Style: Heavy Metal
Release Date: 1 Nov 2019
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I was a few years too young to have experienced Angel Witch in their heyday, around the release of their self-titled debut album in 1980, but I caught up pretty soon after. I found rock and metal in 1984 and a newly reformed Angel Witch put out their second album a year later. That debut album still holds up, almost forty years on, for all its primitive production, and the opening self-titled track is only one favourite of mine from it.
I was surprised to find that they've hardly ever gone away. This is only the fifth studio album for them (I've only missed As Above, So Below in 2012, an album that apparently featured Bill Steer from Carcass!) but they've been an active band in one form or another since their founding in 1976 except for a couple of odd years out in 1983 and 1999. The only consistent member by that 1983 breakup had been Kevin Heybourne and he's stayed that way since. Oddly, I've always felt that he was both the best and worst things about the band.
There are two reasons for the former and one for the latter and they're just as obvious here as ever.
On the side of the best are his guitarwork and his composition. Every track here is led by strong riffs from Heybourne's guitar, which prevents even the weaker songs from becoming ignorable and elevates the stronger ones. There's real power to The Night is Calling, for example, and Death from Andromeda is a corker. The most old school is probably Condemned, which steams along on memorable riffs, but the album seems to get more traditional as it runs on, with Window of Despair and I am Infamy reminiscent of the early days.
Also, while Angel Witch was a major influence on the early speed and thrash metal scenes, they're as known for their melodies and hooks as their riffs. You know a hook's good when you're able to sing along with it even on your first listen and I found myself doing that on a few songs here, especially the opener and first single, Don't Turn Your Back.
On the side of the worst are his vocals, not just because he's always been a much better guitarist than a singer but because the production this time out buries them a few levels deeper in the mix than they ought to be. Maybe it's compensation of sorts for the production on that debut album which fails in the opposite direction, the vocals being so up front that their weaknesses are impossible to ignore.
Not for the first time, I found myself wishing that Heybourne might hire an actual vocalist so that he can concentrate on what he does best: write songs and play guitar. For now, this is just another reminder that Angel Witch are still with us, something I'm very happy for, even if this album doesn't work as well as a first album in seven years (and especially a second album in no less than thirty-three) ought to. But hey, this reminds me to go back to the debut again and any excuse for that is a good one.