Ah, what might have been. Angel Witch, formed in the midst of the famed New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, first entered the fray in 1977 as a band called Lucifer. After some member departures and replacements, the band eventually renamed themselves Angel Witch and signed a record deal. A self-titled record emerged to some fanfare in 1980, but that didn’t settle down the band’s line-up issues.
Indeed, if anything stopped Angel Witch from becoming a household name like other NWOBHM era bands, it was the fact that they couldn’t keep their shit straight. Guitarist and vocalist Kevin Heybourne did his best, but a simple glance at the band’s Wikipedia entry reveals a “past members” list long enough to make heads explode.
So now, As Above, So Below emerges as the band’s fifth studio record. It is their first album in 14 years and their first since their debut to feature Heybourne back in the vocal position.
A lot has changed since Angel Witch, of course. As Above, So Below is a touch on the sluggish side, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Expecting this to be the same act as they were in 1980 is a touch on the naïve side.
What As Above, So Below seems to be is an attempt to meld the demons of the past with what’s left in the present. It is an exceptionally modern record in a lot of ways, with smooth production values and a relatively glossy feel. It doesn’t have the frenzied insanity of the band’s earlier work, but it’s not a desperate grasp at the ring either.
The record is filled with mid-paced jams and sludgy rock segments for the most part, with “The Horla” perhaps the best of the bunch. It is a pretty spacious tune ad Heybourne’s vocals are a perfect fit, punching up in the right spots as the band unleashes some nifty power on the chorus. Drummer Andrew Prestidge gets to toy with some hefty fills as the track plods along.
“Guillotine” is a nice trip back in time. It opens with a nice chugging riff and splashes to life as a sort of homage to the late 1970s. Once again, Prestidge’s work keeps the track honest. Heybourne seems to unleash the inner demons a little more, too.
As Above, So Below is a pretty damn satisfying record. It doesn’t recapture the lightning in the bottle that was the NWOBHM era, but what could? Angel Witch manages to give us a glimpse of what could have been, if only for a little while, and that makes for some sweet sounds in the headphones indeed.