Sound: Angel Witch. A name that not many people can remember today. Some old metal go-ers might recollect the name if they lived in the early 80's, but the band has remained relatively anonymous for the entirity of their career.
Well what makes them worth mentioning at all? In an issue of Kerrang! magazine, specifically '25 years of Metallica', it is mentioned in one of the early interviews with their first record lable, Megaforce/Johnny Z, it is hinted that Angel Witch were in line for becoming the new biggest band: 'A customer told me it would be exactly what I love and that I should give it a try. So off went Angel Witch and on went Metallica'. Angel Witch were left by the wayside in general obscurity (although it has been noted that Angel Witch have had an influence in Metallicas playing style).
Angel Witch started primarily as a band of the New Wave of British heavy metal movement and had a sound that fully represented the style. This album though (technically a 'Rare Trax' album), is much more advanced. It can be seen as a precursor to Painkiller era Judas Priest.
The album is compiled of AW's 1987-1998 demos that were never released.
01. Psychopathic 1: the punk influence that comes with 80's thrash instantly catches you on with a tasty rythm, although the vocals are a little on the weak side, they have the eccentric sound of Rob Halford, albeit less epic. I felt the bass guitar had an out-of-place tone (it sounded very close to a Paranoid-era Sabbath sound), its full of riffs that could be seen in many bands that could be considered budding death metal bands of the decade (I could tell where Possessed got a lot of their riff ideas from).
02. Time To Die: a very punk driven drum beat starts off this very amelodic song that may sound like a mishmash of notes, still manages to keep musical cleanness with a very catchy and fast paced solo. One interesting note of the song is a dual-fill at 2:40 which really doesn't sound like it belongs in 1987; More something you'd hear from Dying Fetus..
03. Violence: a slightly less overwhelming song, it has some prog rock influence in its playing style. The opening riff is pretty 'metal' sounding and the solo is too. Not really a favourite, but worth a listen for the solo.
04. Silent But Deadly: a Master of Puppets-era speed song that has a very heavy hand into amelodic harmonies and what I thought of as 'convulsive' riffs. With the entirity of the Black Metal genre having an emphasis on sounding 'evil', you really need look no further than a song like this to hear some devilish riffs. As an instrumental, its surprisingly short but pretty heavy all the same.
05. Twist The Knife: this song is heavily influenced by Middle-eastern scales. While a little more emphasis on heavy chugging riffs than the previous songs, it also is a little easier to listen to on the ears. The solo is pretty long winded but still fits the style of the song. Double pedal playing is proficient in the song.
06. Psychopathic 2: not much different from the first 'Psychopathic' song, until you listen closely. The riffs are definitly more death metal inspired and the vocals being clearer and a little gruffer, soar above the instruments. The arrangement has changed from the first song, but the riffs are similar and so are the vocal passages. Its actually better than the first version.
07. Slowly Sever: much more prog rock/metal influenced with a 'bouncing' rythm and more Mid-eastern influenced guitarwork. Its got an almost Death-like sound to it (the band Death, obviously). However, a little reprieve of the amelodic sounding riffs comes in the form of a shifting transition of vocals before the solo which not may not be melodic but sort of has the effect of sounding melodic.. I don't really know how to describe it. The ending is pretty catchy too, carrying an odd time signiture with it.
08. Worm: this is the more recent-ish American sound of Angel Witch (technically the band has changed from being english to american sometime in their history) that has an early Pantera-like recording feel to it. 'Worm' still retains the guitar style of the old AW but they've toned down the heavyness for 'American easy listening' as I call it. The vocals for this song are recorded through a slight chorus/reverb type effect. What gets me though is how robotic the drums sound, but they could also be described as sounding like the sort of drums used to record 'Burn My Eyes' (Machine Head) and sounds like the playing style might have had some influence from them too.. Another instresting note is that the vocals are more melodic, melodic in the sense that they don't follow the minor sounding riffs but carry melodic notes over them.
09. Scrape The Well: it begins on a note reminiscint of the faster songs from the 80's doom metal era (ie, pretty slow). The bass is pretty groovy and vocals are more groove metal sounding too. Its just a pretty heavy song, nothing amazing, but I like it. Its like listening to an early Down song.
10. Inertia: yet more groovey bass riffing and slow, pounding riffs. Its really a departure from the early 80's sound that I liked Angel Witch for.. mostly because AW's style was just heavier than many of the bands at the time. But this 'different' approach is a little annoying for me, it just shows that the band may never be the same as they were 30 years ago.
All flaws in later releases aside, this band still deserve many more fans, just for sticking out for so long. // 8
Lyrics: Although AW has had many many line-up changes, the main key member, Kev Heybourne, has appeared in every release as a guitarist/vocalist. His vocal style has changed throughout the past 30 years, from sounding like a Freddy Mercury impersonater in 1980 till today, where hes gone for a midrange style that has a slightly gruff edge that makes them fit the death-riff oreintated AW sound.. but only just.
The lyrics are pretty run-of-the-mill NWOBHM: Mostly about metaphorical/hypothetical situations that dont demand much brain power to figure out. Still, they sound good with the vocal style of Heybourne. // 7
Overall Impression: Angel Witch are the most underrated band of the 80's. Their style has evolved well up until recently, but they've never really been in any limelight and really deserve the recognition.
While many bands have a similar sound to Angel Witch NOW, AW have been doing this sound since the mid to late 80's at a time when black metal/death metal was still pretty premature and its influenced a good few bands. While I wouldn't say they're 100% unique, there are very few bands from the same era that have the aggresive metal edge that sort of pools all the major genres of metal together. I highly recommend them, and this album as a taster, although some may prefer the more melodic sounding 'Frontal Assault' album. // 9