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Angel Witch's debut album in 1980 is a heavy metal album that still has quite a hard rock feel to it, considered to be pioneers at the time, they never really made it big and I was a little surprised to hear that they were playing in Warsaw next February, thinking that they had disbanded long ago. I decided to give it a listen, in case I might like to attend the concert but have chosen against it.
The band today is quite different from the original line-up, the one remaining member is the vocalist Kevin Heybourne and his vocals are something that I think may have let the band down. Much like Diamond Head, the band have well written, catchy songs, some awesome guitar riffs and they play in a tight and fast manner with some outstanding guitar solos but the vocals just don't really cut the mustard. It seems that old Kevin struggles to reach the high notes but seems intent on screaming anyway, so he kind of sounds like Dot Cotton being spun round too fast on a playground roundabout.
He lacks any real depth to his voice and doesn't have the range or power of say a Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford and sounds most comfortable on tracks like "Angel Witch" that have a more calmer glam rock sound to them. It's a bit of a shame because with a bit more gravel tracks like White Witch, Angel of Death and Sorcorers could be executed with an ounce more angst and become truly legendary metal tracks, as the lyrics are already superb.
The musicianship is faultless NWOBHM but there were a lot of tight bands in that era and I'd rather listen to Newcastle's Raven or Belfast's excellent Sweet Savage because at the end of the day Angel Witch only sound mediocre in comparison. The same album has been released twice lately- the 25th anniversary edition and the 30th anniversary edition, both are more expensive than the original album and contain some unheard tracks and early recordings but the price difference between the original edition and the 30th anniversary one is not worth it.
Angel Witch's self-titled debut was the only notable album the unstable cockney outfit would ever produce, but has the distinction of being one of the definitive albums of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that enjoyed brief popularity in the early eighties, deemed to be led by bands as diverse as Judas Priest, Motörhead, Iron Maiden and Saxon. Angel Witch are a less significant but still important offering to that devilish dish, and I much prefer this heavy album of dark themes to the bike and 'Sixth Form Girls' themes that made Saxon that much more popular.
These ten songs have been supplemented on more recent re-releases by additional material from E.P.s and live radio sessions, but it's the core forty minutes of the original LP by which the album should be judged, and it fares incredibly well. Sadly created with less money and technology for the heavy rhythm guitars to be as powerful as they would like to be, lacking the intensity of a live performance, this is still highly enjoyable classic metal with dark fantasy themes conveyed through Kevin Heybourne's dramatic and often high-pitched vocals, similar to a low-rent Rob Halford. There are only a few things that hold it back from being an undisputed classic, which I put down to the occasional unison chorus of high shouting, for being uncomfortably reminiscent of later L.A. hair metal bands, and the few songs that fail to make much of an impression.
The majority of these songs are raw and fairly primitive heavy metal at its finest, from the energetic title track that introduces the band's Maidenesque time signature changes and ends in an entertaining but ridiculous crowd chant from about four people with distinctive cockney accents, to the later tracks that become increasingly sinister as the album moves on. Sure enough, 'White Witch' sets the style that will be more or less repeated in 'Sorceress' and 'Angel of Death,' of a distorted guitar riff played at a steadier pace with frequent atmospheric breaks and triumphant returns with screaming dual guitar solos. 'Sorceress' in particular is where the Black Sabbath influence starts to creep in, with the slow and thunderous riff being reminiscent of that band's earliest albums and forming a rare instance of doom NWOBHM. The mood is funereal and wicked, and although it's completely spoiled by the loud guitar solos at the end, I certainly wouldn't go without them.
Interestingly, the next track 'Gorgon' sounds more like Sabbath around their bouncier, commercial period, the guitars recalling specific moments in 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' and pushing forward the punk elements that defined other NWOBHM bands (early Iron Maiden in particular), which figure even more prominently in 'Sweet Danger,' a slightly pop-rock-oriented track I could take or leave from the otherwise impressive album, spoiling things with a dull seventies chorus. The aforementioned 'Angel of Death' would be unremarkable if not for the extra finale provided by the instrumental 'Devil's Tower' that segues from it seamlessly, in which all the instruments put in their full efforts to create a great apocalyptic sound to lead the album out. This isn't all gloom and damnation however, and like most rock bands, Angel Witch serve up the compulsory down-to-earth ballad with 'Free Man'... until a loud guitar shatters the fragile mood after only a minute or so, and the rest of the song plays out like a slow Judas Priest epic, though predictably falling short of the classic 'Beyond the Realms of Death.'
Angel Witch was never an overly distinctive band, but was noticeable and committed enough in an oversaturated fad of a genre that their memorable contribution to the legendary 'Metal for Muthas' compilation LP landed this successful album deal. Creative and personal differences among who knows what other reasons would see the band struggle through the rest of the decade and release far less successful sequels before finally calling it a day, but their legacy lives on in magic- and fantasy-themed heavy metal everywhere, 'Gorgon' being something of a precursor to Symphony X's 'The Eyes of Medusa' and 'White Witch' being very similar to a later song by Savatage of the same name. Thanks to re-releases, this album is still widely available from retailers, and the resurgence in the popularity of NWOBHM after the successful comebacks of Maiden and Priest a few of years ago, the more recent and slightly stranger comeback of Saxon, and the undying persistence of bands like Motörhead that will continue to release pretty much the same album every few years, means that this album could easily be as popular again as it was in 1980. The band still exists out there in some bastardised form, but don't go to the trouble of attending a nostalgia gig; it would be incredibly disappointing.
1. Angel Witch
3. White Witch
7. Sweet Danger
8. Free Man
9. Angel of Death
10. Devil's Tower
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Angel Witch
3 White Witch
7 Sweet Danger
9 Angel Of Death
10 Devil's Tower
13 Dr Phibes
14 Flight Nineteen
16 Hades Paradise
17 Sweet Danger
18 Angel Of Death
19 Extermination Day
20 Angel Witch