Angel Witch’s self-titled 1980 debut remains one of metal’s great unfulfilled promises. The 10 songs on the record—which our own Adem Tepedelen inducted into our Hall of Fame way back in our November 2010 issue—scream pure metal glory, absolute NWOBHM absolution, total trad awesomeness. But it all fell apart soon enough for the band, who were never able to capture the magic like this again.
But so it goes sometimes, and instead of dwelling on what could have been, let’s take one more look at what the band did accomplish, which is more than what most bands manage: they created a classic record, one good enough to enter our hallowed Hall. Here are the 10 songs on the record ranked from worst to best; consider this a reminder that if you haven’t spun this record recently, now is the time.
10. Free Man
Yeah, it had to happen at some point here, and third song on side 2 is where it would happen, ain’t it? “Free Man” is not quite a ballad, but it’s a slow-moving attempt at checking off all the ballad boxes without being able to be called wimpy. But it ain’t really strong, although the chorus is decent enough and actually packs a pretty good punch. A bit of a slog, though.
9. Devil’s Tower
Well, this one kinda takes a couple minutes to get nowhere, but I still like a few of the stops it takes along the way, walking us through Dracula’s castle or wherever, this instrumental coming and going before we really know what happened, although it’s not a half-bad way to end off the album, being almost like a really fully developed outro.
As the original album’s side 1 came to a close, the band attempted a slower, epic tune in “Sorcerers.” It’s a decent enough vocal showcase, and creates a great atmosphere—think the first or second Maiden album lost in this album’s fiery cover vibes—but it drags a bit. I can dig it sometimes, but other times catch myself impatiently eying the remaining minutes. Still, it shows the band’s skills at this point at creating songs that don’t just simply gallop to the finish line all the time, even if it does start trotting as the end nears.
Side 2 of the original release starts up with this one, and the first song on side 2 was always an important one, something that Angel Witch were pretty aware of as they lay down “Gorgon,” a song that shows their sense of drama with the mid-paced chorus but also their dedication to the jean-jacket hordes with the stompin’ verses. Kinda forgettable in a sense, but certainly does the trick when it’s playing.
6. Angel of Death
Look, no one’s ever going to say this is better than you-know-who’s “Angel of Death,” but as this deep cut shows, Angel Witch were masters of NWOBHM atmosphere on this album, individual songs—such as this one—not even being as important as the lasting feel that lingers, that feeling a sort of gothic importance, of loud rock being something more than just loud rock but also not being at all pompous or high-minded. I mean, even if I have no idea what this song sounds like as soon as it’s over, Slayer have never made me think of “gothic importance,” so maybe we all win here.
5. Sweet Danger
Now that’s an opening riff, those chords almost summing up the entirety of the NWOBHM better than this album’s/band’s title track (but, nope), the band racing through the verse to get to that sweet, sweet chorus, it being an excellent summation of why classic metal is such a, uh, sweet, sweet sound indeed. An innocent, brisk rocker that might as well be played at my funeral because, man, this is what it’s all about, right here. Could elbow its way into the fourth or third spot pretty easily some days.
4. White Witch
I love these late-night-in-the-city NWOBHM/trad-metal boogie romps, and while this one makes a couple sharp left turns too many to really remain cohesive all the way through, its parts are all awesome, the band laying down a glorious, dramatic, guitar-solo-dominated adventure that brings you through the alleys all the way to the hellscape of the cover art, then galloping back to the pub to join the 60 other punters who understand the true magic of this stuff, warts and all.
Another killer NWOBHM energy boost, slight technical aspirations throughout, the band positioning themselves firmly in the coulda-been-Maiden-openers turf here, and, you know, this band shoulda been even bigger than that, if only everything could have been as consistent and rockin’, as engaging, as it was for about three-quarters of this album. This song, and many of this album’s songs, are worthy of getting to know intimately, keeping as soundtracks for your personal journeys.
Remember how great Def Leppard were on their first two or three albums? The chorus of this killer stormer will remind you, Angel Witch tapping into that sense of great songwriting and youthful zest that the Leps clearly left behind as the years went on, and that Angel Witch struggled to keep, as well. But here, man, turn it up and wonder why this band wasn’t huge after this album came out. Dynamite chorus, great song.
1. Angel Witch
Tragically, it was always all downhill from the very first song on their first full-length for the unlucky Angel Witch, but, hey, it’s because the song is a drop-dead NWOBHM classic, “Angel Witch” the song is a total anthem for the ages, a chorus to die for, a rockin’ verse (although, to be fair, the whole time the verses are happening, we’re all just eagerly awaiting the upcoming chorus, right?). I love Angel Witch, I love Angel Witch, and I really, really love “Angel Witch.”