Why review an album that was released over 30 years ago? Basically, so that younger fans can have an understanding of the bands that have had a great impact on heavy metal. Though these bands may have never reached the plateau of Maiden, Priest and others, they still had a major impact on metal as it is today. So I think it’s important that periodically we journey back and re-surface these bands.
During the 1970’s in America, interest in hard rock had started to expand its wings. American bands such KISS, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith along with European counter parts Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin were selling out venues clear across the country. This spawned another generation of acts such as Angel, Starz and the Godz during the mid 70’s. As good as they were, they never seemed to capture the attention of the mass audiences as their predecessors did. During this time however, clubs in the New York, New Jersey started to see a renewed sense of wonderment with bands such as Zebra, Phantoms Opera, White Tiger and Twisted Sister. Hard rock once again reared its ugly head but it really took off with the debut album of Van Halen. Fans started to consume new music, both by buying records and going to see the underground bands at clubs. And when 1980 happened to crawl around, that’s when the shit hit the fan.
It was in 1980 when my friend Tim and I climbed the stairway to reach the apartment of Pete McCauley, a friend of Tim’s. We were let in and took our seat on the sofa, beer in hand. Pete brought out 3 newly released albums, all imports. First was Ozzy’s “Blizzard of Ozz”, then two unheard of bands at the time, Iron Maiden and Angelwitch’s debut albums. Needless to say, from the first point that the phonograph needle hit the first groove on each record, I was hooked. The cover of Ozzy’s album made perfect sense. With cross in hand, it shouted that he was back. But it was the sound and song structure of the other two albums that really got my ear. I’ve never heard that sound or style before; and they both had very interesting artwork!
The record stores in New Jersey and especially in Bayonne where I lived, rarely carried import records until later on. You had to travel to New York City for that which was cool for the occasional trip but if you wanted something in a hurry, it sucked. But Pete pointed out that he got the albums from a newly opened record store in our area that specialized in imports, especially metal and punk records. The next day I was there buying all three albums. The store itself was something out of England. Posters advertising shows at clubs and venues with bands such as the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Thin Lizzy and UFO, covered the walls. It was the way I pictured how a record store in England would look. This was way fucking cool.
That was my introduction into the NWOBHM. Now the 3 albums that clearly stand out for me were, the aforementioned debuts of Iron Maiden and Angelwitch along with Praying Mantis’ “Tell No Lies”. These records seemed to me like 3 brothers that were around the same age. Maiden seemed to be the oldest brother, getting his hands in a little bit of everything to experience things for himself. Putting all this together they had a unique progressive song structure with a raw sound. Angelwitch was the mischievous younger brother that played in the mud and got into a little trouble. They carried the same rawness but with a bit less of the progressive movement. Praying Mantis took on the more disciplined brother who carefully planned out every move and knew what he wanted to do. Mantis had those progressive sensibilities and polished them off into a more melodic and harmonious version. While the similarities were evident, they all had a style of their own. They both may have never achieved the huge success of Maiden, they were just as influential. I would like to revisit and review the Angelwitch and Praying Mantis albums and give them a good listen to again, starting with the Angelwitch album.
This album is a near perfect sounding album (along with another similar sounding debut album) that represents true heavy metal. The album does sound as if it was recorded on a low budget but that is where the magic lies and what makes it stand out.
Along with Iron Maidens first album, this debut album has that unpolished, raw till it bleeds, sound. You can taste the energy and you can smell the sweat as the band plays. As I hear the first self titled song, “Angelwitch”, I can feel being in the audience, situated in the first few rows, blinded by the stage lights with fist pumping, head banging and singing in time with the chorus, “You an Angelwitch, You’rrrrree an Angelwitch”. Very catchy!
Heavy guitars and drums start off in the song “Atlantis”. Vocalist/guitarist Kevin Heybourne must of attended the same vocal school as Paul DiAnno as his scream during the first few seconds are eerily similar. Here we have a good song to play as you speed down the highway. Great energy and a nice melodic pre-chorus section that will stick in your brain! The mid section is quite interesting as there really isn’t a guitar solo but a small but really cool guitar feedback piece that combined with the driving rhythm makes a perfect fit.
Next we run into “White Witch” which has a nice bouncy verse to it. You’ll find your head banging in time with it until you get to middle segment. This is where you come to the first blemish on this record. As the tempo slows to a crawl, keyboards straight out of the song Sweet Lorraine from Uriah Heep’s “Magicians Birthday” album, appears and tries to create an ambience. I’m not feeling that. I don’t think it’s needed as it takes away from the ghostly guitar pattern of Heybourne. But that’s not a big thing. The chorus is a serious, sing a long type and the lyrics keep the theme of the album going. Leading off with guitars mimicking an air raid siren and segueing into an angry guitar rhythm, along comes the song, “Confused”; The changes in the song fit the title immensely, as the riffs range from driving, to angry to violent, which captures the lyrical content. The guitar harmonics also lend to a nice variation. Another good, solid song that exemplifies true metal!
Now enters one of my favourite songs on this album. “Sorceress” is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath riffs with strong in-sync vocals. A great moment in this song is from lead section toward the end. The tempo goes up the odometer a bit and a basic guitar lead is performed, followed by a memorable double lead guitar segment. Then out of the blue, comes in a Deep Purple-ish keyboard section that will bring a slight smile to your face. Very cool!!! One of the more notable aspects of this song is the accusation by some that the slower, melodic guitar pieces were ripped off of Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only similarity between the two is possibly the guitar tone and texture. Otherwise both are played differently. Now it’s true that both bands have played together in the early days but I really doubt anyone ripped off anybody else. What I think happens is that in a music scene, especially in this era, is that when bands play together, they hear bits and pieces of each other’s music and become influenced by it. By mixing and mashing all these different ideas, along with a majority of our own, a band eventually finds their own sound. This is why earlier metal bands may sound a bit different from each other but they all had a common thread that connected them all. This is what leads to a good, strong music scene.
“Gorgon” is a pretty simplistic song which I have mixed feelings about. At first you hear some spacey, guitar rumblings backed by atmospheric keyboards. Nothing eventful happening here until you are bombarded with a hurricane of guitar driven madness. This continues to get you going until, like doing a 100 mph down a side street then seeing a cop car, it slows down. With this slower portion of the song, it feels like I’m being held back. After you get into the fast paced verses, you don’t want it to end but with the slow down, it’s a bit of a disappointment. I would have preferred for the song to keep the same driving pace throughout. But the one thing I love on this song is the lead guitar sound, earthly but ragged (especially the pick slides!!!). All in all, not a great song but a good one!
The beginning of “Sweet Danger” recalls Thin Lizzy’s classic song “Massacre”. Strong drum beats by Dave Hogg and some really good guitar riffs are the highlights of the song but are dragged down with an unenthusiastic chorus. Also the mix seems slightly off especially in the fore mentioned chorus; probably the weakest song on the album.
Next comes “Free Man” with lyrical content that has been somewhat compared (Again!) to Maiden’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”. Both tell the story of a wrongly convicted man sent to prison. But here the music for “Free Man” mixes the perfect setting for the lyrics. A very heartfelt story of a man who has just been let out of jail for a crime he didn’t commit as he describes the changing of his neighbourhood and his isolation from friends and family. Whereas “Murders in the Rue Morgue” tells the tale how he ended up in jail, “Free Man” tells the aftermath of being let out of prison as an innocent man; Same subject but 2 different scenarios. Plus “Murders” was released a year later. Tone of the beginning guitars are similar to the melodic parts in “Sorceress” but then turn into to a gritty, raw sound during the chorus. What we have here is a truly great song here with surprisingly good emotional elements.
From the first measure of “Angel Death” you know you in for a metal masterpiece. The song starts off like a heavy metal marching death march. Massive riffs alternate between that and the verse pieces which take on a faster pace as the drums take on a free style pattern. The pre chorus vocals blend in perfectly as it enters the chorus part that echoes “Angel of Death”. The lead guitar work is amazing, as it incorporates all the dive bombing tricks along with frantic fret board work sewn seamlessly together. Probably the best lead work on the album. A classic metal song…
The last song of this historical album is a short instrumental titled’ “Devil Towers”. A very sinister sounding but attention grabbing composition that highlights Kevin Riddles bass playing; the only problem that I have is that it is way too short. The song seems to have a lot more to say but is prematurely cut off. Performances by the band members are strong and robust. Riddles is an excellent bass player that can be clearly heard throughout the album and the drumming style of Hoggs ranges from the simplistic where needed, to the maniacal, so to engage the listener. They lay down the perfect rhythm section and both play well off each other, not an easy thing to do during a recording. The riffs, patterns, tones and leads are what you would expect from a classic album, all top notch. I would have preferred to have the drums mixed better with a meatier and bigger sound to them. Compared to the vocalists around at that time such as Saxon and Judas Priest, the vocals are below that level. Some of the vocals you can hear waver in spots. However it all fits together brilliantly and brings forth an unforgettable album. If you get the chance buy the vinyl, if not get the very first release of the CD and listen to its original tone, full blast!
The cover features a painting by John Martin entitled The Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium
- “Angel Witch” – 3:25
- “Atlantis” – 3:42
- “White Witch” – 4:48
- “Confused” – 2:52
- “Sorceress” – 4:16
- “Gorgon” – 4:06
- “Sweet Danger” – 3:07
- “Free Man” – 4:44
- “Angel of Death” – 4:52
- “Devil’s Tower” – 2:28
Total Length: 38:20
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