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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

REVIEW: Angel Witch (UK) - As Above, So Below (2012)



Presentation

Angel Witch is widely regarded as one of the biggest bands that are credited for forming Nwobhm-genre (or movement, how 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 the media for having their own new authentic style. 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, and released their first debut album “Angel Witch" in 1980. The album is much praised epic Nwobhm opus with magical compositions, being same time doomy, melancholic, mysterious, and drawing influences from 70’s progressive rock as well. 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 seemed to have lost some of that special atmosphere that made the debut so epic, so highly praised, and so unique sounding effort. The compositions got more straight-forward, tad more mainstream, heavier, generally more standard sounding heavy metal. Angel Witch kept their “dramatic “ and “melancholic” influences in their melodies and sound, but lost complexity of it.

Review

Now it’s year 2012 and Angel Witch have returned with a brand new “reunion” album called “As Above, So Below”, a 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 forming in Kevin Heybourne’s head during the less active years. Heybourne, who’s the only former member left of any of the band's lineups since the 80’s. Not to worry, though, Heybourne has been the driving force behind the Angel Witch’s wheel before. Alongside himself, Heybourne has recruited two newer talents without any mention worthy career achievements previously in their careers in fields of heavy metal.

The new album comes with FANTASTIC cover-art, released by Rise Above Records, and contains a decent amount of tracks (eight), while running respectable 50+ minutes. After a long break between releases, you’re sure to ask two questions about the record: is the album half-hearted release that lacks the original power? And have they stuck with either of the former two styles (debut VS. Screamin'-Frontal-era) or have they modernized their sound? Well I got good news for you. The very core of this album is on the right tracks nodding towards the old-school sound. First of all, this is not half-hearted release. Heybourne is in a good shape as a writer, guitarist, and singer. He shows no signs of tiredness. Secondly, a great thing is that this album is rooted perhaps the most towards their sound from the times of the “self titled debut album”! Well, it’s a mixture of that and some of  “Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’” era in my opinion. It hangs there in between the styles, but is definitely closer to the debut by it's sound and compositions.

The reason to this may well be, that Angel Witch have used several old compositions in "As Above" to re-record some old songs. In fact “Dead Sea Scrolls” and “Witching Hour” are from years 1983-1984 originally, a time between the debut and it’s successor Screamin' n' Bleedin', while “Into The Dark” and “Guillotine” (which was later used in “Frontal Assault” under different name: “Rendezvous With the Blade”) were originally written around the times of the debut or slightly before. Rest of the tracks are new and fresh. This, at least, supports the album’s sound rooted to early Angel Witch times.

So, song compositions sound like mixture of self-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 - in other words they sound sort of "doomy". 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 on the doomy atmosphere. Crisp lead guitar melodies combined with doomy rhythm guitars takes you on a trip back to late 70’s / early 80’s for sure. The sound really screams old Angel Witch, and could be compared also to something 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 drum playing by Andy Prestridge is top notch. The drummer focuses to complexity more than “straight forward thundering” and 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 a bit. 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 loads of emotion.

This albums has it’s share of those progressive rock elements in it's sound, that were present in very early Angel Witch material. Those elements can be especially heard in songs like “Into The Dark”, which is a mind trip itself. It’s one of the best songs in the album. The song 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. Nicely build and quite memorable track! 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 a third favorite to mention with that gruesome and eerie lead guitar prelude, leading into early 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 (surprised?).

Lyrics are sort of a poetic, riddling, mysterious and epic on other songs, while there's certainly 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 such as above makes us think - sort of lyrics that makes us recognize things in ourselves and around us - are always cool.

Summary

There's not many real downsides in this album. 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” as well! That, with surprisingly old school rooted sound mix that has it’s rough edges, but with slightly updated quality. While this album honors classic Angel Witch, it fails to capture quite the same greatness and atmosphere than the debut. Still, the core of the album is well on the right tracks. The debut's progressive / doomy style influenced compositions are partly there, with some of the bit newer sounding more straight forward mid-80’s material combined to it. In my opinion, Angel Witch are at their best when wandering into progressive / doomy waters, seen in bit more complex and unique tracks such as “Into The Dark”, which guarantees to take your mind into an adventure.

Perhaps this record still isn't overall as complex, vibrant, and varying, as the debut album was. It feels tad watered down in comparison. Not that much, but a bit, just enough to not reach classic status. Too much comparison to the classic debut album would be a bit unfair though. I don't think anyone expected Angel Witch to come out with another quite as memorable record after so long break. It’s hard to recognize the actual faults here.. perhaps “The Horla”, “Upon This Cord”, and “Guillotine” as songs 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. "As Above"'s greatness will grow slowly on you with additional listens. 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 for 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)

-http://heavymetalblogspot.com (all rights reserved)



Buy this album

lineup

  • Kevin Heybourne - Guitars, Vocals( 1978-1982, 1984-1998, 2000-present)
    • See also: ex-Deep Machine, ex-Blind Fury
  • Will Palmer - Bass (2009-present)
  • Andy Prestridge - Drums (2009-present)
    • See also: Winters


tracks

  • 1. Dead Sea Scrolls 05:59
  • 2. Into the Dark 05:11
  • 3. Gebura 05:24
  • 4. The Horla 07:29
  • 5. Witching Hour 05:49
  • 6. Upon This Cord 06:33
  • 7. Guillotine 06:53
  • 8. Brainwashed 07:10
    • Playing time 50:28





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