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Scene Report

Sunset España: Bang Your Head to the Heavy Metal Sounds of Spain Back in the 1980s

Today we're going to take a deep dive into the substantial metal history of the Reino de España, aka, the "Kingdom of Spain," and the geographic origin of an instrument intrinsically tied to metal more than any other, the guitar. Spanish luthier Antonio Torres Jurado is considered by most to be the single most important guitar maker in the history of the world. Sometime around the mid-1800s, Jurado began his journey as a future guitar god by making his own, learning from a luthier in Granada, José Pernas. The bottom line is this; Jurado was able to adapt European guitars made during the same time period and turned them into classical guitars. Jurado's innovation became the template for all acoustic guitars made during the 20th and 21st centuries. That's pretty metal. And guess what? So is Spain when it comes to its most brutal exports, heavy metal bands. And during the 1980s, the region was full of fast fretters and bands hell-bent on the cultivation of sounds inspired by Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest

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Zarpa has been cited as being the very first heavy metal band from Spain. They also own the distinction of being one of, if not the longest-running bands from the country. Born in 1977, Zarpa is still performing. To date, they have put out seven studio records, starting with their 1978 debut Los 4 Jinetes Del Apocalipsis, a five-song face-melter drawing on doom vibes heard in early Sabbath and Deep Purple. Zarpa would help usher in a wave of heavy metal in Spain, which, while it was flourishing in the early 80s, would produce a vast assortment of metal bands expanding on what Zarpa started, and taking it over the top. Many of the groups featured in this post could have given anyone hailing from the Sunset Strip a run for their money if they had the chance. MTV (MTV Europe) wasn't available in Spain until 1987; the same year, Headbangers Ball was unleashed by the network. By this time, Spanish bands looked to groups associated with the NWOBHM phenomena, with many of the best releases pre-dating 1987. So please step into our time-machine (powered by Aqua Net Pink Can), so we can check out some of the heavy sounds emanating from Spain in the early 80s — like Zarpa. Take a listen: 

Zarpa "Los 4 Jinetes Del Apocalipsis."

Detailed in the Encyclopedia of Contemporary  Spanish Culture (1999), with the help of record labels like Snif (formed by pioneering Spanish prog/urban-rock band Asfalto in 1983), the vitally important Chapa Discos (established in 1928), and a multitude of independent labels such as Soñua, heavy metal bands were able to get their music to the enormous population of baby-boomers in Spain, which in 1981 accounted for 12 million potential fans (a third of the entire population of Spain). And for its many fans who lived in less affluent, working-class suburban areas of Madrid, it spoke directly to them. Hard rock and heavy metal bands were now playing to larger audiences and appearing in festivals outside of Spain. The bands in this post are just a few of many who helped define Spain's heavy metal scene during the decadent decade. If a Spanish band you love from the 80s isn't mentioned in this article, it's not because I "forgot" them, or didn't deem them worthy of a nod, capiche? Metal Injection recently gave a much-deserved shout-out out to Spanish heavy metal scene stealers, Santa, so let's listen to a few others worthy of blowing your speakers out to. 

Leño

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The third album by Madrid band Leño, ¡Corre, corre!, is considered one of the greatest Spanish rock albums of all time. Further reinforcing the decades' connection to NWOBHM, it was recorded in Spanish at vocalist Ian Gillan's studio, Kingsway Recorders in London. Though they would briefly cross over (due to record company pressure to sound more like The Police), for ¡Corre, corre!, Leño returned to their hard rock sound, and the release would solidify Leño as Spanish rock legends. 

Leño, "¡Corre, corre!"(1982). 

Barón Rojo

During a trip to London, the band (under the name Red Baron) would meet Michael Schenker in 1981 at a pub called The Greyhound. According to the Spanish-language site Metalgun, Schenker told Barón Rojo guitarist Armando de Castro he would jam with the band, but only if he could use de Castro's Flying V., The blink-and-you-missed-it-moment resulted in a raucous version of a Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" popularized by Cream and Eric Clapton

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The band was in town recording their second album Volumen Brutal at Ian Gillan's studio Kingsway Recorders. with help from Deep Purple keyboardist Colin Towns, and former Uriah Heep vocalist John Sloman. During the recording session, Bruce Dickinson translated lyrics from Volumen Brutal to English. After the release of Volumen Brutal, Barón Rojo appeared on the cover of Kerrang! (issue #27, October 1982) along with a 3 1/2 page feature, making them the first Spanish band to achieve such an honor.  

And if there was ever a doubt that Bruce Dickinson is a superhero, he also played a crucial role in folklore concerning Barón Rojo's historic appearance at the Reading Festival in 1982. The band was scheduled to play at 6:45 pm on Friday, August 27th. According to legend, their driver made them more than an hour late for their dream gig. Promoters were about to pull the plug on Barón Rojo's set until Bruce Dickinson stepped in and asked them to cut them some slack and wait another ten minutes for the headbanging Spaniards to arrive, which they did. During their time in London in '82, they would join forces with Hawkwind for a string of shows in and around the UK, including a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon on November 12th, 1982. In addition to listening to and watching Barón Rojo's appearance at Reading (below), check out their cover of Judas Priest's "You Got Another Thing Coming" from a 2000 Judas Priest tribute compilation

Barón Rojo at Reading, 1982. 

Obús

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Like Barón Rojo, Obús was hugely influential to the Spanish metal scene during its beginnings and beyond. Obús vocalist Fructuoso 'Fortu' Sánchez has been called the "Ozzy Osbourne of Vallecas," a neighborhood in Madrid, a heavy metal hotbed from which the band hails. They put out six records during the 80s, including 1984's El Que Mas which featured a contribution from Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith "Alguien." The album was recorded in Ibiza with Judas Priest/Sin after Sin engineer Mark Dodson on deck at Mediterranean Studios. In 2018 while on a stop in Madrid, Metallica stopped their set to pay their respects to Obús. Along with guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo led the crowd in a sing-along/jam session to "Vamos muy Bien," a song recorded by Obús in 1984. Trujillo and Hammett have also covered Barón Rojo live while performing in Spain. 

Obús, "Vamos muy Bien" (1984). 

Sangre Azul (aka Blue Blood)
Sangre Azul started in 1982, getting together in Pinto, a town located just south of Madrid with a lineup including former Santa guitarist Julio Díaz. They would get the opportunity to record music with Fonomusic (formerly Movieplay) after winning a contest. The only caveat was the final product would include music from two other bands from the contest, but the group wasn't into that. Instead, they would cut a four-song, self-titled EP. It would be another five years before Sangre Azul put out their first full-length with Hispavox, Obsesión, which got the attention of the headbanging community in Madrid. The band has been compared to Whitesnake, and they nailed the Whitesnake "look" on stage, but a bit more glammy at times. Sound-wise Sangre Azul is hair metal complete with keyboards/synths and lots of hairspray. In other words, just like the 80s hair metal, you remember.

Sangre Azul: "Todo mi Mundo eres Tu" (1987). 

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Barricada/Barricade

Formed by vocalist and bass player Enrique Villareal "El Drogas" in 1982/1983, Barricada/Barricade released its first record, Noches de Rock & Roll, in 1983. As of 2007, the band has sold over one million records, with 21 albums under their collective belts. During one of their earliest live shows, El Drogas Noches de Rock & Roll (or The Drugs) rolled out on stage in a coffin holding a human skull. He then proceeded to destroy a bunch of television sets with an ax — something Brummie/London band The Move was doing (with axes) long before Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics. At another show shortly after, Barricada was shut down by the cops amid El Drogas singing the lyrics to "En La Silla Electrica" or "In the Electric Chair." Very much a fuck the establishment kind of band, they were enjoying a reasonable amount of success until tragedy struck when, after fainting on stage in 1984, drummer Mikel Astrain Antxorena died from complications due to an intracranial aneurysm at the way-to-young-age of 24. Without question, Noches de Rock & Roll is a bonafide Spanish, heavy metal classic unafraid of strongly channeling Iron Maiden in the record's title track. 

Barricada, "Esta es una noche de Rock and Roll" (1983).

Niagara

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In 1985, former members of Barón Rojo (and Bella Bestia) came together to form Niagara, a hair/glam metal band. Fronted by mythical heavy metal vocalist Jose Antonio Manzano (RIP), they scored a hit with "You Belong To Me" and got the attention of Carmine Appice, who asked Niagara to open a show for his band King Kobra in Spain. The gig went off well, and King Kobra's management offered to take Niagara to the U.S. to tour with King Kobra, which they declined. The experience did help spark interest in Niagara, and they would release a praised four-song demo followed by their debut in 1987 (produced by Carlos de Castro guitar player of Barón Rojo), Now or Never. At a large gig meant to showcase the band in Madrid in 1988, Derek Oliver of Kerrang! magazine was in the crowd and, after seeing Niagara live, glowed about the group in the mag. The coverage got the band some traction from the new fans in the UK. Synths and keyboards be damned, the album's namesake track is an infectious piece of Spanish headbanging perfection. 

Niagara, "Now or Never" (1988).

Fuck Off

As thrash and cursing are two of our favorite things, let's talk a little bit about Barcelona band Fuck Off. Preceding Spanish thrash pioneers Legion by approximately one year, Fuck Off formed in 1986 with members hailing from Barcelona and Catalonia. They released their debut full-length in 1988 (again preceding Legion's first record by nearly a year), so it's easy to imply Fuck Off and Legion were equally responsible for creating the Spanish thrash metal scene. After decades of trying to sort through a mountain of legal issues associated with their fledgling album Another Sacrifice, in 2012 the band put out A Different Sacrifice: 1987-1988, containing remastered tracks from their first album, and an eponymously titled EP from 1988. 

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Fuck Off, "Maniac" (1988). 

Zero

If you looked at the cover of Zero's 1985 debut record En la Batalla (In the Battle), you might mistake them for Sunset Strip staple Ratt. Yet another group featuring the tasty vocals of Jose Antonio Manzano, Zero was formed in 1984 by former members of another great Spanish metal band, Banzai, and Leño, and quickly cultivated a sound so on point with Ratt, Dokken, Mötley Crüe, Y&T (and others), the only way to tell they were from Spain was the fact that their lyrics were in their native tongue. In the Battle is one hell of a record from start to finish and a clear example of how non-English speaking bands can transcend the perceived barrier of language, because you get it, and it gets you. If you're a sucker for traditional 80s metal, Zero are your new heroes.

Listen to all of the headbanging numbers from In the Battle (sadly, a very tough album to track down) here.

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Rosa Negra (Black Rose)

The first song on Rosa Negra's first album from 1984, "Paranoid" is sadly not a Black Sabbath cover, but an original ass-kicking jam by the band. When they first got together as teens, brothers Tony and Jorge León and Nico Martín started playing covers from some of their favorite bands, like Black Sabbath, and lyrically the song is absolutely a nod to Sabbath, as are the bells tolling at the start of the track. In 1977 the trio would move from the island of Majorca to Madrid, rebranding themselves as Lyon Bros, then later releasing songs as Rosa Negra. Finally in 1983 they signed with CBS/Epic and scored a gig opening for Def Leppard in October, and then for the Scorpions and Joan Jett in November. By 1986 Rosa Negra was no more.

Rosa Negra "Paranoicos" ("Paranoid").

Goliath

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In the book Urban Rock: Before and After, author Rafael Escobar Contreras lays out a brief history of Goliath, one of the many metal bands scooped up by Chapa Records. Initially jamming under the name Oro Black with Javier Ponce, Angel Arian, and Luis Pulido, Goliath became a band sometime in 1981. The six-piece group put out only one record, Goliath, also produced by Barón Rojo guitarist Carlos de Castro. Image-wise, Goliath went full-Judas Priest. Chapa Records also liked to show off its love of Priest by directly referencing the album art for Priest's 1974 release, Rocka Rolla stamped right on their album's center label. Shortly after the its release, guitarist Enrique Bertran de Lis, drummer Alberto Hernando, and vocalist Luis Pulido departed Goliath, and some of the remaining members, including Javier Ponce, would go on to form the melodic-rock band, Jupiter

Goliath, "Dracula" (1985).

For more on the heavy sounds of Spain back in the 80s, I'd highly recommend spending some time with this very metal piece posted last year from Ride Into Glory for more.


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