ANGEL WITCH BIOGRAPHY
With a lineage dating back to 1977, South London’s Angel Witch were leading lights of a now legendary movement known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that saw their path interwoven with the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon, Samson, Praying Mantis, the Tygers Of Pan Tang and countless more.
Unlike a great many of the groups with whom they shared stages their style was dark, uncompromising and heavy; a perfect complement for the sword & sorcery-themed lyrics of songs such as White Witch, Gorgon and Angel Of Death – no wonder Geoff Barton of Sounds magazine once memorably described their bludgeoning sound as: “the first Black Sabbath album played through a cement mixer”.
First time around, Angel Witch amassed a large and loyal following, releasing a debut album that, 30 years on is, rightly, classed as an all-time heavy metal classic. And yet they found themselves constantly undermined by the heavy metal press because, well… they were a heavy metal band. Strange but true.
Since then Angel Witch have existed in many different permutations, Kevin Heybourne – guitarist, singer and chief songwriter – a consistent driving force.
Although nobody knew it at the time, across the Atlantic Ocean 1980’s Angel Witch album was devoured by a generation of musicians that would later rally in a movement of their own – the thrash-metal scene. And so it came to pass that, in 1990, Heybourne relocated to San Francisco to form an American incarnation of the group with members of Exodus, Heathen and Lääz Rockit. Alas, for all its potential this endeavour was to be scuppered by immigration issues.
There followed some festival appearances and even a short-lived UK-based line-up, but the writing was on the wall and during the middle of the last decade Heybourne pulled the plug. Finally, it seemed, Angel Witch had been put out of their misery.
Heybourne was living a quiet life with a career in tree-surgery, having put all the pressures of band and record label politics behind him. But, following a serious head injury sustained at work, he found himself back in his home town of Beckenham (Kent) – in much the same circumstances as his teenage years; unable to work, walking the same streets, drinking in the same pubs and, most importantly, listening to the same dusty old records.
This was the epiphany moment. Suddenly, Kevin Heybourne understood what needed to be done.
Angel Witch would be reformed – only this time, they would sound like they were intended to almost 30 years before: No more trying to assimilate to the musical climate around him, no more trying to keep up with fashion. Angel Witch would go back to the genesis moment, the Big Bang. 1979 revisited and damn the consequences.
Aware that the UK-based doom band Cathedral had openly cited Angel Witch as an influence, Heybourne contacted vocalist Lee Dorrian (also the head honcho of Rise Above Records) to see whether Dorrian might know of anyone potentially interested in reforming the band in the classic power-trio format. There was no shortage of applicants.
With the added promise of an album deal from Rise Above, recruiting from London-based doom musicians went extremely well and a brand new line-up was in the bag within weeks. Angel Witch were back in action. Fascinatingly, their latest big-name recruit is none other than Bill Steer of Carcass/Firebird/Gentleman’s Pistols who, although not a full time/studio member, is committed as a second guitarist in the live/touring environment.
There followed a couple of years of live action with performances everywhere from Roadburn to Hellfest festivals, Japanese dates, a tour with Candlemass and Trouble, plus headline club shows all over Europe and the UK.
Now comes a brand new Angel Witch studio album. Produced by Jaime Gomez Arellano (Ghost/The Gates Of Slumber) ‘As Above, So Below’ is unquestionably the finest thing to bear the band’s name since the first, iconic release.
Its contents unite newly-penned yet timeless-sounding material such as ‘Geburah’, ‘The Horla’, ‘Brainwashed’ and ‘Upon This Cord’ with four long-lost tracks from the classic-era. ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ and ‘Witching Hour’ both date back to 1983/’84, whilst ‘Into The Dark’ and ‘Guillotine’ are older still. Both were live favourites during Angel Witch’s late-1970s heyday, indeed ‘Guillotine’ was actually intended to have appeared on the ‘Angel Witch’ album.
The re-birth is complete. Listen to ‘As Above, So Below’ with open ears and you will be amazed.
Bio by Dave Ling, 2012.