[Artwork by Adam Burke]
The lifespan of great NWOBHM band was by no means uniform. Some had relatively short initial careers – they can’t all be Saxon, let alone Iron Maiden – only to reunite years or decades later as fan demand reached its peak.
Angel Witch fits this mold, largely paralleling the arc of scene-mates Satan. Both had highly-revered, classic debuts, made poor singer choices that helped derail their 80s output, and then went away for a long time. The big difference, however, is that Satan has matched or even exceeded the quality of their debut with their post-reunion efforts; they are without a doubt one of the best traditional metal bands operating these days, age be damned. By contrast, Angel Witch’s first post-reunion record, As Above, So Below, was extremely listenable and often quite good, but was just as notable for giving fans the Angel Witch sound they desired as it was for adding anything to their legend. It filled a spot and gave them a reason to get touring again, but it wasn’t exactly exciting.
Angel of Light also doesn’t carry with it the anticipation of The First Comeback Album. Sure, it gets the blood flowing more than yet another Saxon record delivered like clockwork every two years, but it can’t match the initial hype for a returning great, so it needs to deliver in the song department. It does so… to a point. The overall quality is about in line with As Above, with some songs that will instantly be begging for live inclusion, and others that feel like quality filler.
Some listeners are likely to see this as only a minor issue, but when compared to the recent output of Satan – a comparison that is impossible to escape – this issue still stands out. The only real blazer of the bunch, and the only song to come in under five minutes, is opener “Don’t Turn Your Back.” The song pushes the tempo and energy more than the rest, and has the type of earwormy chorus that ought to set up camp in your brain the moment you hear it.
Certain songs – and the album as a whole – would have benefited from more of this pep and efficiency. “We Are Damned,” for example, is solidly mean and hefty, but has more than a couple sections that drag out in an effort to make the song more “epic,” and would have worked much better at about four minutes as opposed to six. Elsewhere, the plodding pre-solo section of “Condemned” hurts the energy created by the great chorus, and both “Window of Despair” and “I am Infamy” are a solid 20 BPM slower than they really need to be. These are rather nitty nitpicks, but Angel of Light could have used something to help improve the flow and keep the latter half of the record from sounding so samey.
But, in the interest of contrasting the previous points about tempo and song length, some of the best tracks are also the longest and slowest. “The Night Is Calling” is damn near doom, somewhat calling to mind classics like “Sorcerers” in its somber, tragic tone. The layering of grandiose elements, soaring vocals in the stunning chorus, and slow-burn dynamics works here because the song calls for it, and when it takes a faster, riffier turn, it feels earned. “Death from Andromeda,” meanwhile, does a much better job of achieving both the “epicness” and menace for which “We Are Damned” aimed.
When the good and not-quite-as-good are viewed as a whole, you end up with a very enjoyable Angel Witch record that could have been even better with a little trimming and/or more emphasis on pushing the tempo. Still, like its predecessor, Angel of Light is Angel Witch that sounds like the Angel Witch of Angel Witch, which ought to be enough to please many a fan. It doesn’t add much to their legacy – can any NWOBHM band not named Satan or Iron Maiden claim they’re still adding to their legends? – but thankfully, it also doesn’t do anything to harm it.