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Solid release that will grow slowly on you! - 80%

gravedigger84, July 5th, 2012

Presentation

Angel Witch is widely regarded as one of the biggest bands that are credited for building up Nwobhm-genre (or movement, what ever you want to call it). Nwobhm stands for “The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal”, and was first discovered and named in 1979 in The Great Britain, where bands such as Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, Samson, and Saxon were recognized by having their own new authentic style by media. Geoff Barton of “Sounds” magazine was actually first person to use term Nwobhm. The sound that adapted itself from classic rock and punk rock, taking best of both worlds.

Angel Witch were one of the more epic and instrumentally more skilled bands of the Nwobhm movement, releasing their first debut album in 1980 “Angel Witch. Much praised epic Nwobhm opus with magical compositions, being same time doomy, melancholic, mysterious and drawing influences from 70’s progressive rock. After this they came out with two more full length releases: “Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’” in 1985 and “Frontal Assault” in 1986. But at the time of the latter two releases Angel Witch had seemed to lose that special atmosphere that made the debut so epic, so highly praised, and so unique. The compositions got more straight forward, tad more mainstream, heavier, more standard heavy metal. They kept their “dramatic “ and “melancholic” influences in their melodies, but lost complexity of it.

Review

Now it’s year 2012 and Angel Witch have returned with a brand new “reunion” album called “As Above, So Below”, first one in 26 years. That’s a damn long time. The band has had some activity throughout the years between actual recordings though.. so I got a feeling that musical compositions have been living and forming in Kevin Heybourne’s head, who’s only original member left of any lineup since the 80’s. Not to worry though, Heybourne has been the driving force behind the Angel Witch’s wheel before. Alongside him he has recruited two newer talens without any mention worthy career in any known heavy metal bands before.

The new album comes with FANTASTIC cover-art, released by Rise Above Records, containing decent amount of tracks (eight), and running respectable 50 minutes plus. After a long break between releases you’re sure to ask two questions: it’s so long break that is the album half-hearted release that lacks the original power? And have they sticked with either of the former styles or modernized their sound? Well I got good news for you. The very basis of this album, the body of it, is of a right sort. First of all this is not half-hearted release.. Heybourne is in a good shape as a writer, guitarist, and singer. No signs of tiredness. Secondly a great thing is that this album is rooted perhaps the most to their sound from times of the “self titled debut album”! Well it’s a mixture of that and some of the “Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’” era in my opinion. It hangs there in between but is definitely closer to the debut by sound and compositions.

The reason to this may well be that Angel Witch have used several old compositions here to re-record old songs. In fact “Dead Sea Scrolls” and “Witching Hour” are from around 1983-1984 originally, a time between the debut and it’s sequel, while “Into The Dark” and “Guillotine” (which was later used in “Frontal Assault” under different name: “Rendezvous With the Blade”) date from times before aforementioned. Rest of the tracks are new. This at least supports the album’s sound rooted to early 80’s times of the band.

So song compositions sound like mixture of selt titled debut and the second album. How about the general sound of album? The sound itself is very damn good! The rhythm guitars are sort of a very slightly muddy, deep and still sort of crisp with very light distortion. They’re sort of a “doomy” which is cool. While lead guitars themselves are crisp, clean, and very audible. Bass is sort of a dry, fuzzy, not stealing the show but can be heard well and adds doomy atmosphere. Soaring lead guitar melodies combined with doomy rhythm guitars takes you on a trip to late 70’s / early 80’s for sure. And in addition to comparison to earlier Angel Witch, the band also sounds like Witchfinder General with their “Death Penalty” album – sound wise. They did not overproduce the album which gives it natural born raw power and roughness to their beautiful compositions. I should also mention that drumwork is very nice. The drummer focuses to complexity perhaps more than “straight forward thundering”, but his use of the hi-hats and cymbals as “fills” sounds great! It Brings Iain Finlay (ex-Running Wild) from “Death or Glory” album to my mind. Heybourne’s gloomy middle pitched clean vocals are still strong as before. While he may not be the most original vocalist around, with not having those high pitched piercing screams, or cool rough bluesy edge on his voice, he knows how to sing Nwobhm style stuff with emotion.

This albums has it’s share of those progressive rock elements that were there in early Angel Witch compositions. It lives in songs like “Into The Dark”, which is a mind trip itself. It’s one of the best songs in the album. It starts as laid back progressive/doomy track mixing mellow melodies with melancholic and mysterious ones, while lead guitars build labyrinth-like patterns taking listener to a journey to the other side, and then ending with aggression and speed. Another my favorite would be melancholic and epic “Dead Sea Scrolls” with crisp Nwobhm style rhythm riffage at it’s finest, and soaring lead guitars crying on top of that. “Brainwashed” would be third favorite to mention with that gruesome and eerie lead guitar prelude, leading into even old era Megadeth-like rhythm guitar lines, while chorus is definitely as Angel Witch as it gets and the track features some nice progressive-like shredding parts. On the other hand “Gebura” could be straight off the Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’ album, and “Guillotine” sounds like Frontal Assault-material, where it was later on used.

Lyrics are sort of a poetic, riddling, mysterious and epic on other songs, while there's certainly that more philosophical and meaningful side the the lyrics too like in "Brainwashed":

"Maybe the story's true for believers
A victim's story of deception
A god alone, and we start with soldiers, a simple man
A lie to be made for the power of control


To scare them for the guilt
Wash yourself, start with their blood
To wear the symbol to what made the pain
To what made the death


Look into your own eyes
Your reflection shows you' re brainwashed
Restrain yourself inside
Stop yourself from being brainwashed"



Lyrics as well as those that makes us think - sort of lyrics that makes us recognize things in ourselves and around us - are always cool.

Summary

The downsides of this albums are not many. Dramatic, melancholic, and gloomy atmosphere - with those eerie moments - that I love in old Angel Witch records is to be found in “As Above, So Below” with surprisingly old school rooted sound mix that has it’s rough edges, but with updated quality. While this album honors classic Angel Witch, it fails to capture quite the same greatness and atmosphere than the debut. The basics of the album are straight on the right tracks. Old school style sound and production is there, just bit perfected. Debut style progressive / doomy compositions are partly there, with some of the bit newer sounding more straight forward mid-80’s material combined. In my opinion the band are at their best when wandering into progressive / doomy waters with bit more complex and unique tracks such as “Into The Dark” which guarantees to take your mind into an adventure.

Perhaps this record overall is still not quite as complex, vibrant and varying than the debut was. It feels tad watered down in comparison. Not that much, but a bit, enough to not reach classic status. It’s hard to recognize the actual faults here.. perhaps “The Horla”, “Upon This Cord”, and “Guillotine” drag a bit. “As Above, So Below” lacks perhaps a bit of a “finesse” although it has several great songs. Compositions just fail to match the debut – but they’re good nevertheless! It’s nice to see this album honor the band’s original roots and sound.

I’d say that Angel Witch runs here with energy level on 7.5/10 and material is perhaps about the same, some great, some decently good, but the overall presentation of album – this album sounding perhaps as close to the early 80’s as possible – deserves 9/10. It’s greatness will grow slowly on you. As Above, So Below is very welcomed comeback that leaves you wanting more.. perhaps next time they manage to crank out eight quality songs that are even more epic! Recommended bargain for anyone loving heavy metal from early 70’s to the 80’s – but even more essential to the Nwobhm fanatics and fans of the band.

Favorite tracks: Dead Sea Scrolls, Into The Dark, Brainwashed

Rating: 80 / 100
(A welcomed comeback straight to the roots, great general presentation for what the band has always stood for, but slight inconsistency and lack of final finesse drops few points)

-http://heavymetalblogspot.com (all rights reserved) with additional release in metal-archives.com

Dusting Off The Spell Book - 78%

GuntherTheUndying, April 26th, 2012

So it took like twenty-six years for Angel Witch to finally produce a new record since the release of "Frontal Assault" back in 1986. Having lived and died the life of a normal band countless times, Kevin Heybourne's quest to make Angel Witch a relevant force in the realm of rock/metal yielded a worthy legacy filled with an untold amount of inspiration and influence despite the group's primordial lack of commercial success. The efforts of Heybourne and company remain consistent to what Angel Witch has always represented in its twisting lifespan, and one can easily tell Angel Witch is still Angel Witch when looking beyond the chasm of elapsed time since new material. In terms of content, the album is a sturdy return to form; nothing exceptionally magnificent or riveting, but definitely a fine addition to the Angel Witch biography several years after the squad went mute.

The primary strength of the album is its overall representation of not just itself, but Angel Witch as well. Beyond all the labyrinthine structures and enthralling bridges prowling through tunes typically geared right down the path of NWOBHM, Angel Witch remains true to itself. No weird experiments, no useless influences, no frills or preservatives; just Heybourne naturally doing his thing. The eight tunes all follow the group's desirable equation of catchy, mythical metal, giving the listener a chance to stand inside the eyes of a youth back in 1980 as they study the speedy riff that opened the cult’s debut; it has that regressive taste to it, although it naturally feels mature and definitely fitting for Angel Witch's age. Not perfectly cooked or represented, yet it retains its substance with little avail.

Heybourne’s voice is really fresh and vibrant considering the monumental gap between records and his age, plus the sound quality truly brings back an old-school vibe. The best songs are "Dead Sea Scrolls" and "Brainwashed," which open and close out the album; rivers and rivers of great guitar work ebb and flow from Heybourne’s fantastic playing, a true portrait of NWOBHM-ish material in 2012. Some nice melodies and riffs emerge from the fast-paced "Gebura," and "Witching Hour" just kills. A handful of spells are a little more on the novice side of things, however: "Guillotine" has a really lame chorus compared to most of the anthems, and "The Horla" tends to drag on without justifying its lengthy running time. Otherwise, "As Above, So Below" is a winner of a release.

Some say (and frequently with good reason) that aged factions should not attempt new material, but I see no problem in "As Above, So Below." Released at a time when reunion tours and albums ruled the day, the record is an appropriate addition to Heybourne’s accomplishments and a sturdy source of power within Angel Witch, a clan that never caught its fire back in the day and has lived mostly in seclusion and mystery. Expecting something on par with the self-titled album would be a little much, but fans of the band will no doubt cherish "As Above, So Below" as a warm, fruitful endeavor which excellently portrays the mysticism and might of Angel Witch.

This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com

Solid - 77%

Andromeda_Unchained, April 19th, 2012

You just can't beat a good John Martin album cover, absolutely class. Anyway, Angel Witch seriously need no introduction, unless you just got into metal yesterday. A big player in NWOBHM movement, it's hard to believe this is only the band's fourth full-length although they have had a steady release schedule over the years with ample amounts of live albums, compilations and the like. Before I press on to the actual music here I should mention that: "Geburah", "The Horla", "Brainwashed" and "Upon This Cord" are brand new tracks, whilst "Dead Sea Scrolls" and "Witching Hour" date back to 1983/'84, and "Into The Dark" and "Guillotine" are older live favorites. ("Guillotine" was allegedly supposed to appear on Angel Witch). Now read into that what you may, I'm not one to decry this for featuring old songs especially considering some of the tracks (to my knowledge) haven't appeared on any previous Angel Witch albums.

So, onto the actual music, I've got to say this sounds good. I didn't have much in the way of expectation for this and decided to just take it as it came, and damn was I surprised. The production is ideal, taking archaic roots into modern day territory at the sacrifice of nothing, and I think Kevin's vocals sound pretty good here.

The best tracks here are obviously the older ones, which sound really good, particularly "Dead Sea Scrolls" which is damn cool. "Guillotine" sounds particularly bad arse as well with a cool middle section, and the performances on this track, and across the album are quality. I think fans of the band will definitely enjoy this although it is debatable how much enjoyment the new tracks will bring. For what they are, they are quite good, but coupled with such fiery tracks from the old guard, it kind of dulls their sheen. I think mileage will vary for all listeners concerned here, and it obviously depends on personal preference, and how much of a fan of the band the potential listener is. For me, I think this is a solid release from a quality band. It's good to see Angel Witch back, and hopefully we won't have to wait a ridiculous amount of years for more material.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

As Above, So Below - 71%

Memnarch, March 31st, 2012

Angel Witch are one of those bands who, while influencing more bands than one cares to imagine, never got the mainstream appreciation they fully deserved. Their debut is widely regarded as a classic of NWOBHM by metal aficionados, and not without reason. Their brand of occult themed heavy metal is certainly deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as “Number of the Beast”, “Wheels of Steel” and “Borrowed Time”, but they never really got the media attention their material so merited due to the ever revolving line-up and a lot of bad luck. They’re a band I’ve always hugely respected and loved, so to say I was ecstatic when I heard news of a new album was a bit of an understatement.

So with “As Above, So Below” Kevin Heybourne is back for a fourth attempt, a release of which I’m pretty sure no-one saw coming. It certainly struck right out of the blue for me anyway, and again the only recognisable member being the band’s nucleus, Kevin. I will admit I was a touch sceptical that it could have ended up sounding like some horribly modern shit or a desperate dated attempt at recapturing something long gone, but thankfully my fears were allayed. They’ve managed to avoid these two traps and have produced a highly capable release that stays true to their ethos of old and still manages to sound fresh enough preventing it from ever coming across as a rehashed cash in.

It isn’t an instantly striking release; I found it more of a slow burner and one that took a fair amount of time to establish any sort of impression. It isn’t perfect by any means though, the two tracks ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ and ‘Brainwashed’ which bookend the album are by a long shot the strongest tracks present here. ‘Brainwashed’ with the potential to be a classic with its old school vibe, imposing vocal performance and mazy guitar work. It definitely has a good deal more focus than some of the other material present. ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ has that signature NWOBHM gallop that harks back to the glory days so much that you could easily be forgiven for forgetting that over thirty years has passed since the debut.

Sandwiched in between is a mixture of some great material and some undoubtedly obvious filler. Apart from the aforementioned two songs, other highlights include the re-recorded ‘Into the Dark ‘ with its impressive vocals lines and ending full of all manner of layered guitar shredding pomp and the rather more sombre and subdued ‘The Horla’ with its fantastic instrumental section. The problem with songs like ‘Gebura’ and ‘Upon this Cord’ though is that they just don’t cut it at this level. They’re very pedestrian and flat out devoid of any memorable or distinguishing traits and those all important infectious guitar hooks and choruses just aren’t present and just come across as a band who are badly struggling for inspiration ideas.

As stated though, if you ignore the extra baggage on “As Above, So below” you’ll find it is a strong release full of first class vintage riffing and smouldering lead work bolstered by Kevin’s characteristic vocal performance. Fair enough his vocals may lack a bit of oomph from time to time but on the whole they’re more than suitable. There’s positive vigour and flare present here that alludes to an age when bad mullets and tight jeans were socially acceptable (It still should be!) and Angel Witch were top of their game. Just don’t come into this expecting something as outstanding as the debut and you won’t be disappointed; but approach it with a degree of patience and you’ll certainly enjoy what is potentially their second strongest release to date.