You usually need to know a fair amount about Metal and the history of Metal to fully understand absolutely every point I will make, and having listened to the album yourself will also help. If you don’t have a clue what I’m writing about but still wish to read, having a tab open on Wikipedia to intermittently check anything you don’t understand, as well as a tab open on Grooveshark, Youtube or something Spotify-esque to check any musical reference points you haven’t heard will help too.
The album that I’ll be listening to in this edition of First Impressions is the 1980, self-titled, debut studio album by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band Angel Witch.
I’ve already described my feelings and experiences of NWOBHM bands in the previous First Impressions installment, and nothing much has changed since then, save for having discovered the band Traitor’s Gate which remind me of Diamond Head but with a more Dio-like singer.
Angel Witch themselves are constantly listed as an influential act to many Thrash (and other types of) Metal bands; James Hetfield for example recently wore an Angel Witch patch on his old jacket on the band’s anniversary show at Download Festival 2012, Bill Steer helped them put out a new album, Six Feet Under cover ‘Confused’ and I’ve read numerous off hand references to this band and album in Thrash related articles in things like Terrorizer and Metal Hammer Magazine as well as numerous websites and sets of linear notes, across the years.
I was surprised to learn from this record’s linear notes that the band’s influence on Thrash and lack of critical respect in England was such that their singer actually packed up moved to the San Fransisco Bay Area and tried to recruit members of Exodus and Lääz Rockit into the line-up.
Its interesting listening to the album. The opening trio of ‘Angel Witch,’ ‘Atlantis,’ and ‘White Witch’ are all heavier than most of the Diamond Head album from the last installment of First Impressions, and are closer to Thrash Metal than any of the other NWOBHM I’ve heard so far. They get a lot of deep, low palm muted chugging in their, as well as some decent speeds for a pre-Metallica band (you can easily forget that Kill ‘Em All was one of the fastest Metal albums ever made upon its release) and a bit more power and ‘umph’ to them than, say, Iron Maiden’s debut.
Judging by these three songs, you can really see how things went from the earliest Heavy Metal to actually sounding like Thrash. Even with the proggy mid-section of White Witch.
The fourth track, ‘Confused’ both in-parts sounds heavier and more Sabbathy than the rest of the album and yet also lighter and more Spinal Tap sounding. It is hard to describe. Depending on how you look at it, it could be a meaty and powerful track, or just plain silly and Clichéd. The same could be said for ‘Sweet Danger’ come to think of it. If you go by that song’s verses or solos you can really hear how bands got to Fistful Of Metal, Bonded By Blood and Kill ‘Em All but then if you go by the chorus, it’s a whole different story.
It seems really rather odd to me that the critics at the time both totally hated the band and also called them Black Sabbath clones, when with modern ears they sound rather far removed from Sabbath on all but a few tracks (‘Sorcerers’ sounds a little like Sabbath’s ‘The Writ’ I guess, but then again it also reminds me a lot of Rush. I suppose that Thrashy riffs all sound somewhat like ‘Symptom Of The Universe’ and ‘Hole In The Sky’ up to a point, but it still feels an unfair comparison even at that)
When ‘Sorcerers’ kicks into its guitar solo/fast section after the three-minute mark, it is absolutely electric and really shows the entire development of Metal right there. It kicks from a Doomy bit with slightly proggy overtones into a bouncy Thrash-esque section with showy guitars and then bizarrely adds a bit of a Deep Purple-esque organ solo. Then it abruptly ends, with a very high-energy
I think ‘Gorgon’ would probably be the track on the album, which would be best to use as an example of the NWOBHM sound, even if it is intermittently dipping in and out of a Doomy post-chorus. Its harmonized lead guitar section with clunky bass is excellent and charming sounding, and the Thin Lizzy melody of the main verse is very catchy.
Listening to all the influence pouring off of the album and onto dozens of albums that I love is almost blinding me to the music itself. I really like the album. Its short, to the point, warmly produced and musically impressive. I love the musical direction too, it ticks both my Thrash boxes and my Classic Metal boxes, so it’s a double winner. It also brings up some Rush-like sounds every now and again (such as on ‘Free Man’ and ‘Devil’s Tower’) that adds even more appeal to me and my tastes.
There isn’t really a whole lot of interesting things that can be said about the album. It is no messing about classic metal. I could talk about how such and such a riff is ‘zangy’ or ‘postman-esque’ and then how such a drum fill sounds like a bag of paint cans full of lemons falling down the Giant’s Causeway on a Thursday or whatever, but really this is just so text book and perfectly formed that it is difficult to comment upon.
Basically, its got what made me like Dio, Maiden, Anvil and the like, and its got what made me like Megadeth, Exodus and Testament. I don’t necessarily feel some strong ‘new favourite album’ connection to the record, but I respect it a lot and will undoubtedly listen to it intermittently from now on. I’m glad to have heard it both for historical context on the metal that I do love, and in its own right as a well made set of songs.
I would say it is unfair that the album didn’t get the props it deserved, but in a way it did. It has a reputation as a really important piece of history and is often mentioned as something metal fans need to check out, so I guess they’re luckier than a hell of a lot of other bands in one respect.
Oh, and the 25th Anniversary edition that I picked up is pretty damn good. There are 10 full bonus tracks, four live and six studio, as well as a really long and in depth set of linear notes, surrounded by photos and reviews from the time. Its really well put together and if you want to try out this record I’d recommend getting that version.