It’s not easy being a living legend. Especially when you really haven’t lived up to that legend in the best part of four decades. Angel Witch’s Kevin Heybourne, for instance, has lived with the weight of the yolk of metal expectation for almost every day of his existence since the release of his band’s storied debut in 1980; That self titled effort was, depending on where you stand, probably or possibly the greatest single two sides of vinyl to come out of the whole of the NWoBHM movement. Easily as influential in their own way as the more generally revered Iron Maiden, Angel Witch inspired countless cold-hearted Nordic teenagers in much the same way that a demi-generation of spandex n’leather clad rockers in the mid west of the USA looked to Steve Harris and company for their galloping inspiration.
But whilst the sergeant major and his squaddies churned out album after album through the eighties of platinum-encrusted mega metal, Heybourne’s muses deserted him. After the glory of Baphomet, Sweet Danger and Atlantis, all we were fed to keep our doom lights burning was second division thrash dross like Screamin’ and Bleeding and Frontal Assault. Angel Witch, once standard bearers of an entire movement, were swiftly overtaken in the nation’s affections by a legion of other bands, many of whom had been inspired to take up the cudgels by that same album Heybourne unleashed then signally failed to equal no matter how hard he tried.
Fast forward to 2012 and the band’s ‘comeback’ album; Whilst a clear improvement on the band’s late eighties output, it still lacked the x-factor to truly spark the hearts of fans who still remembered the glory days. Too wilfully mannered, and suffering from a dearth of truly exceptional material, Angel Witch again ran aground on the shoals of unreasonable expectation. They played to the gallery, or so they thought, but many of the gallery were unimpressed.
Still, As Above, So Below (the album in question) clearly did enough to keep then new label Metal Blade interested, and so we find ourselves here in 2019 confronted with a new Angel Witch album, Angel of Light. And, I’m delighted to report, at long last those of us who are uncomplicated enough to simply want Angel Witch back and doing what they do best, are going to be sated – and then some.
Put simply, songs like We Are Damned, I Am Infamy and Window of Despair see the band in the best place they’ve been since about 1982. Triumphant, melodic heavy metal just the way we want it to sound is the order of the day; the doom overtones are still here, of course – how could they not be?- but crucially in 2019 Angel Witch have returned to writing concise, bruising yet beautifully melodic tunes of the type they seemed to produce for grim-faced fun way back when. It’s almost as if they’ve put their minds to writing the logical successor to Angel Witch, albeit at nearly four decades remove. The title track especially, with it’s clattering cymbal work (take a bow, Fredrik Jansson Punkka), Butleresque rumblings from bassist Will Palmer and squalling lead work and combative, agile rifferama (Heybourne is ably backed on six string duties by Jimmy Martin) is a dead ringer for this band in their prime. The urgent strains of opening track Don’t Turn Your Back would similarly have been worthy of the band in it’s pomp, as Heybourne’s slightly strained yet oh-so-evocative vocals translate the listener back in time to a place where the beer was reassuringly warm and the dandruff fresh. And that’s a good place to be, let me tell you.
If you’d given up on Angel Witch, I can’t blame you, but there’s still time to change your mind and see the light; and if, like me, you sat patiently and waited, quietly confident that time would do it’s job, then congratulations – Angel of Light is your reward. And it’s a good ‘un, let me tell yas…
Angel Of Light is out now.