original. The album is louder, the guitars and drums are a little more defined, but not much else has changed. I have always enjoyed the production on this band’s records (mainly done by Terry Date and the bands members), and while a remastered version is nice, it sometimes comes down to the record label looking to make a few extra dollars. The best things about the re-issue to me would have to be the packaging and the new liner notes on the 3-disc deluxe version. The liner notes, written by the three surviving bands members, producer Terry Date, and several others offer some cool reflections about the record. In addition to the remastered album, discs two and three contain a mixture of unreleased live tracks from the Foundation Forum in California (1990) and Monsters of Rock Festival in Moscow, Russia (1991). Disc three contains demo versions of the entire album and an unreleased demo track called “The Will To Survive” which I can see why has remained unreleased until now. The song doesn’t really go anywhere and if you know Pantera and listen to it, you will recognize a riff from “This Love”, a song which appears on a later Pantera album.
Overall, this is definitely a re-issue for the diehard fan or someone wanting to discover this band’s material for the first time. Apparently, there is an “ultimate” edition being released in November for the most devoted fans which will run in the $100 price range. I know there is going to be endless online chatter about this and further Pantera re-issues. Is the record label milking the legacy because of Dimebag’s murder in 2004? I’m sure they are to some degree, it wouldn’t be the first time a label did this and it won’t be the last, that’s what major record labels do after all. Personally, I believe they would have done these re-issues even if Dimebag was still here with us today. This band did make a big impact in the metal world and you still hear their songs all over the place. Dimebag Darrell was a genuine guitar hero; his playing alone was a massive contribution to heavy music, not to mention what the rest of the band brought to the table. So, if you want to stick to the original or pick up the remaster, either way you will hold in your hand an awesome slab of metal that deserves the name heavy. A note to metal heads with younger siblings who are getting into the atrocious metal core bands with floppy haircuts: Do them a favor and buy ‘em a copy of “Cowboys From Hell” for the holidays, it’s the gateway to better things.