Pantera - I Am the Night
Album Comparisons: I Am the Night
Cowboys From Hell is not Pantera's first album, despite what these (mostly) DFW area natives would have you believe. As any Google or Wikipedia search will reveal, Cowboys was preceded by a total of four independently released albums dating back to the early 1980s, most of them done in a glam metal style with big '80s hair and prominently featured synthesizers. It wasn't until their fourth release, Power Metal, and the addition of new vocalist and Louisiana native Phil Anselmo, that the band's style moved confidently in the direction of the overdriven groove metal for which they are now well known. I Am the Night, released in 1985, was Pantera's third album, released on their own Metal Magic label, and their final effort with original vocalist Terry Glaze. It's also by far the glammiest of all their early glam efforts, absolutely drenched in synthesizers and 1980s style big hair electronica with triggered-sounding toms. Anyone expecting anything sounding even remotely like the band's later major label discs will be in for a shock with this one, if they can actually get their hands on a copy. I am in possession of both an original cassette copy of this and a Russian bootleg CD which pairs it with its predecessor Projects in the Jungle (a review for another time). How do these two compare? Note: The cassette transfers below are from an actual legitimate original copy, not a bootleg or homemade recording from a vinyl LP. The cassette is the real deal. I did have to make some adjustments to the relative levels of the left and right channels to compensate for sloppy cassette mastering. The overall volume of the cassette transfer has been normalized, with dynamics between songs retained.

Hot and Heavy

Bootleg CD release

Hot and Heavy

Original 1985 cassette

Hot and Heavy

I Am the Night

Bootleg CD release

I Am the Night

Original 1985 cassette

I Am the Night

Onward We Rock!

Bootleg CD release

Onward We Rock!

Original 1985 cassette

Onward We Rock!

D*G*T*T*M

Bootleg CD release

D*G*T*T*M

Original 1985 cassette

D*G*T*T*M

Daughters of the Queen

Bootleg CD release

Daughters of the Queen

Original 1985 cassette

Daughters of the Queen

Down Below

Bootleg CD release

Down Below

Original 1985 cassette

Down Below

Come On Eyes

Bootleg CD release

Come On Eyes

Original 1985 cassette

Come On Eyes

Right on the Edge

Bootleg CD release

Right on the Edge

Original 1985 cassette

Right on the Edge

Valhalla

Bootleg CD release

Valhalla

Original 1985 cassette

Valhalla

Forever Tonight

Bootleg CD release

Forever Tonight

Original 1985 cassette

Forever Tonight

Detail of source damage on "Forever Tonight" (bootleg CD)

This scratch could and should have been digitally removed.

Forever Tonight (damage)
And the winner is: Original 1985 cassette release. This is a godawful album, far and away the worst in all Pantera's glam era catalog, and it's not at all surprising that the band later refused to acknowledge it. That said, it isn't all unlistenable garbage. "Onward We Rock!" begins as a surprisingly catchy anthem that unfortunately wears out its welcome pretty quickly, while "D*G*T*T*M" serves up an obviously Eddie Van Halen inspired guitar solo by "Diamond" Darrell Abbott that's interesting for its historical value but which is marred by ridiculous synth and over the top vocal effects. "Right on the Edge" does feature a pretty killer guitar hook, but it's brought down by the awful chorus and middle eight sections of the song, as well as by Terry Glaze's terrible vocal performance. "Down Below" does show promise, but the re-recording the band later made with Phil Anselmo on Power Metal is far better. As for the rest of the album, title cut "I Am the Night" sounds like something pilfered from Judas Priest's trash can; unfortunately, Terry Glaze is no Rob Halford, and Pantera - particularly at this point in their career - were no Judas Priest. And everything else - "Hot and Heavy," "Daughters of the Queen," "Come-On Eyes," "Valhalla," and album closer "Forever Tonight" - is simply horrible. Honestly, there is promise here, and there is some exceptional early playing by Darrell Abbott, but what there is of it is completely ruined by terribly dated production and horrible vocal performances. If some of this material were cleaned up and a better vocalist employed, it wouldn't be half bad. I could honestly see Power Metal versions of "Right on the Edge" and "Valhalla" almost working with Phil Anselmo.

So, on to the actual comparison. The compact disc sounds terrible - extremely thin and full of treble, with hardly any bottom end to it. As there has never been an official digital release of this album, the bootleggers had the option of transferring from either cassette or vinyl. Vinyl was used, and ordinarily that would be a good thing, but the transfer here is nearly as bad as the music itself. The stylus on the record player is obviously worn and in need of replacement, something which becomes ever more painfully evident as it proceeds farther along each side of the original album. Added to this is an extremely noticeable scratch which mars the playback of album closer "Forever Tonight," something that could and should have been digitally removed before this release was mastered. Then again, this is a bootleg, essentially a crass cash in by some fly by night company seeking to make a quick buck by exploiting the band's later notoriety. On the other hand, the cassette isn't that great, either, marred throughout by a muddy, Dolby-free sound which has plenty of bass but not nearly enough brightness or high end to it. I've owned two copies over the years, both of which have suffered from the same afflictions, and this leads me to believe that the issues are ultimately rooted in the duplication process used. I've had other 1980s era cassettes from major labels that sounded just fine, so I can only assume that the facilities available to small local indie labels like Pantera's Metal Magic were simply inferior. I'd like to hear what a first pressing vinyl copy of this album sounds like on good equipment, but I've never gotten my hands on one, and this album frankly isn't good enough to justify throwing down $100 or more for a copy. So I'm giving this one to the cassette release. The bootleg actually had the potential to sound better, but it doesn't, and I don't really recommend either one.

As a side note, the stereo is reversed on the cassette compared to the bootleg CD, and I'm not sure which is correct given the sloppy jobs done on both. At least one release is also slightly off on speed. I could see either the bootlegger using cheap equipment for the LP playback, resulting in a tempo that's slightly fast, or the cassette duplication facility lacking quality control given the audio quality of the copies, resulting in a tempo that's slightly slow. I'm more inclined to fault the bootleggers on this one, though.