Angel is one of the ultimate cult bands in the world of ’70s heavy rock. This group of East Coast club band veterans rose up quickly from obscurity to take their place on Kiss’ label, Casablanca Records, and were pitched (perhaps to their commercial detriment) as a heavenly and “pretty” alternative to the makeup-clad/black leather deviltry of Kiss. They quickly became renowned for a spectacular, costly stage show that included a talking “hologram” and magical illusions created by Doug Henning.
That said, they were a different proposition from Kiss on the musical level. Their first two albums have famously been described as “Deep Purple Meets Yes,” offering a distinctive marriage of art rock and proto-metal that enchanted the teens who attended their concerts circa 1975-1976. Commercial pressure began to rear its head around the third album and the group turned its attention to finding a more commercial variant on their unique sound. All three are worth hearing and the following Catalog Crawl installment explores them all…
Members: Frank Dimino (vocals), Punky Meadows (guitar), Gregg Giuffria (keyboards), Mickey Jones (bass), Barry Brandt (drums)
ANGEL (1975): if you love ’70s heaviness and ’70s prog, this is the dream summit of those two styles. Songs like concert-opener-for-life “Tower,” “Long Time” and “Sunday Morning” have a proto-metal crunch in how they’re built yet overflow with soaring vocal harmonies and a barrage of analog keyboard textures that make them melodically ornate. Elsewhere, “Rock And Rollers” and “On And On” show a firm grasp of arena rock riffing and rhythmic punch while also being fleshed out with cosmic, regal synth and mellotron textures. Producers Derek Lawrence and Big Jim Sullivan capture the light and shade of the band’s style with equal strength, merging the two into a formidable and seamless alloy, and DiMino adds powerful vocals (sometimes overdubbed like keyboards) and thoughtful lyrics that balance fantasy scenarios with surprisingly adult psychological insights. Deep cut gem: “Mariner,” an elegant ballad where guitars are ditched entirely for ghostly keyboard tapestries from Giuffria.
HELLUVA BAND (1976): The second album functions as a shadow twin to the debut, pushing the band’s sound into darker, more experimental realms. On the darker side, “Pressure Point” is a speedy hard-riffing affair that uses its heft for a portrait of rising madness, “Mirrors” is dungeons-and-dragons metal with a relentless rhythmic attack and “The Fortune” is a grandiose prog-metal epic that throws everything – a keyboard fantasia intro, acoustic passages, metal riffs – at its tale of a prisoner achieving enlightenment on the verge of his execution. On the experimental side, “Feelings” puts the band’s prog side in the service of an emotional singer-songwriter ballad, complete with Keith Emerson piano frills from Giuffria, and “Chicken Soup” finds a kind of heavy psychedelic-funk sound for its rumination on romantic woes. The Lawrence/Sullivan production maintains the band’s fanciful yet heavy soundscape and the players attack each song with vigor (listen for the guitar/synth Duel Of The Gods in “Feelin’ Right”). Sidenote: the compact, glammy “Any Way You Want It” predicts the band’s future with its single-friendly stab at pop.
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (1977): The transitional entry in Angel’s original studio album quintet, perched halfway between prog-metal and pomp-infused pop. Songs like “She’s A Mover” and “On The Rocks” fuse straightforward pop song structures, complete with sing-along choruses, to the band’s familiar guitar heft and wailing synth leads while “Telephone Exchange” plays like a prog answer to power ballads. The best stuff is on the second side: “You’re Not Fooling Me” evokes ennui in an elegant prog-goes-heavy style, “Cast The First Stone” gives Dio-era Rainbow a run for the fantasy-metal money and “Just A Dream” offers a pensive art-rock epic that soars on celestial keyboards. Eddie Kramer’s oft-overdriven production is controversial but it provides a fascinating wall-of-sound approach where crisp details suddenly leap out at key moments. Kiss comparison: “White Lightning,” a revival of a song by pre-Angel band Bux, plays like the band’s answer to “She” by Kiss, painting a lusty portrait of a fantasy vixen with heavy riffs but adding psych-inflected backwards tapes and plenty of spacey Giuffria synth-layers.