The remaster has some issues, but the bonus content is great!
By Nick MIchalak
I just bought this 3-CD set, and it's a tough call to give an overall rating. First off, the bad. The actual remastered original album is not up to standards. I bought the physical CD set, and so, this is as pure of a source as you can get. So, there are no mp3 conversion issues to factor in. On multiple tracks, the mix peaks out and distorts in different ways. From simple things like Vinnie tapping the cymbal to cue into "Domination" to some of Rex's bass work on "Cemetery Gates" to various other things. It is not consistent on what distorts from track-to-track, but the compression or peaked out levels rear their ugliness on probably all tracks (didn't listen to them all after I heard enough of this flawed technical quality). Compared to other digital remasters, such as the Judas Priest ones from a decade ago, this doesn't offer anything distinctly different, in a positive way, to my ears. There might be added clarity, but nothing in terms of richness, separation of tracks, or depth of sound. Other remasters I know of, such as the Megadeth catalog or the Pearl Jam "Ten" release, were also remixed. So, it's unfair to compare this to that since this Pantera remaster was from the original mixes, but regardless, it falls short of standards and expectations.
Now, the flat out awesome. Personally, I LOVE the demos! There's nothing particularly different, in most part, from Vinnie, Darrell, or Rex, aside from a few arrangement changes, but Phil Anselmo's vocals sound very different. This was definitely in a transition from the glam-metal phase to the groove metal sound that CFH became. Phil's vocals here are more melodic with a wider dynamic. It has a quality similar to that of Queensrÿche's Geoff Tate, but with some added aggression. Maybe that works for you, maybe it doesn't. I love the sound of it, but don't get me wrong, I wouldn't exchange what Pantera became for anything. At times, you may not be able to recognize Phil's voice, but the classic CFH voice is developing here. I did like "The Will To Survive." Clear evidence of that transitional sound, and apparently, some of the song later became "This Love." Most of the demo tracks aren't as aggressive, vocally, as their final album versions, but a few have a more raw edge by the mere fact that they are demos. To me, this is the treasure of this release, and I will likely listen to some of these demos as much as the album versions. They offer something different without being too far off from the final release versions.
The live tracks don't offer much variety, but it does feature Anselmo before his voice got too blown out by the time of "Vulgar Display of Power." So, you get more pure, high notes than he could muster on "Official Live: 101 Proof." Sadly, no attempt is even made on the "Cemetery Gates" live track to hit those climactic super high notes. Regardless, the tracks are good, clear quality. Plus, I can never have enough live Pantera in my collection. I only got to see the band live once, at OzzFest 2000, and I barely knew two songs. So, getting a few more live performance tracks to cherish is golden for me.
"Cowboys From Hell" was an absolute game changing album for metal. It kicked off the 90s with a breath of fresh air with an energy and shredding sound that was desperately needed at the time. It immediately put Pantera on the map, and was their first step to becoming the Kings of Metal. It was only about a single decade of dominance, but one that should forever be remembered. It's good that a decision was made to give this classic album a deluxe edition release, but whoever handled the remastering did not do a good job. The original release still sounds solid today. So, do not throw it out in favor of this one, but keep it as a companion. The price tag is worthwhile for the other two discs of material with the live tracks and the demos. Maybe the demos won't be to your liking, but definitely preview them here before committing to a purchase, as I did. For any serious Pantera fan, this should be part of your collection. We will never have new Pantera music to anticipate, and so, only the past can offer us new treasures. This is one of them.