DB HOF NO. 69
The making of Angel Witch’s “Angel Witch”
Because Angel Witch’s debut turned out to be not only their best album, but the only one recorded with anything resembling a stable lineup, it seems all the more precious today. The London-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Kevin Heybourne, bassist Kevin Riddles and drummer Dave Hogg was one of the most promising and highly regarded acts of the NWOBHM. They were peers of Iron Maiden, whom they regularly shared bills with, and whom they competed with for the scant few major label deals that were being handed out to bands in the upstart movement. In fact, it could be argued that Angel Witch—and in particular this album—were essential to the foundation of the NWOBHM as such an influential movement. Sales-wise, Angel Witch never came close to Def Leppard or Iron Maiden’s debuts, but it nonetheless captured the spirit of the burgeoning scene in its 10 epic songs.
This, however, was a classic case of promise that went totally unfulfilled. As lauded as the album has been since its issue late in 1980—the US metal underground devoured it at the time, despite the lack of a proper American release—the band wasn’t necessarily pleased with the results, and within a year had splintered. Even today the members are ambivalent about the way their Sabbath-inspired music was cleaned up by a producer with no heavy metal experience. And 30 years later, there is lingering bitterness over the demise of this lineup. While Maiden and Leppard were off touring the States, Heybourne was picking up the pieces of a broken band that had simply “run out of steam,” according to one member.
Thankfully, none of this drama mattered to fans in the US and Europe, where Angel Witch (freshly reissued by Universal for its 30-year anniversary) was a huge influence on both the nascent thrash and doom scenes, respectively. Dave Mustaine graced the February 2010 cover of Decibel wearing an Angel Witch shirt, and songs from this album have been covered by everyone from Trouble to Six Feet Under. That Angel Witch, with their occult imagery and song lyrics/titles, never made it out of UK at the time, only added to the intrigue and mystery, and ultimately increased the legend of this star-crossed debut. —Adem Tepedelen
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