33 Years Ago: Def Leppard Unleash ‘Hysteria’

They were one of the first bands the British press categorized as part of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement, but by the time Def Leppard released their fourth record, Hysteria, on Aug. 3, 1987, they had completely shattered the mold and discovered a sound based on catchy melodies, heavily processed drums, layered, shimmery walls of guitar and clean, crisp vocals. If 1983’s Pyromania marked Def Leppard’s toe-dip into pop, Hysteria was a cannonball off the deep end. Then again, guitarist Phil Collen says they never liked being categorized with British metal bands.

“Even when we were grouped as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, we didn’t think we were at all like the other bands people were talking about [including Iron Maiden and Diamond Head],” he told me in 1999. “We never wanted to be a metal band, ever. We’re about as close to metal as we are to Madonna.”

Despite their disenchantment with metal, Def Leppard still had a slew of commercial metal fans and glam rock fans who didn’t bail on them, and with radio hits like “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Love Bites,” “Animal” and “Rocket,” Def Leppard attracted a new fan base from fans of U2 and Prince to kids who had just one or two hard-rock records in their collections.

Def Leppard, “Animal”

“We’ve always wanted to be a band for the people,” Collen says. “When we started working on Hysteria we had just sold eight million records with Pyromania so we knew we had a fanbase. We weren’t necessarily trying to top that because you can’t go into something saying, ‘Okay, yeah, this one’s going to sell more than 8million copies.’ That’s a lot of records. We just wanted to make a record with good songs that we really liked and that were maybe a little more polished and more modern sounding. Even when we finished Hysteria we had no idea how it was going to do, but it felt like a triumph for us.”

Within days of its release, it was clear that others viewed it as a triumph as well. Hysteria reached No. 1 on both U.S. and UK album charts and went on to sell over 12 million copies in the States and over 20 million copies worldwide. And it proved that after a four-year wait for a new album, the public was still eager to embrace Def Leppard’s heavily processed sound.

Hysteria wasn’t an easy record for the band to make, and came to life only after some serious drama and soul-searching. By the time it was released, Def Leppard’s drummer Rick Allen had lost his arm in a near-fatal car crash and the level of stress they were under while writing the songs made the band consider breaking up. Then, after they toured for Hysteria, guitarist Steve Clark died from an overdose.

“People talk about ‘The Curse of Def Leppard,” and that’s so strange to me,” Collen said. “We’ve been a band since 1977. We’ve been like a family, and things happen in any family. People have accidents, people die. You enjoy the good times, and you stick together and help each other through the bad times.”

There were both good and bad times while producer Mutt Lange — who had been with Def Leppard since their second album, 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry — worked on Hysteria. From the start, his goal was to help create the most commercial hard rock album of all time, and reaching that goal put everyone in a pressure chamber, from the engineers to the band members. “His blueprint for Hysteria was Thriller,” recalled Collen. “He figured, ‘Well, that album’s got six or seven hit singles on it. Let’s make a rock version of that.’ Talk about a challenge. And to be honest, Hysteria was a difficult record to make. Nothing came easily. We worked on it for a long time and it cost lots of money, but eventually we got there.”

To give Hysteria a sound that would stand out from the rock records flooding the marketplace, Lange used a variety of technology. All of the guitars were recorded on a Rockman amplifier and dozens of tracks were recorded and layered for every take. Then the drums were sampled individually and played through a Fairlight digital sampling synthesizer. Finally, the takes were saturated with echoey reverb, giving the songs a stadium rock vibe, even without the low, booming tones of most hard rock.

“That was a hell of an experiment at the time,” Collen said. “It was excruciating to record. We just redid stuff over and over and over — guitars, vocals, everything. And then if it didn’t sound the way we wanted, we’d modify it and start the whole process over again until we found the parts that worked best for the song. Then we’d move on to the next one.”

Def Leppard, “Love Bites”

There’s no question that Lange played a major role in sculpting the sound for Hysteria. And when Lange bailed on the project in the pre-production stages due to mental exhaustion, it looked like Hysteria might turn into a completely different types of release. Def Leppard hired Meat Loaf’s songwriter Jim Steinman to replace Lange. But Steinman wanted to capture the band with traditional hard rock production techniques, and Def Leppard was unhappy with the sound he was getting. The band members let him go and then tried to produce the album themselves in an effort to capture Lange’s widescreen sound, but soon they shut down shop. The situation went from bad to tragic.

On Dec. 31, 1984, drummer Rick Allen was speeding along a country road in Sheffield, England, with his girlfriend Miriam Barendsen. When he tried to pass another car, Allen lost control of his Corvette C4, which bounded off a brick wall and flipped through a field. Allen’s left arm was severed in the accident and he nearly bled to death before he paramedics got him to the hospital. Doctors were unable to reattach the arm, but Allen was unwilling to give up on playing drums in the band. After he had healed from the accident, he started playing again and used his feet to trigger drum sounds he used to play with his left arm.

“People have asked us why we didn’t find a new drummer after Rick’s accident,” Collen said. “That wasn’t even a thought. We encouraged Rick to get his spirits back and work hard to rejoin the band. I mean, for God sakes, you don’t kick a man when he’s down. How horrible would it have been to say, ‘Okay, you just had this horrible accident, and that’s really traumatic for you. But sorry, you’re out of the band.’ No way. We were determined to keep going with Rick.”

Def Leppard, “Pour Some Sugar on Me”

Right when Def Leppard were ready to continue working on Hysteria with Allen, Lange contacted them and said he was available to get back into the studio if they were interested. Def Leppard worked steadily with Lange from mid-1986 through January, 1987. During their final recording session, they tracked “Armageddon It” and the last-minute addition, “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” which became the most popular song on the album.

“‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ was based on a rap song, which sounds so silly coming from this British rock band,” Collen said. “It had a wacky vocal, and that was pulling from areas that we’d never been close to before but were excited to mess around with.”

Hysteria was the last album guitarist Steve Clark worked on with the band. A problem alcoholic, he went in and out of rehab several times in the six months before he died from an overdose of codeine, alcohol, diazepam and morphine. Clark was replaced by former Dio guitarist Vivian Campbell, who remains with the band to this day.

On Oct. 22, 2013, Def Leppard released the double-album Hysteria: Live at the Joint Las Vegas. Recorded on March 29 and 30, 2013 during the band’s residency at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the first disc features Hysteria in its entirety as well as two hits from Pyromania — “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.” The second CD featured more obscure cuts from the band’s catalog, which Def Leppard had performed as the opening act to their own shows, using the name Ded Flatbird. The set included all of side one of the band 1981 album High ‘n’ Dry.

Decades after releasing Hysteria, Def Leppard continue to play many of the songs from the album as staples of their set. On their 2015 summer tour with Styx and Tesla, the band regularly performs “Animal,” “Armageddon It,” Love Bites,” “Rocket,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Hysteria.” It seems Mutt Lange had it right all along when he said Hysteria would be the hard rock version of Thriller.

Def Leppard, “Hysteria”

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

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39 Years Ago: Iron Maiden Introduced Metal to MTV

Aug. 1, 1981 was the day that MTV invaded cable systems across the U.S. for the first time. “MTV” stood for “Music Television,” and the network operated as something of a loosely formatted radio station that played videos. However, as artists didn’t routinely film videos, the channel was somewhat limited in what it could play; the channel’s early days were particularly free-form; this is definitely reflected in their first-day playlist.

The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” is famous as the first video that was played on the network. What what was the first heavy metal video to make the MTV airwaves? That honor goes to Iron Maiden, who were just an emerging band at the time with their self-titled debut disc arriving in 1980. The Paul Di’Anno-led group’s self-titled clip for “Iron Maiden” was the 16th video played on MTV’s opening day, sandwiched in between Rod Stewart’s ballad “Sailing” and REO Speedwagon’s megahit of the day “Keep on Loving You.”

Like many clips, it was a performance based piece. At the point that MTV was launched, few acts had grasped the conceptual opportunities for music videos, though it wouldn’t take long for elaborate conceptual videos to make stars out of many up and coming bands. Maiden’s self-titled video would also get a second play during the opening 24 hours, but another clip from the band got even more attention. “Wrathchild” would come up in the rotation as the 35th video played and would get four more airings over the first 24 hours.

Iron Maiden, “Wrathchild”

The other major metal presence during the opening day was Rainbow, who had just released their Difficult to Cure album at the time. The Ritchie Blackmore-led outfit made the MTV opening day playlist with their clips for “Can’t Happen Here” (from Difficult to Cure; it was the 52nd video played, and was aired three times in the opening 24 hours) and “All Night Long” (from 1979’s Down to Earth and was the 59th video, airing twice on launch day).

Though the metal pickings were slim, there were plenty signs of harder edged rock for the era playing on Day 1. Pat Benatar‘s “You Better Run” was the second video ever played on the network, while The Who‘s “You Better You Bet” also aired during the opening hour. The first hour also gave us Ph.D.’s video for “Little Suzi’s on the Up,” which would be covered a few years later by Tesla.

MTV’s popularity would grow by leaps and bounds in the years to come, with acts fully realizing the commercial and artistic potential for the art form of music videos. The network’s programmers would also see the popularity of certain styles of music, eventually launching Headbangers Ball for the hard rock and metal-loving segment of their audience on April 18, 1987, nearly six years after the network’s launch.

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13 Years Ago: Five Finger Death Punch Issue ‘The Way of the Fist’

Sometimes you have to look backward to move forward, and on July 31, 2007, a new band with old-school metal leanings named Five Finger Death Punch emerged on the scene with their debut disc, The Way of the Fist, and shook up the state of modern metal.

“That point comes in your life when you kind of stop and look around and think, ‘What is it that I’m really trying to do? What kind of band do I really want to put together and why?,” guitarist Zoltan Bathory told me in 2007. “I kind of realized that going back in time, the bands that I grew up on and what inspired me about those bands, there was a time when you couldn’t be in a band if you couldn’t play, so that was a thing. You know Iron Maiden and all those bands, those were the bands that I listened to and those were the bands that inspired me to pick up a guitar, so I kind of wanted to go back to that time.”

One by one, Bathory started to float his musical idea to others. Drummer Jeremy Spencer, bassist Matt Snell and Motograter vocalist Ivan Moody all found an interest in the music, as well, and soon Five Finger Death Punch was born.

Moody stated, “When Five Finger Death Punch came around, I couldn’t say no. It is EVERYTHING I ever loved about metal!! True, dominating, BADASS unforgiving METAL!! Everyone who heard it understood why I have to do this, and gave me their blessings and best wishes. I am putting my undivided attention, and full efforts into Five Finger Death Punch. And believe me when I say, IT’S F—IN WORTH IT!!”

W.A.S.P. guitarist Darrell Roberts, who joined FFDP after the album was recorded, added in his own statement, “I knew I had to be a part of this band. They are f—ing brutal, extremely talented and the debut CD, The Way of the Fist, contains some of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time! I haven’t been this excited to play music in years.”

With Moody in tow, the band had just the right vocalist to take them to the next level. Having turned heads with his stage presence during his time with Motograter, Five Finger Death Punch knew they had a beast on vocals but also the kind of performer guaranteed to command attention when it came to their live sets. “Ivan is the kind of singer you’re gonna know. You’re gonna know it’s Five Finger Death Punch as soon as you hear that voice and that’s what legends are made out of,” Roberts told me in 2007. “When you see him, it’s blatantly obvious that he’s the real thing. He’s not some guy up there putting on a show that he’s some tormented angry guy. He’s the real thing and you can’t fake it.”

When it came time to hit the studio, Bathory and Spencer took on producing duties, but called upon Soulfly guitarist and industry vet Logan Mader to mix the album. “He can create the sound and the mix you want without influencing it,” explained Bathory. “He’ll say, ‘Tell me what you want and I can make that happen,’ and that’s the greatest feeling walking out from a studio and there is no list of ‘Why? If I could have? Should have?’ — there was none of that. We left the studio jumping around like ‘Yes!'”

Five Finger Death Punch, “The Bleeding”

The first song to garner some attention for the band was “The Bleeding,” a track that was vital in first bringing the group together. “‘The Bleeding’ was the fish hook of this band that I got all these guys with,” stated Bathory. Moody told The Pulse of Radio, “When I first heard it, I sat back in my chair and almost cried. I mean, it came so naturally. Cause at the time, you know, I had just separated from my ex-fiancee and with Motograter separating, it was a real tragic time. A good friend of mine had just passed. There was not a more opportune time to write a song like ‘The Bleeding.’ It’s probably the most personal song I’ve ever written.” The track reached No. 9 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

Next up for the band was “Never Enough,” which arrived in July 2008 as a new song tacked on to the band’s reissue of The Way of the Fist. Thinking of the fans, the band worked out a deal where those who had already purchased the Way of the Fist album could get a free download of the track. “We’re all very close to the Knuckleheads and didn’t want to rip them off,” said Bathory. Moody added, “We were really excited about the song, and rather than waiting a year or two to release it on a new album, we figured we should get it out there for everyone to hear as soon as possible.”

The track was penned while Moody was recovering from a throat issue that sidelined the band from touring. “When I was laying on my back, I was getting emails from fans for one, actually mad at me for having my throat go out,” Moody told The Pulse of Radio. “And not to mention, once we did start working in the studio, it just started coming to me that, here we are, you know, shuffling this material back and forth and the label of course always has their fingers in it … it just got to a point where I was like, you know, when does it become enough? When can I just not give away any more of my soul and it’s acceptable?” The song connected with fans, climbing to No. 9 on the Mainstream Rock Chart.

Five Finger Death Punch, “Never Enough”

Still going strong a year after the album’s release and now bolstered by the disc’s re-release, another newly added track called “Stranger Than Fiction” also got some solid play for the band. Starting like a ballad and showing a softer side of Moody’s voice, the track seemed like a major curveball, but after the first 20 seconds, the heaviness and brutality that fans had come to expect from FFDP kicked in. Released in September, 2008, the track jumped into the Top 20, peaking at No. 16 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

Other highlights on the disc included the rapid-fire title track and the album opening “Ashes.” Bathory told me of “The Way of the Fist,” “It’s one of those songs that you have to look at the mosh pit and see what happens. It’s extremely fast and very technical. It’s one of my favorite tracks and live it’s just crushing.” As for the lyrical content, Moody stated that the song was his way of releasing pent up aggression.

Five Finger Death Punch, “The Way of the Fist”

Aggression also played a role in the crushing album opener “Ashes,” as Bathory revealed that it lyrically evolved from one of the band’s first fights. “We recorded this song and Ivan decided in the middle of the recording session that he needs to go and have a big party, which he didn’t wake up from for three days maybe. But he went to town, rock ‘n’ roll style and we had the studio booked and we got really pissed off about it,” stated Bathory in 2007. “But we started text messaging back and forth and I’m like, ‘Dude, you are a black belt in screwing up.’ And that actually became part of the lyrics and he wrote a whole song about this.” The guitarist added, “There’s a real line between a genius and a crazy man and Ivan walks that line.”

It was an amazing start for Five Finger Death Punch who caught their first big break on the Second Stage of the Family Values tour in 2007 and ended up as a headlining band by the end of their first album cycle. Along the way, they opened for Korn and Disturbed and also turned heads at the Mayhem Festival in 2008. As for that debut disc, The Way of the Fist had a modest start, debuting at No. 199 on the Billboard 200 Album chart, but eventually climbed to No. 107 and has been gold certified.

“We did pop open a couple of cold ones,” said Bathory, upon cracking the Top 200 with their debut. “But we know there is a long road ahead of us.” As we’ve seen over time, that road to the top has been a fruitful one for the band and it started with the groundwork laid by The Way of the Fist.

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24 Years Ago: Sublime Release Self-Titled Album

It should have been a joyous occasion, but on July 30, 1996, Sublime enjoyed a bittersweet taste of success when they released what would become their biggest album — their self-titled release.

Sadly, frontman Bradley Nowell’s growing heroin addiction claimed his life just two months prior to the album’s release. But his final musical statement connected with fans across the board more than either of the band’s previous releases and proved that the group was poised for major success.

The band primarily recorded the Sublime album at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Austin, Texas, between February and May of 1996 with the Austin-based Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers fame serving as producer on the album. “They were the sweetest bunch of guys,” recalled Leary to Rolling Stone, “[but] it was chaos in the studio. There were times where someone had to go into the bathroom to see if Brad was still alive.” Eventually things got so bad that Nowell was sent home before the recording was complete. “It took him three days to get back on his feet,” recalls the singer’s father Jim. “It was the worst I’d ever seen him.”

But while drugs may have taken an increasingly prominent toll on the singer, the musical vision was clear. Using a mix of punk, reggae, ska, dancehall, hip-hop and dub music elements, Nowell and his bandmates Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson somehow mixed it all together with very personalized lyrical content into one pleasing blend that captured the ears of millions of fans and yielded critical praise.

Sublime, “What I Got”

The disc enjoyed a slow build, beginning with the breakout single “What I Got.” The upbeat track served up the ideal of taking a positive outlook on life even through the hardships, and it’s sunny disposition definitely connected with listeners. The song shot to No. 1 on the Modern Rock Chart, No. 11 on the Mainstream Rock Chart and even enjoyed crossover success cracking the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 29. And Nowell’s own life is all over the song, including a line about his dog running away. In the documentary video Sublime – Stories, Tales, Lies and Exaggerations, Nowell’s widow, Troy Dendekker reveals that Lou Dog went missing for a week and that Nowell spent a good portion of the time crying on his couch. When his dog eventually returned, Nowell covered the Camper Van Beethoven song “The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon” and changed the lyrics to “Lou Dog Went to the Moon.” His cover would turn up on the bootleg Firecracker Lounge.

As for the “What I Got” video, with Nowell deceased, it made promotion difficult. But a video collage of archived footage, photos of Nowell and shots of his home base served as a fitting tribute, and much like the song, the video achieved great success.

Sublime, “Santeria”

By early 1997, the Sublime album was really starting to take off and a second single, “Santeria,” was released. The song borrowed a bassline and guitar riff from the older “Lincoln Highway Dub” from the band’s 1994 disc Robbin’ the Hood. The track told the story of a man who was ready to take revenge on the guy who stole his girlfriend. Like “What I Got,” the song shot up the charts. “Santeria” hit No. 3 on the Modern Rock chart and No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. It remains one of the band’s most popular tracks, having been used in such films as Idle Hands, Knocked Up and This Is 40 and covered by Aimee Allen, Meg & Dia and AVAIL among others. The video for the song once again incorporated Nowell, this time as a ghostly figure, with his person being inserted from stock footage.

In May of 1997, Sublime released the third single “Wrong Way” from the album. The track, about a young girl pimped out by her family into prostitution, also became a popular song at alt-rock radio, hitting No. 3 on the Modern Rock chart. The song features a trombone solo from John Blondell that contains an interpolation of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The track also borrows a melody and rhythm from The Specials’ “It’s Up to You.” Actress Bijou Phillips starred in the video for the song, which also included a guest appearance by bassist extraordinaire Mike Watt.

Sublime, “Wrong Way”

And finishing out the album’s singles, “Doin’ Time” arrived in November of 1997. The Gershwin influence once again came through, as the track heavily sampled a cover of “Summertime” done by jazz flautist Herbie Mann. In order to release the song with the Gershwin sample, the band had to change a line to include “Summertime,” but as Nowell had already passed, it’s Sublime pal Michael Happoldt that sings the line. “Doin’ Time” follows the story of a guy who feels trapped by his cheating girlfriend and the poor way she treats him. The song peaked at No. 28 on the Modern Rock chart, but has remained one of their more popular radio songs.

Though not released as singles, two other tracks from the album have also received significant airplay over the years. The bass-heavy “Caress Me Down” draws from Wayne Smith’s Sleng Teng riddim and borrows lyrics and melody from the Clement Irie ’80s single of the same name. Meanwhile, “April 29, 1992” was penned after the 1992 Los Angeles riots and offers a pointed commentary on the acts of arson, robbery and vandalism that went on after the acquittal of the four police officers accused of beating Rodney King. The track includes a sample of an actual Long Beach Police Department radio communication at the beginning of the song.

Sublime, “April 29, 1992”

By the time all was said and done, the Sublime album spent 122 weeks on the chart, eventually peaked out at No. 13 and went five times platinum. It made many a “Best of” list not only for the year 1996, but for the ’90s decade, as well. But sadly, Nowell was not around to experience it.

“I felt like kicking his ass,” recalled Gaugh to Rolling Stone. “I mean, I’d been there and was still struggling with it. So I was all things that I could be to him during that time. I tried to be his conscience; I tried to be his nurse. I even tried to be his drug buddy; I mean, we got loaded together a couple of times.”

Nowell’s widow summed it up, stating to Rolling Stone that even though he died young, he still accomplished all he had hoped: “He always wanted to have a baby: ‘We gotta have a kid,’ he said. He wanted to get his family back, ’cause he had hurt them so bad with his drug use. And he did. He wanted to get this album written, and he wanted it to be the best one he ever wrote. And he did. He wanted his band to have glory. And they did.”

But, she adds, “I’m not saying that it’s OK that Brad died, because it’s not OK. So many things have happened that I wish he could see – Sublime being nominated for awards and their videos being on MTV all the time and their songs played on the radio. Or things will happen with me, and Brad’s the first person I want to tell, ’cause we were best friends. I want to see his reaction to all this. What’s OK is [that] there’s no more struggle, no more war. That struggle took up a lot of our energy and our time, and it was horrible. He’s at peace now.”

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Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’: 10 Facts Only Superfans Know

Metallica were still part of the underground thrash scene in the early ’80s when their debut album Kill ‘Em All came out, but they really began to establish themselves once Ride the Lightning was released in 1984.

Regarded as a huge step forward for the band in terms of musical composition and lyrical maturity, Ride the Lightning featured much more complex structures and socially aware themes than its predecessor. The lineup was finally solidified, following a revolving door of musicians, and they released their first ballad, “Fade to Black.” Metallica, little did they know, were well on their way to superstardom.

James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton and Lars Ulrich shared their second creation with the world on July 27, 1984. All these years later, Metallica are still on top of the world. Here are 10 facts you may not have known about Ride the Lightning. 

1. It was released twice.

Ride the Lightning was initially released through the independent label Megaforce Records in the U.S. and Music for Nations in Europe. It sold 85,000 copies across both markets, and then Metallica signed with Elektra Records, who reissued the album. It ended up peaking at No. 100 on the Billboard 200 without any radio exposure at all, and was eventually certified six times platinum.

2. The title is connected to Stephen King.

The name was inspired by a passage in Stephen King’s The Stand, which Kirk Hammett had been reading around that time. “There was this one passage where this guy was on death row said he was waiting to ‘ride the lightning,'” the guitarist told Rolling Stone. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, what a great song title.’ I told James, and it ended up being a song and the album title.”

3. There was a swap in songwriting credits.

Ride the Lightning was the last Metallica album to feature songwriting credits from Dave Mustaine, who went on to form Megadeth after he departed. In addition, it’s the first Metallica album to feature songwriting credits from Mustaine’s replacement, Hammett.

4. The composition of the music was more complex, thanks to Cliff Burton.

Kill ‘Em All was often criticized for lacking complex musical composition, so Cliff Burton, who wasn’t very involved in writing their debut, taught his bandmates about music theory when it came time to work on its follow-up. The bassist had a formal background in music from studying it in college.

“Cliff went the whole length and learned musical theory and everything,” Hammett reflected in an interview with Guitar World. “And he was way into harmonies. James really absorbed the dual-harmony thing and took it to heart. He made it his thing, but it was originally Cliff’s. Cliff also inspired James greatly on counterpoint and rhythmic concepts.”

Pete Cronin, Redferns/Getty Images

5. Recording in Denmark made them homesick.

Thanks to Lars Ulrich’s connections, the band was able to record the album in Denmark. After a couple of weeks, they started to feel a bit homesick. “It was easy for the Danish guy to fit in, but it wasn’t so easy for the three American guys to fit in. We were experiencing culture shock a little bit,” Hammett admitted to Rolling Stone.

“We didn’t really have anything else to do besides work on music and drink Carlsberg beer,” he continued. “Being homesick gave us the right amount of, I don’t want to say ‘depression,’ but a little bit of longing that I think made its way into the recording process.

6. Their producer had never heard of them.

In Denmark, the band worked with producer Flemming Rasmussen at Sweet Silence Studios because Ulrich was a fan of his work on Rainbow‘s 1981 album Difficult to Cure. Rasmussen had not even heard of Metallica before working with them, but ended up producing Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All. 

“I had never heard of [Metallica], but I really liked them as people,” the producer later said during the Rolling Stone interview. “My mentor was really into jazz, and he pulled me aside one day and said, ‘What’s going on with these guys? They can’t play.’ And I’m like, ‘Who cares? Listen to the energy.’”

7. James Hetfield almost didn’t sing on it.

Hetfield didn’t want to play guitar and sing on the album, so the band offered the vocalist duties to Armored Saint singer John Bush. He declined the opportunity because his band was doing well at the time, so Hetfield just decided to do both again.

“Do I regret turning that down? What I always tell people is that Armored Saint was developing and we were doing well, and these guys were my buddies, you know?” Bush told Metal Hammer of his decision to turn Metallica down. “Metallica were doing well, but it wasn’t like it was Metallica in 1987. It was a few years before that. So, I didn’t want to leave my band. I liked them and I still do!”

8. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls inspired the song of the same name.

Metal fans hear the name For Whom the Bell Tolls and immediately think of the Metallica song, but it was actually inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel with the same name, which was about the Spanish Civil War. The lyrical content of the song refers to a specific chapter in the book, which details El Sordo and four soldiers are killed while attempting to fight on a hilltop.

“Take a look to the sky just before you die / It is the last time you will / Blackened claw massive roar fills the crumbling sky / Shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry”

9. “Fade to Black” was inspired by a series of unfortunate events.

“Fade to Black” was one of the first ballads Metallica had ever written, and featured themes of depression and suicide. When Hetfield wrote the lyrics, they were pretty personal for him at the time. The band’s gear was stolen prior to a show in January of 1984, in which Anthrax lent them some of their own equipment.

“When ‘Fade to Black’ was originally written, this was real. Like, ‘I fucking hate life. Our gear just got stolen, we can’t live our dream, we’re not gonna make it to Europe,‘ all these things,” the vocalist recalled in a So What! video interview.

The singer, however, also revealed the new meanings the song has taken on for him over the years. “And then, obviously, when Cliff or somebody important in our lives passes, that song pops up. Or like Chris Cornell, Dio… Someone’s passing gives that song new life for me.”

10. They don’t care for “Escape.”

Metallica didn’t play “Escape” until 28 years after Ride the Lightning came out. They performed it for the first time at Orion Festival in 2012, when they performed the album in its entirety. Hetfield introduced it as “the song we never wanted to play live, ever.”

“At the time we thought we’d write a song that was a little more accessible and melodic and less metal and grinding. It was also in the key of A, which is pretty rare for us. ‘Escape’ was also the last thing written in the studio,” Hammett admitted to Guitar World. “The song was pretty much an attempt to write something that would get radio’s attention. But it never really happened for us. They ignored that song… along with everything else!”

Metallica: All Their Songs, Ranked

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37 Years Ago: Metallica Unleash Their Debut ‘Kill ‘Em All’

When Dave Mustaine was abruptly fired from Metallica and shipped off to Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus, he sputtered to James Hetfield, “Don’t use any of my shit!”

Metallica didn’t obey his request, either out of spite or from the conviction that the rest of the band contributed to the songs, as well, so they belonged to the entire group and not just to Mustaine. While they gave their former guitarist writing credit for “Jump in the Fire,” “”Phantom Lord,” “Metal Militia” and “The Four Horsemen” — an expansion of their No Life Til Leather demo track “The Mechanix” — they didn’t ask him if they could use them. Had they done so, Metallica’s debut Kill ‘Em All, which came out on July 25, 1983, might have sounded pretty different.

Metallica, “Jump in the Fire”

Essentially, Metallica revamped and cleaned up No Life Til Leather and added “Whiplash,” “No Remorse” and the wild wah-wah-saturated Cliff Burton bass solo track “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth.” The band’s label Megaforce took an if-it-ain’t-broke mentality to the record, which was shaped and fine-tuned at the legendary Music Building in Queens, a slummy warehouse practice space where Metallica lived while they worked on the album. Megaforce even encouraged guitarist Kirk Hammett to replicate the leads from the demo. When he said he was uncomfortable doing that, they compromised and Hammett started each solo in the vein of the demo track and then expressed himself on the rest of the song.

Metallica, “Whiplash”

In addition to wanting to stay true to the winning formula of No Life Til Leather, Megaforce was under tight time constraints. Realizing Metallica’s sound was groundbreaking, but that other bands were playing music of the same ilk, they wanted to put out their record before anyone else had a chance to steal their thunder.

“The way we did it was just like, we go in there, do it, knock it out, next,” Hammett told Loudwire a couple years ago. “Go in there, do it, knock it out, next. Go in there, do it, knock it out, next. There wasn’t a lot of time to second guess anything. It was all just about going for it.”

The raw immediacy of Kill ‘Em All is a large part of the album’s charm. The songs are simple, direct and faster than pretty much anything else that was released at the time, with the exception of Motorhead and maybe Venom. And through their alcohol-haze, Metallica were somehow able to keep their playing tight and their performance urgent.

“In retrospect, I think that if we did have more time to work on that album, it wouldn’t have sounded the way it does,” Hammett said. “When I think of Kill ‘Em All, I think of it being very visceral. We weren’t second guessing ourselves because we didn’t have time to do that.”

Metallica recorded Kill ‘Em All at Music America Studios in Rochester, N.Y., with an unlikely team. Staff producer Paul Curcio’s claim to fame was working with the Doobie Brothers in 1971, and Chris Bubacz had engineered the hard rock band The Rods. Since Metallica had worked on material for the record for so long, the songs didn’t require any re-arranging and basically all the producers had to do was roll tape. However, since they weren’t used to recording metal bands, they set the board levels the way they used to track traditional rock bands. The levels spiked and the recording was initially overdistorted. To reduce oversaturation, they dropped the levels on the guitar and boosted the drums. Then, when Megaforce president Jonny Zazula complained that the drums were too loud and the guitars weren’t razor-edged enough, the producers tried to fix it in the mix, with some degree of success.

Even if Kill ‘Em All isn’t the best recorded thrash album of all time it’s definitely one of the most influential, directly opening the floodgates for Slayer, Exodus, Anthrax, Testament and Overkill to play bigger venues, and turning on legions of fans and musicians to a new form of metal that combined the speed of punk with the razor-edged attack of Judas Priest. Even though the album never entered the top 100 of the Billboard album chart (it peaked at #120), it sparked the thrash metal revolution and by 1991 the album finally went platinum; in March, 1999, Kill ‘Em All was certified triple platinum by the RIAA and Metallica continue to play songs from the album in concert, including “Seek & Destroy,” “No Remorse” and “Metal Militia.”

Metallica, “Seek and Destroy”

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

Every Metallica Song Ranked

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40 Years Ago: AC/DC Overcome Tragedy With ‘Back in Black’

When a popular band loses its singer, it rarely bounces back to reach the level of success it had prior to the lineup shift. The most remarkable exception to this rule is Australian powerhouse AC/DC, which released the legendary album Back in Black on July 25, 1980.

The album was dedicated to the band’s late vocalist Bon Scott, who died on February 19, 1980, after a night of heavy drinking. Though they were devastated by the death of their friend and briefly considered breaking up, AC/DC decided to carry on with a new singer. Two days after Scott’s funeral, guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young continued working on new riffs. Angus has said that getting right back to work distracted them from the grief. Soon after, they auditioned singers, including Gary Pickford Hopkins, Easybeats vocalist Stevie Wright and Fat Lip’s Allan Fryer.

Ironically, when Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson (whom Mutt Lange referred to the band) was invited to try out, he wasn’t immediately interested. “Someone phoned up and asked me to join this thing, and I just said, ‘Nah, I’ve been bitten before,’” Johnson told me in 2011. “I had three Top 10 hits with Geordie. And after three years we were as broke as when we started. Those were the days of the great rip off. I was with a company called Red Bus Records, whose motto was, ‘You make the music and we’ll make the money.’ But it was written in Latin so we couldn’t understand it. I just said, ‘I’m not gonna do this again. I was away from home all the time, missed my daughters growing up. But then I got curious and thought, ‘Well, what’s the harm in trying out?’ So I went down, sang with the boys and…. Boing!”

While most other singers auditioned with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” Johnson tried out with Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits,” which earned the immediate approval and respect from the band, who were tired of playing “Smoke on the Water” and pleased Johnson listened to different styles of music. On April 8, 1980, following two auditions, Johnson agreed to sign a six-month contract with AC/DC, which would be evaluated after it expired. If at any point during the six months either the band or Johnson decided the pairing wasn’t working out, they could sever the deal. Of course, that was never an issue. Johnson fit AC/DC like a rubber glove.

The band dove right into recording Back in Black with Johnson and Lange at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. For Johnson, who was used to working in a less chaotic manner, it was a trial by fire. The Youngs wrote much of the music in the studio while Johnson worked on the lyrics. AC/DC plowed through six songs, including the title track, which was a triumphant comeback song with slightly sinister lyrics. But when he was asked to write lyrics to a song they wanted to call “Hells Bells,” Johnson hit a wall – until he received some unholy intervention.

AC/DC, “Hells Bells”

“Just then there was the mother of all thunderstorms,” Johnson told Louder Than Hell: the Definitive Oral History of Metal. “I said, ‘Jesus, the noise of the thunder is coming in. Mutt said, ‘There you go, that’s a start, Brian, the rolling thunder.” And I went, “It’s f–king pouring rain, look at the wind, it’s comin’ on like a hurricane. And look at that lightning flashing across the sky!” Honestly, I was like a reporter. There as an alarm bell ringing, so I went, “Got my bell I’m gonna take you to hell. Gonna get ya, Satan get ya! Hells bells.’ That was it. It was ten minutes and the song was done.”

Other numbers, including “Shoot to Thrill” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” came in just a few hours. Without thunderstorms to rely on, Johnson had to use his wits and imagination to help create classics like “Givin’ the Dog a Bone,” “Have a Drink on Me” and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”

AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long”

Like Scott, Johnson enjoyed writing lyrics about partying and double-entendres about sex. And he did so at an astonishing pace. “There was hardly time to think,” Johnson told me. “I’d just go with one idea after another, and any time I got stuck the guys were really patient and supportive. I’d say, ‘No, I just can’t think of anything else. I can’t do it.’ And they’d go, ‘Sure, you can. You’re doing great. Just get some tea then keep going.’ And somehow that always worked.”

Seven weeks after AC/DC started recording Back in Black with Lange, the album was done. “We just started writing and everything poured out of us,” Young said. “I don’t even remember specifics for a lot of the songs. We had almost nothing in front of us one day, and then the next there they were with a finished record.”

AC/DC, “Back in Black”

AC/DC released Back in Black with all-black cover art in tribute to Scott. At first, the record company was resistant, but agreed to the design providing the band outline its name in gray. The album was an immediate success, hitting  No. 1 in Australia, the UK and France and reaching No. 4 in the United States. It was an album that only improved with repeat listens, and years after its release it was still selling strong. The first U.S. single “You Shook Me All Night Long” peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the title track reached No. 37, yet the album remained on the Billboard chart for 131 weeks.

While Johnson’s vocals were more rooted in soul and blues than Scott’s had been, he had a similar vocal range, and was able to perform all of the band’s best Scott material in concert, staying true to the originals, while augmenting them with his own voice.

“It has been really great because we didn’t have to drop any of them classics,” Johnson says. “We can still do ‘Highway to Hell,’ ‘Whole Lotta Rosie,’ ‘For Those About to Rock’ – any of those great tunes plus all of our new stuff. So we really have a lot of material to pull from every time we play.”

And Back in Black’s usefulness extended beyond its stellar music. Motörhead reportedly used the record to tune their sound system, and because of its pristine production, some studios in Nashville have used it to test the acoustic of a room. In addition, “You Shook Me All Night Long” was one of the songs the U.S. military blasted at the Papal Nunciatura in Panama City on Christmas Day 1989 to convince dictator general Manuel Noriega to surrender.

One more not-so-minor thing to add: Back in Black is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. To date, the disc has sold 22 million copies in the United States and an estimated 50 million around the world.

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

Where Does Brian Johnson Rank Among the Top 66 Hard Rock + Metal Frontmen of All Time?

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Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’: 9 Facts Only Superfans Would Know

Texas metalheads Pantera had released three albums with Terry Glaze as their vocalist and one with Philip Anselmo by the end of the 1980s. They had started off as a glam band and remained unsigned until after the release of 1988’s Power Metal. 

When it came time to record Cowboys From Hell, Anselmo, the Abbott brothers — Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell — and Rex Brown decided it was time for a change. The result put them on the map as one of the strongest forces in metal throughout the remainder of the ’90s.

Cowboys From Hell was released July 24, 1990, and became the group’s first album to chart on the Billboard 200. They still had a little ways to go, but they were now on the right path. In honor of its 30th anniversary, check out 9 facts you might not have known about the album below.

1. They shifted their focus from image to music.

When it came time to write the follow-up to Power Metal, the band decided to prioritize the music over the image and scrap the glam. They drew inspiration from several different areas, mostly Slayer and thrash, and other bands such as Soundgarden, Black Flag and Faith No More. This shift in sound led to the Pantera we think of today.

2. Dimebag almost joined Megadeth.

Darrell — who had been referred to as “Diamond Darrell” up to that point — was offered the position as guitarist in Megadeth by Dave Mustaine. However, he was only going to take it if Paul was able to join, too, and they already had a drummer. So he stayed in Pantera, and the rest was history.

3. Rex Brown wrote the phrase “psycho holiday” because of Anselmo.

The band noticed that Anselmo had a short temper during their demo sessions, so he went home to New Orleans for a weekend to refresh and see his family and friends. “So I was sitting there and I wrote on a pad ‘Psycho Holiday’ because he was psycho and he was going on a holiday,” Brown explained to Classic Rock Magazine.

“When I came back to the house, I looked next to the telephone and written on this pad is Psycho Holiday’ scribbled out with all these flight times,” Anselmo added. “It was Rex trying to get my ass out of fucking town. I was the psycho. It became an inside joke, and Vinnie Paul said, ‘Man, that’s a great fucking song title.’”

4. It was their major label debut.

Though Cowboys was actually Pantera’s fifth album, it was their debut effort on a major label. Paul explained how they got signed to writer Jon Wiederhorn.

Derek Shulman at PolyGram had his eyes on the group, but he was too busy with other bands at the time. When Mark Ross, an A&R rep below him, was on a flight to North Carolina to see a different band they had signed, the plane had to land in Dallas to avoid Hurricane Hugo. While in Dallas, he went out to see Pantera at a birthday party.

Ross left the party a few songs in, and the guys in Pantera thought that another opportunity to get signed had just been blown. “Four songs later, Mark comes back in, and as soon as we get done, he comes walking over to me and I said, ‘What’d you think, dude?’ And he said, ‘I loved it. It was incredible.’ And I said, ‘Well, why’d you leave?’ And he said, ‘I went out to the car to call Derek and tell him we’re signing you guys.’”

5. Their original producer bailed because he was given a better offer by another band.

The band really wanted to work with producer Max Norman, because they were big fans of Ozzy Osbourne‘s Diary of a Madman. 

“So he flew to Houston to see a gig and he loved us. We were all ready to go. But our recording budget only allowed for $30,000 for the producer,” Paul told Wiederhorn. “About two days before we were supposed to start recording, Max got offered $50,000 to do Lynch Mob. So he calls us up and said, ‘Guys, I need the money. I’m out.’ We were like, ‘What the fuck?’”

They ended up working with Terry Date instead, who produced for Soundgarden and Overkill.

6. “The Will to Survive” was left off the original set.

“The Will to Survive” was a song recorded along with the rest of the Cowboys tracks, but left off of the album mostly due to how differently it sounded from the rest. It was more melodic and featured Anselmo singing much more smoothly than the sound he was going for on the rest of the album. The demo was included in the 20th anniversary edition, which was released in July of 2010 by Rhino Records.

“You listen to that song and you can tell it was written before I was in the band,” Anselmo told Rock Radio’s Paul Anthony. “We performed it early in the days of me being there. It didn’t really fit the previous lineup who recorded the Power Metal album. So it sure as hell wasn’t going to rest well with the tracks on Cowboys From Hell. It was kind of a sore thumb sticking out. It showed we had a willingness for diversity – but there was no way any one of us was going to replace that song with any of the new ones.”

7. Anselmo broke a chair while recording “Cemetery Gates.”

And it wasn’t on accident. “That was just my second time in the studio, and I fuckin’ hated it,” he confessed to Classic Rock. “There’s one note that comes up twice in Cemetery Gates’ that I could not do for hours. I broke a chair, I was so goddamn frustrated.”

Date then told the singer that Chris Cornell typically drank port wine prior while recording because it warms the throat. “So I’m sitting there drinking all this sweet fuckin’ wine trying to catch a little buzz. I still don’t know if that helped me hit that fucking note, but I finally did it,” Anselmo admitted.

8. The album art depicts a saloon in Colorado.

The background of the photo on the cover is the inside of the Cosmopolitan Saloon in Telluride, Colorado. The original photo is from 1910, and the band members were pasted over it for the cover. See a photo of the saloon from the 1870s below.

Sepia Times
Atco Records

9. They toured over 300 dates to support it.

Following the release of Cowboys, Pantera embarked on an extensive tour, spanning over 300 dates. They hit the road with bands like Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies. They eventually caught the attention of Rob Halford, who performed onstage with them once in 1991 and led to them opening for Judas Priest in Europe.

The Best Metal Album of Each Year Since 1970

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19 Years Ago: Avenged Sevenfold’s ‘Sounding the Seventh Trumpet’

As the 21st century arrived, the music world was ready for another revolution and things began to change with a wealth of metalcore outfits beginning to assert themselves. Among those acts was a group of SoCal rockers going by the name of Avenged Sevenfold, but the band you know today had a few bumps early on.

The group started as a four-piece in 1999 with M. Shadows, Zacky Vengeance, The Rev and Matt Wendt, but Wendt would exit the band before the recording of Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, with Suburban Legends’ Justin “Sane” Meacham taking over on bass.

In November of 2000, the band entered Westbeach Records Studios with a rather small budget of $2,000, but even though still in their teens, the band approached the sessions with a clear focus of what needed to happen. For instance, the Rev got behind the kit and recorded all of his drum parts in one take, with the band members quickly laying down their parts on top of what he had started. And with the whirlwind session behind them, the band turned their focus to the album’s release on July 24, 2001, via Good Life.

Still a relatively unknown band, they struggled a bit out of the gate, with the disc selling 300 copies in its first week. But the seeds of something great were there and after adding Synyster Gates to the lineup, the group began to evolve. They recorded a new metal version of “To End the Rapture” with Gates on lead guitar. The track was singled out for their Warmness on the Soul EP. Sensing they were on to something good, the band then recorded all of the other songs with Gates on lead as they prepped a re-release through Hopeless Records in March of 2002.

Avenged Sevenfold, “To End the Rapture”

Stylistically, the band wore their influences on their sleeve. As Vengeance revealed in an interview with Revolver, “On our first album, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, we were listening to more obscure heavy metal bands and hardcore bands.” It showed as the band delivered arguably one of their heaviest albums to date, filling it with chugging guitars, nifty riffing and more rough vocals than what fans are hearing nowadays.

Darkness Surrounding” sent the band off to the races, with The Rev’s rapid fire drumming, a fierce heaviness and Shadows’ belting rough vocals with full brutality. “We Come Out at Night” followed suit, with Shadows’ going full guttural for a majority of his vocals and the band providing a frantic backing, though there is a melodic breakdown.

Avenged Sevenfold, “Darkness Surrounding”

Meanwhile, other tracks showed more of a range. “The Art of Subconscious Illusion” found the band dabbling in hardcore punk with this mosh pit natural. “To End the Rapture,” which clocks in at under two minutes, showed some old school metal influence with some impressive guitar riffing. And “Warmness on the Soul,” one of the first songs to garner attention for the group, completely threw listeners a curve ball as a piano-based ballad.

Avenged Sevenfold, “Warmness on the Soul”

Though not the most cohesive of Avenged Sevenfold albums, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet shows the early brilliance of a group finding its footing. There’s a mix of the underground metal and hardcore that was influencing them at the time and a few tracks that showed more mainstream rock and metal muses that would influence their latter works.

And much like the music was finding its footing, so was the band. The addition of Gates between the original album release and its reissue changed the outlook a bit. The band also faced a change at the bass position. While Justin Sane had appeared on the album, the bassist was felled by a suicide attempt in 2001 after trying to overdose on cough syrup. He was hospitalized and eventually the group called upon Dameon Ash to help them tour. Shadows stated in a 2003 interview with VH1, “He perma-fried his brain and was in a mental institution for a long time, and when you have someone in your band who does that, it ruins everything that’s going on all around you, and it makes you want to do something to prevent it from happening to other people.” As such, the band took part in the 2003 Take Action Tour, a trek dedicated to the message of suicide prevention.

While Ash helped their touring support of Sounding the Seventh Trumpet for a period, the band eventually sought a permanent replacement and had to look no further than another hometown pal, Johnny Christ, who has held the spot ever since. “I don’t think anyone out there could pick up a bass line as quick as Johnny,” stated the Rev at the time. And while the lineup wasn’t always the most stable during the touring of the album, the live shows didn’t lack. They built their audience and set themselves up perfectly for a true breakthrough on their follow-up album Waking the Fallen.

Avenged Sevenfold may have had a rather shaky start, but by the time all was said and done, fans eventually discovered the Sounding the Seventh Trumpet disc and it has since sold more than 300,000 copies in the United States.

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30 Years Ago: Pantera Find Their Voice With ‘Cowboys From Hell’

The first Pantera album to capture the sound most people associate with the band today was actually the group’s fifth record, Cowboys from Hell, which came out on July 24, 1990. Inspired by a love for Metallica and classic Judas Priest, guitarist Dimebag Darrell (then known as Diamond Darrell) and drummer Vinnie Paul strived to achieve a sound that cut with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel and the destructive power of a chainsaw. But the album wouldn’t have been nearly as heavy and scathing if vocalist Philip Anselmo hadn’t insisted on bringing a hardcore mentality and an ultra-heavy thrash perspective into the band.

“I showed them the f–king path, man,” Anselmo told me in 2010. “It would be a lie to say anything different. Dimebag came over to the first house I lived in in Texas in early ’88 and I said, ‘Look here. This is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna smoke this bowl and you’re gonna sit down and listen to a song.’ And he was like, ‘Okay.’ So we smoked a bowl, and I proceeded to put on the vinyl version of ‘At Dawn They Sleep’ from Slayer’s Hell Awaits. He sat there and stared at the turntable and by about the middle of the song that big curly head started to move a little and groove, and by the end of the song he’s like, ‘Damn, son, that’s bad-ass!'”

The first song Pantera wrote for Cowboys From Hell was “The Art of Shredding,” which they later recorded on a demo along with “Cowboys From Hell” and “The Sleep.” “Psycho Holiday” and “Heresy” came soon after. “We were on fire,” Paul says. “We wrote all three of those songs in the same two-day jam session. And they really energized everybody and re-focused everybody. Once we laid those demos down and people started hearing them, they became really serious about wanting to sign the band.”

Pantera, “Psycho Holiday”

After numerous rejections, Pantera finally inked a deal with Derek Shulman at Atco Records after his A&R man Mark Ross saw Pantera play a birthday party. Ross was in town to see another band when his plane was grounded by Hurricane Hugo. With nothing on his schedule, he called Shulman, who suggested he see if Pantera, a band he had his eye on, were doing anything. In the middle of the birthday gig, Ross disappeared and Pantera figured he lost interest and left. As it turned out, he couldn’t wait to step out of the club to call Shulman and tell him how great Pantera were.

The most enduring song from the record was the title track, which was built on a guitar part Darrell came up with while messing around with a four-track recorder. “The crazy noise at the beginning was just a Dime thing,” said bassist Rex Brown. “That’s what he was hearing in his head so he made a loop of that to play over. I just remember it was f–kin’ very repetitious and very f–kin’ annoying for a long while. And that ‘Cowboys From Hell’ intro is a little form of in-the-box scaling. We were always down the street watching all these great blues guys come through because Vinnie and Darrell’s dad [Jerry Abbott] was an engineer at Pantego studio. We’d sneak down there and sit way underneath the board listening to all this great stuff. And I think that’s where Dime got the idea for that intro to ‘Cowboys.’ He started it as a kind of modal exercise because he would practice it forwards and backwards.”

Pantera spent six months writing Cowboys From Hell, which was heavily rooted in thrash with hints of NWOBHM in songs like “Shattered” and “Heresy.” As much as the band wanted Cowboys From Hell to showcase their heaviness and agility, they also wanted to imbue the record with a Southern vibe that was latter dubbed the power groove.

“We always felt like our musicianship enabled us to be more than just a thrash band,” Vinnie Paul says. “A lot of thrash bands are sort of limited in what they can do, and we always felt like the groove thing was something we didn’t want to lose even though we got heavier. We just felt like a lot of these other heavier bands that were out were missing that groove. So we really focused on that because we really wanted people to be able to move to the music. Being from Texas, we were always fans of ZZ Top and bands that had really big grooves.”

With part of Cowboys From Hell written, Pantera entered Pantego Sound to record the album. They originally wanted to work with Max Norman, but that didn’t work out. “We were such huge fans of Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman and this band Malice and they were all produced by Max Norman,” Paul says. “We were head over heels. We had to have Max Norman. So he flew to Houston to see a gig and he loved the band. We were all set, ready to go. But our recording budget only allowed for $30,000 for the producer. About two days before we were supposed to start recording with Max, he got offered $50,000 to go do Lynch Mob. So he calls us up and said, ‘Guys I gotta take this. I need the money. I’m out.’ We were like, ‘What the f–k?’ This guy was one of our heroes and we always wanted to make a record with him and suddenly he’s gone. So Mark Ross calls us up and goes, ‘Okay guys, we gotta find another producer. I got this guy named Terry Date who just finished doing Soundgarden and Overkill.’ And we were like, ‘Man, I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘Well, let’s find out.’”

Pantera, “Cemetery Gates”

Date developed a strong bond with Pantera and worked with them through 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill. The symbiotic trust between band and producer enabled Pantera to sound as heavy as a granite tabletop or as melancholy as a gloomy day without seeming contrived or detracting from the band’s heaviness. While Date wasn’t directly involved in writing of the experimental ballad “Cemetery Gates,” his influence likely rubbed off on the song.

“I played a whole lot of the strumming stuff on the front of that and a lot of the alternate picking,” Brown said. “Me and Dime were just sitting around in the back of the studio and we said, ‘Well, let’s try a little something else’ and came up with that. We went back to where Vinnie and Terry were working and we said, “We got something here that we want to do before ‘Cemetery Gates’ that’s gonna be really cool. So we played it on our acoustics and they dug it, and then we made it into a two-minute section before ‘Cemetery’ actually came in. And you hear the loud thunderous thing. That’s eight grand pianos stacked [together] that I played backwards on tape. You speed the tape up and then when you turn it back around it makes this big crescendo.”

As much as “Cemetery Gates” added to Cowboys From Hell, Anselmo wasn’t feeling the track and still considers it a weak link on the album. But everyone else wanted him to sing the song so he stepped up to the plate. “This is where compromise came in a lot,” he said. “Remember, Pantera didn’t really lock in and fully find its sound until Vulgar Display of Power and after that we were f–king possessed. So there was a big part where the band would want to write something melodic and they knew I could actually sing. Being as hard headed as I was about the whole heavy metal thing, sometimes I would be apt to shortchange myself and purposely not sing when I could have. But at this point in the band I felt like I had ‘Heresy’ and ‘Psycho Holiday’ in there, so okay, I’ll do ‘Cemetery Gates.’ And by the way, I did know the Smiths had a song called ‘Cemetery Gates.’ I just thought it would be ironic to call it that. So yeah, ‘Cemetery Gates’ was a big compromise musically at the time, and if you think about it, in the career of Pantera you didn’t hear us play that song much live. It got to the point where it wasn’t necessarily us anymore.”

When Cowboys From Hell was released, the first song the public connected with was the title track, which helped Pantera reach No. 27 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and No. 117 on the album chart. With “Cemetery Gates,” the band expanded its fanbase, and tours with Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies helped prove the band was one of the most crazed and exciting live acts in metal. The final single from Cowboys From Hell was “Psycho Holiday,” but by then Pantera had their eyes set on making an even heavier and more uncompromising album than Cowboys From Hell.

Pantera’s major label debut went gold in September 1993 and platinum in July 1997. A 20th Anniversary CD featured two bonus discs; one was made up of live versions of the songs and the other contained all the album demos.

Pantera, “Cowboys From Hell”

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

Pantera Albums Ranked

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