The eponymous debut album from Angel Witch will always be the benchmark for the group, a standout release during the height of the NWOBHM movement that still holds sway decades later. Vocalist/guitarist and founding member Kevin Heybourne continues to keep the band active, releasing As Above, So Below, their first studio album in 26 years, in 2012. Though he could’ve been content with playing nothing but hits for the rest of his career, Heybourne has elected to keep Angel Witch from being a novelty act by releasing more new material in the form of Angel Of Light.
It’s understandable that there will be those that long for a successor to the band’s debut, but Angel Of Light isn’t that. It’s more in line with As Above, So Below, keeping a foot in the past while acknowledging the steps heavy metal has taken since 1980. There’s less reworking of older material, with the most obvious one being the revamped version of the ballad-like “The Night Is Calling,” which was performed live during the band’s early years but never properly recorded until now.
The key difference between As Above, So Below and Angel Of Light is that the latter has a loaded kick to it that was missing from some of the songs in the former. “Don’t Turn Your Back” is an opening anthem that could’ve competed with some of their best work from the ’80s. This also goes from much of the first half of the album, where the galloping pace is prevalent and the tuneful choruses (especially on “We Are Damned”) are easy to fall for.
Though not as obvious as on their last album, there’s still an issue of padding that runs through this album. The shortest song is barely under five minutes, and while filler is not a serious problem, there’s still times where some trimming could’ve been warranted. With the pace of these songs more upbeat than their previous album, it’s not a serious deterrent, but it’s hard not to think about in a song like “The Night Is Calling” that stretches its thin premise too far.
A slight advantage of these longer song lengths is that it allows Heybourne plenty of soloing room. His guitar work is top-notch, along with his weathered vocals that seem to age with grace. While this is a different lineup than As Above, So Below, save for bassist Will Palmer, Heybourne makes them fit into the Angel Witch style. For fans of their discography, there’s no mistaking Angel Of Light in being something from the NWOBHM legends.
Seven years after As Above, So Below, Angel Witch show no rust when it comes to composing material that could’ve fit in with the group when they initially formed. The band will always be associated with their debut album, and with good reason, but they don’t appear to be content with playing nothing but 40-year-old songs. Angel Of Light is a solid heavy metal album that may not have the big hits, yet still offers almost 50 minutes of vintage Angel Witch.
(released November 1, 2019 on Metal Blade Records)
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Listen To Angel Witch – “Don’t Turn Your Back”