Forty years and more have passed since the original inception of Angel Witch rose from the inauspicious locale of suburban Kent with the doom-laden clangour of Black Sabbath ringing in its ears and leading a movement of bands that reinvented heavy metal as a form darker, heavier, faster and more intense than anything previously issued forth.
With songwriter, lead guitarist and chief architect Kevin Heybourne engineering a psychic realm where horror and fantasy imagery locked horns with pulverising riffage and razorsharp hooks, the band were soon vying for supremacy amidst an alarmingly fertile scene that also included Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Saxon, yet with arguably the heaviest and most otherworldly dimensions at their disposal of anyone in range.
The band’s 1980 eponymous debut on Bronze records led by its deathlessly infectious self-titled opening cut thus created shockwaves that would resonate throughout the nascent realm of thrash, doom and death metal, with its feverish, vicious and incisive song craft manna to the ears of young and hungry musicians like Dave Mustaine, Tom G. Warrior and Chuck Schuldiner.
Yet now, beyond a storied four decades in which the Angel Witch name has witnessed the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in extremis, the band remain custodians of a style that transcends era and archetype. The current incarnation of the band first formed eleven years ago, delivering the 2012 album “As Above, So Below’, which was widely considered one of the few records by a band of such vintage to stay true to the music’s original spirit.
Yet in retrospect this was merely a precursor to a remarkable renaissance of Kevin Heybourne’s songwriting which saw him delivering a collection of compositions replete with the vim and vitriol of yore, along with the bold singularity of intent that marks him out as one of metal’s most distinctive songwriting forces. The result is Angel of Light, the band’s fifth album, and a veritable torrent of imperious confidence and riff-driven righteousness.
Armed with such an arsenal of weapons grade material, the band now comprising Fredrik Jansson Punkka (drums) Jimmy Martin (rhythm guitar) and Will Palmer (bass) decamped to the Stationhouse in Leeds to deliver the goods in as straightforward and direct a fashion as possible. Under the auspices of producer James Atkinson (Gentleman’s Pistols/Voorhees) the band set to buck the trend of the overly Pro-Tooled and interchangeable metal releases of the here and now by capturing these infectious songs in the full trademark Angel Witch roar of heavy amplification and thunderous rhythmic drive. Thus, laying down his parts with the very same Marshall JPM amp head that he employed for his debut, Kevin Heybourne could both embrace and transcend the glories of his past.
The result is a revelation; whether dispensing full-throttle anthemic glory as on the thunderous opener “Don’t Turn Your Back’; epic science-fiction-themed sermonising (‘Death from Andromeda’); Grand Guignol horror (‘I am Infamy’); or earthshaking endtime intensity as on the closing title-track. This is the sound of Angel Witch reborn and more powerful than ever, retaining every iota of the melodious finesse and metaphysical intrigue that elevated them above their contemporaries from day one. Even when revisiting a lost classic the emotionally charged twilit ballad “The Night Is Calling’, which previously existed only as a scarce bootlegged live version (enough to inspire the young Leif Edling to cover it in his pre-Candlemass band Nemesis) the band has the ability to essay it with enough style and gusto to make it indistinguishable in character from Heybourne’s freshest compositions.
Angel Witch’s influential spirit is one that has endured through all of heavy metal thus far, with figures as disparate as Exodus’s Gary Holt, Dissection’s Jon Nötveidt and Ghost’s Tobias Forge plighting their troth to its combination of malice and magick. Yet there has been no one record that so wholeheartedly manifests it for nearly forty long years. Angel of Light is a record to reignite dormant passions, and one to reconnect the listener to a potent and life-affirming musical elixir that revels in renegade spirit and mystical allure.