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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.
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.
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)
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