Album Review: Angel Witch - "As Above, So Below"

A new Angel Witch album? What? This is still happening?

The answer to all of those questions is an unequivocal "yes." Angel Witch is back, still with lead singer and songwriter Kevin Heybourne parlaying his thirst for traditional British heavy metal into an album that introduces the purest form of that genre to a whole new generation. Of course, he's not leaving any of the old faithful (and they are out there,) behind; those who clapped and called along with the memorable chorus "You're, an, angel witch! You're an angel witch!" can feel safe donning their sleeveless denim vest again.

"As Above, So Below" is an album that makes a much publicized return to the roots of its chosen genre, although unlike every other album ever made that trumpets that same axiom, this one actually does go back to home base. That ends up being both a blessing and a curse for the power three-piece (with an additional permanent touring member.)

Smacked right in the center of this throwback to days gone by lies "The Horla," a completely authentic, original NWOBHM tune that is realized and rendered in 2012. It has all the classic elements of the greater metal operas of that era, including the grand, developing open, that unfolds over several minutes to eventually crescendo in a payoff of screaming, tandem guitars. What's worth noting is that the first half of the song, as it grows and grows, sounds almost like a cousin of Metallica's "One," but the second act is more related to Iron Maiden's "Hallowed be Thy Name."

To listen to the rest of "As Above, So Below" is to be projected wholesale back in the early 1980's, which probably comes as no surprise given that Angel Witch first incorporated in 1977. The entire album is rife with standards from those heady days of heavy metal, and is complete with the absolute dominance of the snare drum and a trademark gallop. Listen to "Into the Dark” for the former, and the carousing "Witching Hour" for the latter.

It is easy to envision any or all of these songs played on a huge stage in every major city, with an overblown light show and guitar players locked into their metal posturing in leather pants circa 1981. Or, any such South American arena in 2012. While this new effort probably won't reach that level of hype and commercial success, the vision is still valid because that's what Angel Witch wants you to remember was possible for this type of music in that era. This is such a true-to-life replica of those days that the lack of gang choruses feels suspicious. As a listener, you're stuck practically asking your music player "where are they? Why aren't you playing them? Is my copy defective?"

The only problem here is one that you, the reader, can probably guess. Angel Witch back in the day was associated with gigantic names like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Samson, Tygers of Pan Tang and a bevy of other similar bands. Yet, as this wave of new metal receded, many of those bands couldn't adapt, or just plain couldn't be told apart, and so they all sank together under the over-sized tidal wave that marked the coming of thrash (ironically, many thrash bands credit a lot of NWOBHM bands as inspiration while inadvertently and simultaneously burying them.) That lack of adaptability proved that the wave of British bands was not equipped to survive in a new environment, and many of them, Angel Witch included, faded into obscurity. Only the true titans such as Iron Maiden persevered with their combination of over-the-top songwriting and depth of musical creativity.

That's a very long story that leads to this single point. Angel Witch's new album "As Above, So Below," resurrects that sound so completely that it's in danger of not being distinct enough to make people notice it. There are few if any new musical idioms here, and this album, barring basic improvements in the quality of production and the like, sounds as though it could have been released anytime between 1980 and 1985.

But, before it sounds like I'm sitting here slamming this album out of the gate, I want to make it clear that Heybourne and his band Angel Witch, have put together this album in both loving tribute to, and continual faith in, that specific era of heavy metal. "As Above, So Below," is a stellar piece of songwriting in that vein, and is sure to attract the fancy of any fans of that era that either never gave it up or are being introduced to it for the first time. However, it subscribes and answers only to those standards. Still, this album can really make you smile and tap your foot with its simple dedication to the halcyon days of metal's emergence. It’s a great record, for serious.

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