Angel has the reputation of being a 1970's hard rock band that has a strong cult following but that very few people other than those fervent fans have ever heard of. That the Washington, D.C. quartet never caught on despite having highly talented members, a unique look and gimmick, a solid batch of songs, and an amazing live act is a mystery. Angel was Casablanca label-mates with Kiss, the absolute rulers of the hard rock scene in the late 1970's; as a matter of fact, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons discovered them performing at a nightclub.
Angel's gimmick may have worked as much against them as for them: dressed in white to contrast with black-clad Kiss, the band members sported an androgynous look and were in some ways a link between the 1970s glam image of David Bowie, Sweet, and the like, and the high-coiffed, hairspray-laden wave of 1980s hard rockers that were also given the glam moniker.
Angel's music ranged from their early days of progressive rock with lyrics about sword-in-hand heroic journeys to unabashedly commercial attempts at pop rock. For this article, I'm going to focus on what I consider to be the band's best two albums (though, of course, that is up for debate among Angel fans): On Earth as It Is in Heaven (1977), their overall hardest rocking effort, and White Hot (1978), a satisfying combination of their hard rock sound and their attempts at pop. These were respectively the third and fourth albums in Angel's discography.
On Earth as It Is in Heaven is one of the better lesser-heard rock albums of the seventies, featuring the equally tasty and ferocious guitar stylings of Punky Meadows, the soaring vocals of Frank DiMino, Gregg Giuffria's outstanding keyboards, Barry Brandt's brilliant drumming, and the solid bass of Mickie Jones. One thing that Angel was not short on was musicianship. Eddie Kramer, who had recently produced Kiss's overwhelmingly popular Alive! and Rock and Roll Over albums, did a masterful job behind the knobs on this Angel album.
Album opener "Can You Feel It" sets the tone as Brandt kicks the song off. Meadows' roaring guitars interplay with Giuffria's synthesizers while DiMino sings of consuming too much alcohol and leaving a bar as a fight breaks out over "girls of ill repute, naturally." No new ground is tread here when it comes to hard rock lyrics but the song gets across the sly sense of humor that Angel often shows. "On the Rocks," for example, isn't about what people might first guess from that title; rather, it tells the story of an amorous young man's fate after fooling around with a girl who turned out to be the sheriff's daughter.
"White Lightning" showcases DiMino's vocal prowess, as he takes his voice on a roller coaster ride and shows his ability to hold notes. Meanwhile, Meadows weaves his way around a nasty riff in a song that he performed with his previous band, BUX.
“Cast the First Stone,” a song about invading armies seeking gold using their swords and shields that was written during sessions for Angel’s previous album Helluva Band, and the hypnotic “Just a Dream” hearken back to the band’s more prog-oriented efforts. “You’re Not Fooling Me,” a poignant song about loneliness in the big city, is another album highlight, along with my favorite of Angel’s more commercial sounding efforts, “That Magic Touch.” The latter song features a catchy chorus and lyrics about a lonely man missing his lover who has left for Paris. This song should have been at least a minor hit that got the band a little more notoriety and airplay, but it was not meant to be.
Overall, On Earth as It Is in Heaven is a fine set of melodic hard rock tunes and an example of the kind of records that were sought out by ardent fans of the genre who were looking for something along the lines of contemporaries Rainbow, Rush, Kiss, and so forth. Angel made a stronger attempt at gaining airplay with their follow-up album, White Hot. The band signals its intent with a catchy Giuffria synthesizer intro to album opener “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” a song about a man obsessed with watching his favorite actress on the silver screen. The song is an obvious attempt at garnering radio time but again, that was not in the cards for Angel.
The album boasts both fine hard rockers such as “Over and Over,” “Under Suspicion,” and “You Could Lose Me” alongside poppier tunes such as “Stick Like Glue.” Two very interesting songs are “Flying with Broken Wings,” a Beatles-esque number that starts out as a ballad and builds into a full-tilt rocker toward the end, and the odd album closer “The Winter Song,” which makes a perfect mid-tempo Christmas season song but feels a bit out of place on the album. It should be noted that Felix Robinson replaced Jones on bass on White Hot and did a terrific job.
Now is a fine time to discover or rediscover Angel, as Frank DiMino's 2015 solo album Old Habits Die Hard and Punky Meadow's 2016 debut solo effort Fallen Angel are both terrific hard rock albums worth seeking out.
Besides contributing to When It Was Cool, Joseph Perry also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique magazines.