ANGEL WITCH – ‘As Above, So Below’ (Rise Above Records)
Ah, Angel Witch… Those of us with elephantine memories will remember those heady early days of the NWOBHM when Angel Witch were adored by the fans but largely reviled by a music press who beat them regularly with a range of scathing but seemingly pithy one-liners: “the aural equivalent of Blackburn Council Refuse Tip, the vinyl answer to fouling the footpath…” both appeared in the Sounds review of their debut album. “The flip contains a tribute to Vincent Price’s immortal character [Dr Phibes],” ran the same paper’s review of the ‘Loser’ single. “He had half a face, when all was revealed. When all is revealed about Angel Witch, they’ll probably have half-a-brain. Between them.” “We got used to the poor reviews,” Angel Witch’s mainman Heybourne told me a couple of years ago. “I think we must have been the most hated band of the NWOBHM. And, well, some of them were actually quite amusing. I loved the one about the ‘Loser’ single and ‘Dr Phibes’. That was very funny!”
The poor press and what was referred to as “a difference of opinion over management and a breakdown in the working relationship of the three members…” meant that after three singles and one classic LP Angel Witch fell apart in 1981. For the first time, that is. In the following thirty years there have been more resurrections than a Hollywood vampire and a handful of albums of relative merit but nothing that came close to that meritorious 1980 debut album. Till now, that is… ‘As Above, So Below’ has an intriguing concept (if a concept it be) of taking four brand new songs and mixing them with four older compositions, two from the early Eighties and two which predate ‘Angel Witch’ itself. It’s a notion that works extremely well, with past and present colliding to create an exhilarating and vibrant collage which showcases the length and breadth of the band’s abilities.
‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ and ‘Witching Hour’ are the two from ’83/’84. The former opens the album, forming a direct connection to ‘Angel Witch’ and thereby almost proclaiming ‘As Above…’ as the true successor to that 1980 debut album. Rather than going forwards the album follows ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ with ‘Into The Dark’, one of the band’s real old gems; a live version first appeared on the ‘Sinister History’ odds ’n’ ends CD in 2000, and it’s interesting to note how the main body of the song (before it lifts off into true ’Witch territory) sounds quite Nirvana-esque. Bizarre, but true. The other pre-Eighties cut, ‘Guillotine’ (played at Reading 1980, trivia fans) was, incidentally, later reworked to become ‘Rendezvous With The Blade’ on the band’s third album ‘Frontal Assault’.
So you have to wait till the third cut to hear something truly new. ‘Geburah’ certainly doesn’t disappoint, its sledgehammer beat and menacing overtones bedding it nicely into the Angel Witch catalogue. Of the four new songs it’s probably the most immediate, with the sprawling seven-plus minutes of mini-epic ‘The Horla’, the intimidating ‘Upon This Cord’ and album closer ‘Brainwashed’ completing the album’s ‘new’ outings.
The only slight worry is that if it has taken so long to come up with a new album, half of which is older than many of the people who will buy it, does that mean that the well has run dry? Only time will tell… In the meantime, though, just enjoy ‘As Above, So Below’ for what it is – an exciting and vivacious offering from a band that just refuse to follow the herd. Is it as good as that sacrosanct first album? Well, no; that’s probably an unattainable aim, and almost a heresy to even consider. Is it nearly as good as that first album? You betcha; trust me on this. ‘As Above, So Below’ or, perhaps, ‘As It Was, As Ever It Shall Be…’
© John Tucker March 2012