Angel Witch

As Above, So Below

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Next to the tragically under-performing Diamond Head, Angel Witch may just have been the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement's greatest disappointment. The natural talents of bandleader Kevin Heybourne were so abundantly obvious and his band's 1980 debut album so categorically spectacular that only Steve Harris and his Iron Maiden appeared more poised for certain stardom, thus making Angel Witch's stunningly sudden career collapse that much harder to swallow. Naturally, there were several subsequent re-formations and do-overs, but none of these dispelled the feelings of disappointment so much as exposed the epic disparity between said would-be comebacks and that original first effort, and Heybourne knew it. And so, showing much greater pragmatism than the average N.W.O.B.H.M. also-ran, he threw in the towel shortly after 1986's Frontal Assault album and apparently retired to enjoy the justly deserved royalties from million-selling Metallica covers of his songs. But, while it took an incredible 25 years, that retirement was finally put on hold with the 2012 release of a new studio LP named As Above, So Below, which foists the ever present Heybourne (backed by yet another new rhythm section) upon an entirely new generation (or two) of metal fans, while no doubt eliciting equal amounts of excitement and weeping nostalgia out of Angel Witch's surviving legion of aging, balding supporters. On the upside, such an outrageous length of time makes it almost pointless to call out the new effort's inevitable inferiority to what came before (the statute of limitations has simply, by most standards, expired), and allows the reviewer to marvel instead that Heybourne is still alive, never mind capable of doing his classicist metal vision justice while playing at something close to his younger self's virtuosic intensity. On the downside, it lays bare the impossibilities of both reinventing one's sound and reliving one's greatest achievements without resorting to blatant self parody (something Heybourne commendably avoids here), and that's why the biggest compliment one can pay to As Above, So Below is to say it toes that fine line exceedingly well. Heybourne's voice and occasionally charmingly clunky lyrics are of course entirely familiar, as are his intricate riff work (Dave Mustaine fans take note), but the sweeping twin guitar harmonies that dominate tracks like "Dead Sea Scrolls," "Upon this Cord," and others sound very foreign to the vintage Angel Witch aesthetic. And if the power ballad "The Horla" finally resorts to regurgitating old ideas in (see the first album's "Sorceress"), the superlative final cut "Brainwashed" is stupendous enough to justify Heybourne's return with a masterful showcase of timeless, top-notch metal songwriting. So while the original trauma of Angel Witch's squandered promise will remain impossible to remedy or wipe from ancient memory, As Above, So Below won't be adding any more pain or regret to it, either.

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