Angel Witch / Blood Ceremony @ Lee’s Palace, Toronto on Wednesday 16th May 2018
Calling all heavy metal maniacs! Here’s a very rare sight – New Wave of British Heavy Metal boys Angel Witch are in town for their Toronto debut and an exclusive Canadian date (take that, Montreal!). Toronto is definitely a heavy metal city so it’s no surprise that tickets are sold at lightning speed and Lee’s Palace is very busy this night.
It’s very apt that Blood Ceremony are supporting [following a set by Cauldron], being Toronto natives and labelmates with the headliners. This ‘70s inspired doom metal act need no introduction to this city’s metal congregation. The deluging wave of female-fronted occult rock inspired doom metal acts has contributed into destabilizing the subgenre’s creativity, merely aping headline names like Coven and Black Sabbath rather than innovating. While Blood Ceremony would certainly appeal to listeners of these bands, these Canadians take the genre a step further – most notably, vocalist Alia O’Brien wielding her flute to add a folky Jethro Tull-esque adjunct to the music.
The rest of the music mines a wide variety of ‘60s and ‘70s rock influences more deeply and sophisticatedly than the usual fare. O’Brien also utilizes an organ that bewitches the hymns tastefully. Each member has a rocking stage presence as they haunt Lee’s Palace with the likes of “Goodbye Gemini”, “Old Fires” and “Lord of Misrule”. Sean Kennedy’s guitar sounds more metallic and heavier than on its recorded counterpart, emphasized by Lucas Gadke’s thumping bass and Michael Carrillo’s earth-shaking drums. Although based in this city, they don’t play too often, having last played at the closing of the Silver Dollar last year, so this show feels extra special. It goes without saying that this quartet do not disappoint in their prestigious support slot.
The venue is buzzing as London, England’s own Angel Witch greet a sonorous ovation with some authentic NWoBHM. There’s a reason Angel Witch are considered head and shoulders above most of their peers in this musical movement (and it’s not because of the catchy eponymous track). Their songs on their highly-worshipped 1980 debut are all very distinct. Some are more poetically melodic than any ballad, some feature rabid aggression unusual for the early ‘80s, while others are simply perfectly crafted headbangers. “White Witch”, “Confused”, “Atlantis” and other vintage tunes have no problem soliciting a few mosh pits, crowdsurfers and headbangers at the front, marking tonight a much livelier Toronto heavy metal crowd than usual. Unlike for Blood Ceremony, however, the headliner’s sound is muddy and this fault sadly persists for the rest of the set.
While seven songs from the Angel Witch album make it to the setlist, a few selections from the underrated 2013 reunion album As Above, So Below receive attention. Far from a nostalgia or copy-cat album, this release sees Angel Witch armed with a heavier, more ballsy sound fitting for its modernity. The musicianship is more sophisticated and exploratory, exhibiting how much sole original member Kevin Heybourne has developed his skills over the decades with songs that clock in at over 6 minutes and consistently retain attention. “Dead Sea Scrolls” and “Into the Dark” feature almost progressive weaving guitar but unfortunately do not secure the reactions that they deserve, the crowd largely baying for older material. When the band promptly leaves the stage without playing that song, everybody knows an encore is coming. Surely enough, the headliners return with the electrifying “Angel Witch” that the fans have been waiting for. The venue goes totally festive as people drunkenly croon along to the chorus as mosh pits take over the floor. This is a pure class way to conclude these legends’ Toronto debut. The sound may not have been favourable but Angel Witch deserve nothing short of top marks.