Primitive Origins: Zarpa Rock’s ‘Los 4 Jinetes del Apocalipsis’

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Today we turn the clock back to a record from 1978 that features cover artwork that could stand toe to toe with anything here in 2021. Zarpa Rock’s Los 4 Jinetes del Apocalipsis (put your metalhead translator on and I think you can figure out what that translates to). This Spain-based band was totally off our radar until Guerssen Records recently reissued this; mighty hails to Guerssen, who reissue lots of great, forgotten proto-metal.

This one is five heavy psych/in-the-red near-doom songs in 35:15, and it works. Read on to find out more about this metalhead-worthy album from Zarpa Rock (who are still a going concern today, known as just Zarpa).

The title track kicks things off and is awesome, the fuzzed-out, raw production sounding low budget but totally working, colluding with the cover art to create this kinda horrible atmosphere that I dig. It’s heavy psych, but it’s got doomy overtones; the sonics aren’t quite at Sabbath levels of heaviness but the vibe is. The guitar solo section slows it down for a very doom-ridden interlude, and I’m loving it.

“La Contaminación” is next, and starts off a bit too happy-rock-and-rolly for me, but dips into a slow psych drip soon enough, the band continually working between stoned-hard-psych and stoned-proto-doom on these songs, with much success. There’s some boogie-woogie chord changes here that are just nails on a chalkboard to me, although the crashing and bashing guitar and drum interplay that comes in at 3:45 is excellent.

Every one of the five songs on this record is longer than the last, with middle cut “Llega La Destrucción” clocking in at 6:40 (the last tune is just north of nine minutes), but it’s worth it, the band taking some time to stretch out and go low and slow here, the song rooted in a sort of ugly blues rock but managing to be its own beast entirely. The vocals swoon and careen pretty out of control, but it, somehow, manages to add to the atmosphere. Another winner, and I can’t say enough good things about the production, half the sounds in the red, those cymbals just crashing way too loud, the energy apparent: it’s perfect.

“Le Guerra Cruel” isn’t a Brujeria song title, and the acoustic intro sure as hell isn’t extreme in any sense. It could have been cut from this 8:22 tune and the world would have kept turning, but, might as well just axe the entirety of it, because much of the song is pretty agonizing, the band attempting a sort of soft-touch soft-rock here that manages to check off no boxes at all along the way for anyone. It does pick up into something respectable but takes like five minutes to get there, at which point everyone just thinks it’s a different song. And it’s not a bad song, although it’s a bit too middling and extended-guitar-soloing, but it does feature some of the speediest tempos on the record so it’s not a total write-off.

“El Hambre” starts off on a mellow note, but it’s not soft-rock pandering, it’s trippy, the-acid-is-wearing-off doom-adjacent heavy psych, the band hunkering down and creating a pretty great, uh, trip here, a slow burn and a slow build that climaxes into a pretty fantastic straight-ahead hard rocker to wind the album down. It’s a smart closer, the song bringing us to the finish line in a manner that feels like a concept album is ending, which—surprise—it is: this album is indeed a concept album, although what the concept is is beyond me. Something to do with either severed hands or the four horsemen of the apocalypse, I’m guessing.

Doesn’t matter: this album rules, has lots for today’s metalheads to enjoy and is totally Decibel-approved.

Zarpa Rock’s Los 4 Jinetes del Apocalipsis The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No, but it might add to it.

Heaviness factor: Pretty heavy in sonics, quite heavy in production, super heavy in vibe.

Obscura Triviuma: Legend has it that this record was recorded in one take, in a 90-minute recording session.

Other albums: Yes, as Zarpa, they have a million other albums.

Related bands: Sable, Parking Fox (also, stop naming all bands now, you’ll never beat that).

Alright, fine, if you must: Something ill-advised that you’ve never heard of that might harm you.