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The genesis of Spanish heavy metal. - 89%

maverickvkz, August 14th, 2008

The first memory that I have of Barón Rojo dates from the year 2003, when a close friend who had already taught me of bands such as Tierra Santa, Obús, Almafuerte, and La Renga -the first two are from Spain, and the rest are Argentinian steel-, also told me of a Spanish heavy metal band that I had never heard of. “Man, you should check out Barón Rojo, they play an ass kickin’ heavy metal, and perhaps it’s too slow for you, but they’re still amazing”, he said. Weeks later, and after deciding to follow his advice, I bought (For a very high price) their most well-known greatest hits album Larga vida al Barón, which immediately caught my attention because of its magic, its sound, and its energy. I had invested into something worthwhile, and it became the snowball which allowed me to learn of 80’s heavy metal in Spain, with the Barones being its pioneers. And, the rest is history…

Matter of fact is that Barón Rojo was not exactly the first band to play heavy metal in Spain. Mythic band Leño, -which originated in the late 70’s after its founder Rosendo Mercado left Ñu -another Spanish legend- already flirted with the first sounds of heavy metal in their early works, but still had a more hard rock orientation. Barón Rojo, in the contrary, took the genre more seriously and created their music based on it. The band was born after the brothers Carlos and Armando de Castro, who were part of hard rock act Coz, felt disenchanted with the musical direction that the band took, and that’s why they walked away shortly after Coz’s first release (Más Sexy). They recruited talented singer José Luis Campuzano (“Sherpa”), and Argentinian Hermes Calabria, who was in charge of the drumming section. That’s how in 1981, after signing with Chapa Discos, the band released their debut album Larga Vida al rock and roll, one of the most influential albums in Spanish heavy metal history.

From the very first second of the album’s opener, it’s more than clear that the band still keeps its rock ‘n’ rollish roots (Which steadily decreased in later albums), thanks to their former venture in Coz, but the album explores boundaries far beyond what the rest of the musicians played by that time, and its fusion with heavy metal is more than evident. In contrast with other releases of 1981, this one owns remarkable progressive tints, and very smart guitar riffs, far from technical, but more intended to stay inside your head, which is a remarkable fact, because each second from every riff that you listen has an important reason to exist. Both Carlos de Castro and Sherpa share the vocals. While Carlos de Castro has a more melodic and high-ranged unique pitch, Sherpa has fiercer mid-ranged pipes with occasional explosive shrieks. The sound mix is very professional, but sometimes I find trouble when I wish to listen to the bass, but this isn’t a serious flaw at all. Considering the production’s limited budget, once you get a chance to listen to the final product, it’s almost a sacrilege to complain, since the band sounds shockingly awesome. The raw, yet pounding drums accompany the songs more than efficiently, because when we speak of Hermes Calabria, we’re referring to one of the best drummers of the 80’s, and that’s serious business. You just have to listen to songs such as “El Pobre”, or the title track to enjoy his manic performance with exotic drum solos that I’ve never heard again anywhere. Barón Rojo’s lyrical themes have always savagely criticized the Spanish government, and their crudity emphasized the strong dissatisfaction with the people who were supposed to rule their homeland, and Larga vida al rock and roll was the beginning of a series of social war cries, which gave a powerful voice to people who felt the same displeasure. The band members brilliantly expressed their thoughts through this outstanding head banger.

Many songs that give life to Larga vida al Rock and Roll are still demanded on every concert today. This gives us an idea of the huge amount of anthems that the band has collected in the course of time. “Con botas sucias” (With dirty boots) initiates the epic release, with a catchy and repeated bass solo, which is followed by a surprising rhythm twist, and the speed increases from that moment on, staying for the rest of the song. Sherpa is the responsible of leading it, with Carlos de Castro joining him on the chorus. Although we listen to short heavy metal blasts, the song is mostly hard rock oriented, and its angry lyrics are well structured, direct and pretty easy to understand. Meanwhile, “Anda suelto Satanás” (Satan is unleashed) is another classic that walks slower than the former track, but still has a sexy rock ‘n’ roll essence. It’s very entertaining, and this time Carlos de Castro is fully in charge of the vocals, while the bass gives the tune an exquisite morbid taste. Next, we finally discover a heavy metal head banger with “El Pobre” (The poor), which is quite similar as “Con botas sucias”, but it quickly turns into something speedy and thrashy, where the guitars are viciously slashed, and Sherpa’s rebellious voice greatly flows. Another high quality song named “Los desertores del rock”, (Deserters of rock) arrives later, where a single and repeated short string serves as introduction, turning later into something louder and louder. Then, everything melts and suddenly spurts right into your face with a melodic hard rock beauty led again by Carlos de Castro. Its inspiring lyrics represent the thought of any true metal (Or rock) follower who understands the real meaning of the genre, respects it, and knows that he has found one of life’s most wonderful treasures.

While instrumental tracks with over-abundant guitar solos are not precisely required in any album, they gently appear to slow down the emotions, and breathe deeply, before moving on with the madness. That’s the case of “Efluvios” (Effluviums), an epic tune with nicely worked instrumentation. After its short-lived appearance, you should be ready for the second phase of the album, which begins with “Larga vida al rock and roll” (Long life to rock and roll), another neatly crafted fan-favourite melody which incorporates the use of dual guitars for the first time (In this record, obviously) through many phases of the song. This is the title track that perfectly rolls the album into its concept, and builds a very logical continuation, making you fall in love with it. Carlos de Castro and the rest of the crew deliver a harmonious performance, and after you listen to the chorus, another valid proof emerges: Both Carlos de Castro and Sherpa formed such a sensational duo that is rarely seen, or has never worked in an 80’s heavy metal band.

At this point, the music is supposed to improve and reach a new climax, but sadly, this doesn’t happen. Both “El presidente” (The president) and “Chica de la ciudad” (City girl) are just average songs which lack of solid elements to stay under your skin. They’re not bad, but they’re forgettable, work as semi-fillers, and burn out the atmosphere, since they’re played one after another. “Chica de la ciudad” has a bluesy orientation, and that’s fair, because if this was a ballad, it would have sucked way too much. “El presidente” starts with clean guitar touches, but Sherpa’s performance waters out everything, while the song moves too damn slow. Its chorus is boring, as well, yet I absolutely share what the lyrics speak about.

Wait! The journey isn’t over yet. Larga vida al rock and roll still has a last mega-highlight in store. It’s the song that defines why the band’s name is “Barón Rojo”, and, of course, it’s another instant classic, (Too many for one album only, can you imagine?), which also begins with haunting guitar distortions, so it can later evolve into fresh, catchy riffs, as this mid-paced anthem smoothly flavours the album once again. It reveals the story of legendary German military pilot Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, who was a widely known figure of World War I. Sherpa’s nice edged voice is mixed with some soft growls. It’s a thrilling closure for an album that propelled Barón Rojo to higher dimensions, and lifted the band to their peak.

Barón, héroe de cuento
Amo de las nubes,
Señor del viento
Barón, vives un sueño
Triste y solitario
Surcando el cielo
Barón, tu triste misión
No apagó tu gloria.

For me, Barón Rojo is the band that defines 80’s heavy metal in all its splendour, and it’s also Spain’s most representative icon of all time. There’s no band that can presume of such an incomparable legacy as these musicians have established. They’ve done it all. They’ve flown higher than any of their countrymen, and regardless of the band’s drastic line-up changes, they’ve never betrayed their roots and have always been attached true to the genre, which has had some of the most successful acts in history. Barón Rojo surely earned their own spot in the heavy metal universe, and they continue to rock stadiums everywhere they can.

Larga vida al rock and roll was a mythic release dedicated to John Lennon’s memory, but it was also the genesis of a band, as well as of a whole genre.