- No Way Man
- Its Alright
- War Claw
- Coming in Hot
- Proto World
- Down With the Swirl
- Ice Age "Hey Baby".....................
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Label: Tee Pee Records
It would be wrong to say The Atomic Bitchwax‘s sixth album, Gravitron, is a return to the form of their early days, if only because it would somehow imply that the record
is backward-looking. The New Jersey-based outfit released their self-titled debut in 1999, and the only remaining member from that record is bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, so it’s not like The Atomic Bitchwax are trying to hearken back to some glory-days ideal from 16 years ago. Frankly, they don’t need to. The material across Gravitron‘s 10 tracks blazes in the best way possible, Kosnik, guitarist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella tearing into what’s become the band’s signature winding riffage and delivering it at a head-spinning pace on instrumental cuts like “Down with the Swirl” and “War Claw” (a tribute to Wroclaw, Poland, maybe?) and the early rager “No Way Man.” The Bitchwax‘s last outing, 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here) was more of a concept piece than an album — a single extended track of riff-barrage, almost mocking the idea of “it’s all about the riffs,” and to considerable effect. With Gravitron, they reincorporate what’s always been their truest strength: Songwriting.
And they do so with considerable intensity. The first moments of opener “Sexecutioner” tell the tale — Gravitron begins at full blast and offers precious little letup until the penultimate “Roseland” transitions to the slower groove of closer “Ice Age Hey Baby.” It’s a tumult of head-down forward drive, Kosnik, Ryan and Pantella, maybe having benefited from getting “The Local Fuzz” out of their system — a grand purging — getting immediately down to business. For those who came aboard with The Atomic Bitchwax since the release of 3 in 2005, which was Ryan‘s first in the band, Gravitron will easily be the heaviest, meanest album encountered. The trio is tight, the turns are crisp and the flow of the album is thrust along with momentum that only builds as they dig into the catchy, classic Bitchwaxian “It’s Alright,” Ryan and Kosnik putting on a Rushy technical clinic without showing off or making the fact that they can play like that the point of the song while Pantella translates their twists into an accessible, memorable groove that’s one of the high points of the album. Add to that the momentary slowdown of “Coming in Hot,” which closes out side A with another on-fire jam, this one shifting out of the chorus with a drum solo that the guitar and bass join seamlessly in a manner fitting for the chemistry The Atomic Bitchwax have developed on stage in recent years. Killing it, in short. The trend continues on side B.
Proof that we’re dealing with a more confrontational Bitchwax? How about “Fuck Face?” Punctuated by a jabbing snare and led by the guitar and bass simultaneously through an under-three-minute instrumental run soaked in wah, it’s nonetheless a fast-swinging barnburner and not the first or the last. “Porto World” follows and while it’s the first song to touch the four-minute mark — only “Ice Age Hey Baby” is longer, at 4:45 — it still rages, with Kosnik warning, “I hope you brought your battle axe” as they run at a sprint into a cowbell-inclusive groove before trading back to the next verse and hook, the cowbell returning again as a bridge before a final chorus closes out, quickly, classically-structured but still brimming with energy, which is all the more fitting for “Down with the Swirl”‘s jazzy turns and solo-topped build. They barely stop to take in the view as they reach that mountaintop in “Down with the Swirl,” but the song provides emphasis on the newfound vitality of the trio anyway, not so different ultimately from some of what “The Local Fuzz” had to offer, just in a different, more upbeat context, like a disgruntled In Rock-era Deep Purple raised on Red Bank burgers and fries. While “Porto World” and “War Claw” could easily be Euro-minded, “Roseland” is purely regionalist homage, taking its name and lyrical basis from the long-running venue in Manhattan (my grandmother danced there in the 1930s) turned into luxury condos just in case anyone needed a convenient example of how New York City has degraded itself in pursuit of profit post-9/11 and the financial collapse of 2008. The Atomic Bitchwax take a more sentimental view, bidding the big room goodbye with due sentiment and thud in what seems like a landmark hook until the handclaps start on “Ice Age Hey Baby.”
As they close out their sixth album, they seem to have learned the best lesson of their fourth, 2008’s TAB4, which caught some flack for being poppier and more slickly produced even than 3 or the 2006 Boxriff EP, but had more than a couple of gems to its credit as regards songwriting. That record finished with “Wreck You,” one of the band’s most infectious works to date, and “Ice Age Hey Baby” works in similar form, a rolling bassline and simple rhythm backing Kosnik‘s sing-along-ready chorus, displayed immediately and readily throughout the song, departing only to give Ryan some time to bust out a psychedelic lead. After the hit and run nature of most of Gravitron, the closer’s something of a breather, but well placed and well appreciated, mirroring and upping the game from “Coming in Hot” while reminding one last time that no matter how fast the Bitchwax might decide to go, and no matter how many jumps they might make here and there within a track, they’re still serving a bigger purpose. “Ice Age Hey Baby” is an outlier, and it’s positioned to leave a lasting impression when the record is over. No big surprise it succeeds at just that. While Kosnik and Pantella both play in Monster Magnet, still obviously going strong, with the likes of Solace, Halfway to Gone, Ryan‘s former band Core, and many others gone, The Atomic Bitchwax are sort of the last-band-standing from what was once a fertile Central Jersey heavy rock scene, based around Red Bank, Long Branch, etc. Their reach and their focus have gone well beyond their hometown, which is likely a major contributor to their survival, but to think of all the acts who’ve either outright broken up or transitioned into periodic gigging while Kosnik, Ryan and Pantella stand at the ready to tour Europe for another month and release a triumph of a record like Gravitron makes their having not only lasted but thrived all the more impressive. Whatever else they do from here, Gravitron will be a landmark. - The Obelisk (http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2015/04/20/the-atomic-bitchwax-gravitron-stream/)