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Don't Look Her in the Eyes...
Angel Witch - Angel Witch
Member Name: Frankingsteins
Angel Witch - Angel Witch
Advantages: Classic heavy metal.
Disadvantages: Endless, tedious comparisons to other bands are inevitable.
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
Summary: Angel Witch's first album (1980).