sábado, 22 de junho de 2019

ANGEL WITCH (UK) - Sweet Danger (7''/EP, EMI, 1980)

RATING: ****

It's a near-undisputed fact that the music of Angel Witch brings in itself most of the defining features of the NWOBHM, being one of the fundamental introductions to any novice who wishes to understand what was going on in the UK back in the early 1980's. But there's also a lot to learn from the whole process that shaped this respectable British metal entity, I think, as it comes to show how NWOBHM was never a case of over-produced, tailored-for-the-market bands with the right looks and sound, but rather of youthful, passionate hopefuls that, by playing their hearts and souls out in whatever local haunt would have them, gathered a loyal following that soon became too large to be ignored. Starting sometime in 1977 under the name Lucifer, the quartet - the now legendary Kevin Heybourne (V/G) being originally assisted by Kevin Riddles (B), Dave Hogg (D) and second guitarist Rob Downing - soon adopted the more recognizable (and slightly less tongue-in-cheek) Angel Witch moniker, playing live tirelessly in and around London for the benefit of enthusiastic and ever-increasing audiences.

Those were the punk rock days in the UK back then, so it was no easy task to raise any eyebrows with an unashamedly heavy, considerably complex, riff-oriented brand of rock music. It simply wasn't the "right" thing to do if you were trying to make a break, you know. But Angel Witch were good, people would always be there to see them play, and like-minded groups like Praying Mantis, Samson and Iron Maiden were also packing pubs and clubs on a regular basis, all this giving some loud and clear indication that there was a niche of market being ignored by labels and promoters after all.

In fact, after recording a well-regarded demo halfway through 1978, things definitely looked promising for the lads. The echoes from that growing 'new metal' scene somehow reached the offices of none other than EMI, and those responsible wisely felt there was a bit of a mileage on all those long-haired kids playing metal after all. This led to the seminal "Metal for Muthas" compilation LP in early 1980 (soon to be properly reviewed around here), and with Angel Witch's contribution ("Baphomet") being easily one of the highlights of the LP, Heybourne and his cohorts were swiftly encouraged to make a live-in-the-studio appearance for BBC's "Friday Rock Show" (aired in March 14, 1980). The audience's response was remarkably positive (the fact that "Extermination Day" later made it into the "Metal Explosion" LP of session highlights is surely not a coincidence, you see), and it comes as no surprise to learn that EMI gave the thumbs-up for the assembling of a proper single.

Angel Witch's "Sweet Danger" was released in both 7'' and 12'', both presenting the baphomet visage that became a landmark image for the band and one of the most memorable artworks from the entire NWOBHM era. By the time the tracks were recorded, the group was already slimmed down to a trio, with Rob Downing packing his bags just when "Metal for Muthas" was hitting the shops. As we all know, Angel Witch soldiered on without a replacement, suffering little or no turbulence in the process.

It was a wise choice to give "Sweet Danger" pride of place, you know: it's a very catchy (but undeniably strong) number, whose more accessible leanings sound anything but forced and with arrangements that allow generous space for all musicians to show some of their individual skills. Angel Witch present themselves like a band that really means business, confident about their collective abilities and  prepared to take UK's heavy rock scene by storm, no less. It's a metal classic in all its glory, and I tend to think this version is slightly better than the one featured on the "Angel Witch" LP, so there are really no excuses: any serious NWOBHM collector must own a copy of this, whether in its original vinyl format or as any of the many re-releases it received through the years. It isn't that much of a challenge, you see.

Both "Flight Nineteen" and "Hades Paradise" (the bonus track for the 12'' vrs, mistakenly named as "Hadies Paradise" on the label) are perhaps not in the same league of the A-side, but both present merits well worthy of mention. "Flight Nineteen" is forceful and engaging, with a nice storytelling about some aeroplanes that disappeared without a place in the Bermuda Triangle. Nothing too sophisticated, that's for sure, but it works quite well in its intended purpose and most metalheads will have a pleasant time listening to this one. On the other hand, "Hades Paradise" is a more complex, slightly atmospheric number with many nice transitions and Kevin Heybourne's voice (not the most technical delivery ever heard in metal, but quite distinctive nonetheless) surely at its most confident and interesting. Truly good songwriting throughout, and "Sweet Danger" (the single/EP) is a very important piece of NWOBHM history that had a strong influence on much of what happened next.

The release was quite successful, to an extent that it actually made it into the mainstream charts - in fact, it reached position 75 (the lowest position to be mentioned in the music weeklies) then disappeared without a trace next week, but never mind. Despite its very good result in terms of sales, EMI didn't offer the trio a long-term deal, opting to bet their chips on Iron Maiden instead (and who can blame them?). Not a hard blow for Angel Witch anyway, as they kept a very busy touring schedule throughout 1980, including a prestigious appearance at that year's Reading Festival. It was the live environment that opened doors for Angel Witch in the first place, and it was also very important to keep record labels interested, with Bronze finally making a firm commitment towards the release of a debut LP.

Million thanks to Discogs for picture sleeve and label scans!

Kevin Heybourne (V/G), Kevin Riddles (B), Dave Hogg (D). All songs by Heybourne.

01. Sweet Danger
02. Hades Paradise (12'' bonus)
03. Flight Nineteen

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

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