Winter is coming, and not just in Westeros. As the days grow shorter and the coats grow thicker, a somber feeling draws across us all, blanketing anticipatory holiday cheer. Seasonal Affective Disorder (with its hilarious acronym SAD) strikes its yearly blow, and the call of morose doom metal like Hallatar and Loss is stronger than ever. But frankly, in this melancholic time of the year, it’s nice to have a band around who don’t give a flying iota about the dark short days ahead. The Atomic Bitchwax is that band in body, mind and spirit. With their new album Force Field, sporting a badass naked space chick on the cover, they’re back to kick names, chew ass and take bubblegum. And they’re all out of ass.
For the uninitiated, The Atomic Bitchwax is a side project of Monster Magnet bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantello, along with guitarist Finn Ryan (formerly of Core.) Bitchwax do share the rambling rockers aesthetic of Monster Magnet, but whereas that band regularly has the laidback spirit of an armful of downers, Force Field seems conceived on a healthy cocktail of caffeine, coke and ecstacy. In 35 frantic minutes, Bitchwax blast through 12 tracks of joyful swagger, high-speed joviality and a parade of all your favorite four letter words (“c’mon” chief among them.)
The opening triplet hits like a runaway dive bar on wheels. “Hippie Speedball” sets the tone with a frenzied pace and ditto guitars. The band is at their best when they threaten to careen off the track entirely, the guitars squealing like tires breaking out on a high speed curve, and I’m struck with the feeling this would make a great Dukes of Hazzard soundtrack, provided you watch on fast forward. This sound proves its worth further on the next two tracks, upping the ante even more with the short, sharp “Shocker” that features an almost punk-like aggression. The gear finally drops a notch on “Crazy,” only to be replaced by a ridiculously catchy and groovy rock ‘n roll rhythm. But the unstoppable truck finds its wild side again with “Shell of a Man,” where Kosnik delivers the energetic performance of a man breaking out of desperation and resigning to inadequacy, his voice not a long shot removed from Dave Grohl.
The back-half doesn’t quite live up to the excellent front, though the bar is admittedly high. The quartet of “Houndstooth” through “Super Highway” don’t have the same spark of inspiration, running together in a blurry blaze of screaming guitars, driving drums and Kosnik’s confident throat, though the choppy riff and appropriate swagger on “Humble Brag” are still a high point among them. With “Liv a Little” Force Field ends on a strong and catchy 70s groove, with crackling distorted vocals setting a bouncy melody supported by retro hand claps and the enduring sound of a Hammond organ.
Compared to their previous release, the production job has sanded away some of the grit. The sound is cleaner and clearer, the mix an improvement and the trio is extremely cohesive. The strength of the production here is how little of it you notice; nothing is in your face or noticeably absent, leaving the focus on the music that barrels forth with reckless abandon, pelting the listener with the ricocheting drums and high speed riffs and solos. This method doesn’t stamp a date on the music either, as noticeable grit or simulated analog sound would. Though the noticeable 70s influence on the music might seem to call for that, I personally prefer Force Field with its current clarity.
In an age where every band seems to battle for the longest song average, and brevity is the soul of last century, The Atomic Bitchwax go refreshingly against the stream. Their mission is simple: rock out, rock hard and rock fucking fast. Force Field is a barreling barrel of fun, unpretentious stoner rock complete with ludicrous guitars and strong vocals. I keep coming back thanks to the short song length and infectious joy projected by the band, even with the second half dip in mind. 2017 has been full of great, epic and poetic metal. It’s nice to end it with a party.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Tee Pee Records
Websites: theatomicbitchwax.bandcamp.com | theatomicbitchwax.com | facebook.com/The-Atomic-Bitchwax-86002001659
Releases Worldwide: December 8th, 2017