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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.