Angel Witch is a name most of you have heard before even if you never actually heard their music. They were one of the earliest of NWoBHM acts, and along with Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamond Head and others, they helped create a new style of music, launching heavy metal’s popularity to new heights and paving the way for the glorious 80s metal renaissance. Their debut was a quasi-classic in the genre and a fine example of the NWoBHM style, sounding like a a cross between early Def Leppard and Witchfinder General. Followups were more stripped down and rock ready, but the band was quickly overshadowed by several of their contemporaries, and though their output was solid, by 1986 it was all but over for the English rockers. They staged a comeback with 2012s As Above, So Below and then proceeded to vanish once again. Angel of Light is their latest attempt to rekindle their metal flame, with singer/guitarist Kevin Heybourne the sole original member. It’s predictably old school, retro metal fare, much in line with what the band was doing on albums like Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’, and the band can still sling some solid, meaty riffs. Is that enough to give new life to such an antiquated brand?
Likely not, to be honest, but this is a respectable effort to reclaim lost territory nonetheless. Cuts like the rowdy opener “Don’t Turn Your Back” reek of the early 80s English metal scene and the nostalgia factor for those around back then will be high. It’s a good song to boot, with aggressive riffing and a punky attitude. Riffs are the coin of the realm with NWoBHM and tracks like ” We Are Damned,” “Condemned” and “Window of Despair” have them in spades, along with a pugnacious posture. “We Are Damned” is especially robust, with a hint of Middle Eastern influence in the riffing and a vague whiff of early Iron Maiden attitude permeating the proceedings. At times the material here reminds me of Diamond Head‘s recent output more so than Angel Witch, but since they come from the same gene pool, it’s a small matter. I hear traces of Led Zeppelin‘s “Achilles Last Stand” in “Window of Despair,” and there’s a Black Sabbath influence to the opening of “I Am Infamy,” so it seems the band borrowed from many a respected British institution.
The main issue is bloat. The way Angel Witch writes their songs is in line with classic hard rock, and thus a “get in, get out” approach would serve them best, yet songs routinely run 1-3 minutes longer than they should. The songs make their statement, showcase some nice riffs and a cool chorus, and then proceed to beat them into pulp via repetition. “We Are Damned” is a fine 4 minute rocker than runs 6 minutes, thereby becoming a little tiresome on the back-end. “Condemned” does the same thing. These are strong cuts and can survive the failure to edit, but less stout numbers like “Death of Andromeda” and especially the lengthy “The Night is Calling” end up nearly smothering under their own weight. This is a shame, especially with the latter track as it has some cool ideas and moments like the righteous riff that appears at 5:00. It’s a testament to the band’s writing that even with chronic bloat, the album is still an enjoyable and rocking listen.
Kevin Heybourne and Jimmy Martin fret their hearts out on every track and this thing is loaded with catchy, driving riffs. The leads brim with old timey, piss and vinegar attitude, and if this had come out in 81 or 82 I would have slept with it under my pillow for protection. Heybourne’s vocals are in that ‘love em or hate em’ zone, but he’s a competent frontman and his voice is similar to many NWoBHM vocalists of yore, especially Witchfinder General‘s Zeeb Parkes, which isn’t a bad thing. The band as a whole is tight and capable of producing rocking music that’s easy to digest and appreciate. That’s what the NWoBHM sound was originally all about, and the formula still holds water in 2019.
Nearly 40 years after dropping their debut, Angel Witch are back rocking like youngsters. If they can keep things moving, Angel of Light would make a stable foundation for a third run at that brass ring. If you were a metal fan during the original wave of British talent, feel free to add half a point, as the nostalgia factor will be a boon. If you’re a young whipper snapper, take a trip back to the roots of metal by checking this out. Everything has a return.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: angelwitchcoven.com | angelwitch.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/angelwitchofficial
Releases Worldwide: November 1st, 2019