Reviewed: January 2020
Released: 2019, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Jack Merry
Angel Witch are a British heavy metal band which formed in London in 1976, and they became a part of the new wave of British heavy metal movement alongside the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Venom. The group recorded and released their debut album, the self-titled Angel Witch, in 1980 and it’s often considered one of the finest of the NWOBHM era.
However, the hands of fate would not be kind to Angel Witch, as the band’s structure would rapidly begin to fall apart soon after the release of their debut album. A sacking and a departure would force lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin Heybourne to announce the end of the band, despite his best efforts to continue Angel Witch with other musicians.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and only four albums so far, with a seemingly endless list of lineup changes that would reach the depths of Hell itself, Angel Witch return in 2019 with a new lineup for the band’s brand new fifth studio album, Angel of Light.
Having forged a sonic identity based on pulverising riffs and razor-sharp hooks colliding with fantasy and horror imagery on their debut, the band revisit this on Angel of Light to great effect; even down to the fabulous artwork, drenched in smoke and fire, an angel statue and burning buildings. From first glance, you are immediately aware of the kind of album this is. This is a doom album, through and through.
Opening track ‘Don’t Turn Your Back’ roars out of the starting gate with a stinging lead guitar riff before the cavernous drums pound away in the mix, and when the chorus hits it’s a powerful concoction of attitude, energy and strong melodies.
It’s very apparent from the start that the album has been purposefully produced in a way that mirrors the band’s debut, and I was surprised to find out that Heybourne actually laid down his parts with the very same Marshall JPM amp head that he used for that album forty years ago, which enabled him to both embrace and transcend his past glories.
‘Death from Andromeda’ is probably the highlight of the entire album for me, and it’s only the second track on offer here. With lyrics leaning heavily into science fiction that tell of a satellite built for ‘bio-weapon exploitation’ crashing into a small town, bacteria that thrives and spreads and causes some to find ‘instant death, suicide or madness’, it’s quite an experience to behold. This track is where Angel Witch truly shine, as the thunderous cascade of heavy riffs and finely-tuned songwriting intensifies towards a finale worthy of the Devil himself with dual harmony guitars as the song reaches its climax.
‘Condemned’ and ‘I Am Infamy’ are explosive, with huge choruses and more bludgeoning guitar parts vying for space under soaring, powerful heavy metal vocals and sublime lead solos. Lyrically, it’s all things we’ve heard from the doom metal genre before: death, space, heaven, hell, war, Armageddon, eternal damnation… all the good stuff.
‘The Night is Calling’ is another standout track, and it evolves over its seven minute runtime from quiet passages and Heybourne singing of ‘spirits wandering beyond the grave’ to hard-hitting riffs, pummelling bass-lines for the chorus, with an exciting middle section. This song is one of the finest offerings from the genre of the entire decade, it just ticks every box. Even the infamous Black Sabbath ‘devil’s chord’ is used to full effect here, bridging the gap between familiar sounds and something completely new and terrifying.
Angel of Light is an album overflowing with mammoth, planet-destroying riffs and refreshing ideas. Every track on offer here has something that will make you sit up and take notice. I’ve listened to this album several times from beginning to end and each time I discover something I hadn’t before, and that keeps me coming back. A new riff here, a guitar lick there, a drum roll I hadn’t noticed. There’s a lot to uncover here, and it’s the best compliment I can give a new doom release.
Considering the album is only eight songs long and every one of them is a potential favourite, Angel Witch have crafted something truly special in the fires of Hell, and hopefully this is used as a launch pad into bigger and better things in future.
If their next album is of this standard it’ll be another flawless addition to their catalogue, but can they improve on a perfect album? Only time will tell. This is one of the most enjoyable and surprising releases from 2019 in the metal world, and it demands to be heard.