Zarpa - El yunque contra el martillo 3.5/5

Reviewed: 9-5-08


1. Sin piedad
2. La zarpa y el sable
3. La ultima batalla
4. Retonando del infierno
5. El yunque contra el martillo
6. Tokyo
7. Monje y guerrero
8. Un mondo perfecto en un mundo siniestro
9. Dias de ilusion part 1
10. Dias de ilusion part 2
11. Fantasia
12. Los hijos de la muerte
13. Tercer milenio
14. Preludio
15. Los defensores del rock
16. Vuelo siniestrado (Live)
17. Bienvenido al show del hombre mono (Live)
18. Luchardores de la paz

Zarpa may well have the unfortunate distinction of being one of the longest-running, active heavy metal bands in the world that you've never heard of. These natives of Valencia, Spain, formed a band in 1977. Let's reflect on that for a moment. Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President of the United States that year. Ozzy was still in Black Sabbath - the first time. KISS was on the cusp of releasing 'Alive II'. John Lennon was still alive. Reggie Jackson was Mr. October. 'Grease' ruled the box office. And Zarpa were making music. Things didn't come easy for the Spaniards. They released 2 full-length albums (there were no CDs then) in the early 80s, then split for most of the 90s, before reforming in 1999. The last decade has been a prolific period for Zarpa, as they have cranked out 5 full-length CDs and 3 live CDs in the last 10 years, although a number of these recordings were actually made in the 80s. Zarpa's big break, as it were, happened in 2003, when Germany's consistently strong Karthago Records signed them. The ensuing CD of mostly new material, 'Infierno', garnered them some favorable momentum, culminating in their 2007 CD, 'El yunque contra el martillo', which features (to my knowledge) all new songs.

Given the vintage of Zarpa, you might suspect their music is old-fashioned, and it is. There's definitely a NWOBHM flavor to many of the songs, with frequent nods to early Iron Maiden and an occasional dash of Deep Purple. But there's a Spanish flair to the proceedings, in terms of the melodies and the flowing Spanish-language vocals of singer/guitarist Vicente Feijoo, that prevents 'El yunque contra el martillo' (translation: 'The anvil against the hammer') from descending into stale, musty dinosaur rock territory. Perhaps the best way to peg Zarpa's sound would be to think of a Saxon/Tierra Santa hybrid, or perhaps Mago de Oz at their most rocking (but without the folky influences and instrumentation). In other words, this is solid, meat-and-potatoes, basic, honest heavy metal with sporadic hard rock tendencies. Zarpa do an excellent job of varying their attack, however, as evidenced by the power-metallish "La Zarpa y el sable" and the convincing ballad "Dias de ilusion", which showcase the band's versatility. The 18(!!!) tracks on display are overflowing with catchy hooks and good melodies, and Feijoo is something of a template for Spanish metal singers with his powerful yet smooth mid-range delivery. By the 2nd or 3rd listen, the hooks begin to seep into your brain, the language barrier is smashed, and you're left with a high-quality effort of unpretentious Spanish heavy metal infused with the spirit of the 80s.

I debated for some time whether to pick up this Zarpa CD. Saxon-styled heavy metal is not my favorite subgenre, and there's so much amazing Spanish-language heavy metal (Saratoga, Mago de Oz, Saurom, Landevir, Sheratan, etc.) and so little time to hear it all. But 'El yunque contra el martillo' has such an endearing quality to it. This music is so easy to listen to, so catchy, and so obviously from the heart that it makes for a wonderfully enjoyable summer listen with the windows rolled down, the sunglasses on, a cold beer in one hand, and a fist in the air. Major props to Karthago for bringing Zarpa's music to the heavy metal underground. And major props to Zarpa for staying the course, sticking to their guns, and standing tall some 30 years after they began their musical journey.




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