I know life isn’t fair, or even designed to be, but there are some bands who just didn’t seem to get a half decent crack of the whip first time around. I don’t mean through simple bad luck, but also by the press of the time seemingly deciding arbitrarily that they were the band to pick on. On the plus side of this iniquity, these are often the bands who not only get a devout cult following for their meager output, but if and when they do decide to return it is with a sense of purpose, of unfinished business. Enter Mr Kevin Heybourne and NWOBHM legends Angel Witch.
They’ve been back out and about for a little while now gigging and touring, as well as some high profile shows complete with excellent bills showing the esteem they are held in by the Heavy Metal and Doom fans. Now then comes the time for them to offer us a taste of their unfinished business.
With a cover and logo that immediately connects you to that classic first album, bypassing the couple of dead ends and all those compilations and live albums that came in between, there is a real intent to place this album in context. There are no re-visits to old classics like Sweet Danger or Devil’s Tower either: This is a follow up.
So thirty years on (sheesh… make me feel old why don’t you) does it work?
As Dead Sea Scrolls opens I experience the first tremors of doubt. Something about the sound seems a little thin, a space where I was expecting the great rumble of bass. Then Kevin Heybourne’s vocals push in and the whole sound of Angel Witch suddenly asserts itself and it was just that initial pace that confused me. I’m glad to say that his voice not only retains that excellent and distinctive, almost urgent tone but has actually improved. It’s a lovely, rich and hook laden song to come back on and his voice rises through it and pulls that NWOBHM sound into a warm 2012 studio and a clear but not too slick sound. A very aware and sympathetic production from Jaime Gomez Alleno helps to move this from being a sound of the Eighties and instead into a still relevant style that was simply born then. Something ably added to by the excellent rhythm section of Will Palmer and Andrew Prestidge on bass and drums.
Neat. Very neat.
There’s a judicious use of keyboards just in the background every now and then. Nothing to intrude on the classic sound but a little addition to the palate on Into The Dark’s intro for example. There’s also a good spotlight on Kevin Heybourne’s guitar runs too, which with a lack of overdubs in most places has really added to the ‘live’ feel that reminds you of how The Gates Of Slumber often go about things. I really want to commend the ‘new guys’ too. This really feels like a band, not a solo project and they understand the space they are playing in perfectly and that rhythm section add so much colour here.
Gebura gallops along nicely, casually tossing an ear-worm at me as it goes that sticks for days and then we delve into horror literature for the mind twisting song The Horla (and if you’re a weird fiction fan and haven’t read Guy de Maupassant’s 1887 tale then get ye to an anthology!)
The Horla is the biggest slice of doom here, showcasing how influential the Angel Witch sound has been to that genre. It’s epic, mournful and breaks out a superb instrumental stretch. Beginning with a quiet passage, swathed in tragedy, it reaches up and calls down the kind of doom that Forsaken or early Doomshine took up. It’s a perfect change of pace for the album and a standout song, particularly with that excellent up tempo instrumental exit.
Witching Hour is simply NWOBHM inspired perfection pulled into the 21st century. My favourite song here with it’s rolling melody and soaring but still gruff vocals; it really is a gorgeous and genuinely timeless sound that both takes me back AND sounds very much 2012. It should be impossible to do that but something about the melody and the execution manages it.
Speaking of execution, even if the press release didn’t mention that it had originally been written for inclusion on the debut, the track Guillotine really is a cracking flashback. The riff is just a wonder of a very British style of metal and I had to use a crowbar to get the grin off my face. Catchy as Hell.
Closing with the nicely epic Brainwashed, the guys leave us with another song of cantering riffs and drum battery that offers a warning and a fine close to an excellent release.
As Above, So Below doesn’t try and pack thirty missing years into one album. Sensibly it just tries to be the best follow up album it can be; well structured, well paced and free of frills but packed tight with talent and no filler. It’s an album that any fan of traditional metal, or just plain ol’ Metal should seek out and utterly relish. And if you’re young enough to have a mum or dad who keeps telling you that bands from the NWOBHM would still go down a storm today then come and listen to Angel Witch and admit for once that your parents might have a point.
Nice to have you back, guys. And you wouldn’t believe how nice a surprise it is to write that.