Review & Full Album Stream: The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the atomic bitchwax force field

[Click play above to stream The Atomic Bitchwax’s Force Field in its entirety. Album is out Dec. 8 on Tee Pee Records.]

The seventh full-length from veteran New Jersey heavy rockers The Atomic Bitchwax would seem to mirror the mania of their work ethic over the last several years. That is, it’s ready to go. Released by Tee Pee Records and given the title Force Field, it continues a thread of hard-hitting, riff-bending, head-spinning vitality that one found typifying the personality of 2015’s Gravitron (review here), marked by the delivery of the band’s trademark hooks at blazing tempos and with a harder-edged production style than one found on their earlier material.

In hindsight, this thread may have begun on 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), which, in what seemed a reactionary move at the time, was comprised of a single-track instrumental riff-fest, essentially pummeling the listener with turn after turn for 40-odd minutes. Gravitron and Force Field — if their next album title doesn’t involve the word “plasma” somehow, I’m going to be personally disappointed; perhaps even “plasma inducer?” — make fitting complements to each other because of consistency of style between them, but both seem to have emerged at a sprint from out of where The Local Fuzz had positioned the three-piece of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella.

It seems that in a way that couldn’t be appreciated at the time, The Local Fuzz could have been a pivotal moment in terms of the Bitchwax figuring out their course as this increasingly established lineup of the band took shape following Kosnik and Ryan first bringing in Pantella (known for his work in Monster Magnet, of which Kosnik is now also a member) on 2008’s TAB4, following Ryan‘s coming on board with 2005’s 3 (discussed here) — which, perhaps coincidentally, also boasted a track titled “Force Field.” In any case, where TAB4 demonstrated a sheen in its production and delved into more mid-paced and semi-psychedelic songwriting, nearly a decade later, The Atomic Bitchwax come across post-The Local Fuzz almost as a different band — they are supercharged, unforgivingly tight, and aggressive as they burn through Force Field‘s 12 tracks and 34 minutes, offering mere seconds of letup along the way.

And even those, relatively speaking, hit pretty hard. Eight of the 12 inclusions on Force Field clock in under the three-minute mark, and none of the rest touch four — the longest is “Alaskan Thunder Fuck” at 3:48 — and though the verse of “Crazy” seems to straighten out the otherwise winding style of riff that has been a hallmark of The Atomic Bitchwax‘s work since their 1999 self-titled debut and very much is here as well, a tense line of keys and, later in the track, tambourine, assure that the energy level is consistent with surrounding pieces like the full-boar “Shocker” and the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side,” which follows.

If the effort the band has been fatigued at all by the uptick in touring they’ve undertaken in the US and abroad over the last several years, Force Field utterly refuses to show it. From opener “Hippie Speedball” through “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be)” and into the landmark chorus of “Shell of a Man” and the unbridled scorch of “Houndstooth” and ‘Tits and Bones,” The Atomic Bitchwax execute fuzzy fury with precision and sound like a band with no time to waste on anything less than that.

the atomic bitchwax

Through this barrage — one might call it an “assault” were the tones not still so welcoming and their attention to melody still so much a factor in their approach overall — there are times where it seems like a miracle the songs manage to stay as memorable as they are, but in addition to the unshakable foundation of Pantella‘s drumming, variety in the arrangements of vocals between Kosnik and Ryan helps emphasize standout moments across what might otherwise be a totally blinding span, and beneath Force Field‘s surface, the complexity and nuance brought to its progressive turns prove that while it’s in a rush, it was not itself rushed in the making, which is a huge difference in the overall outcome.

As to that outcome, what one takes away from Force Field particularly in the context of Gravitron before it is how much The Atomic Bitchwax at this stage have managed to bridge the gap between classic boogie and the inherent intensity of the US East Coast. Songs like “Shocker” and the penultimate “Super Highway” aren’t shy about their punk aspects, but the groove even of a go-go-go-run-run-run piece like “Super Highway” or the preceding “Humble Brag” remains prevalent, even if one finds it overarching the quickened pulse, rather than resulting directly from, say a nod riff or undulating progression.

In that, it’s “Hippie Speedball” at the outset that sets the tone effectively by striking a balance between thrust and memorability that the band continues to proffer in dynamic fashion. Listening to Kosnik‘s run on bass under Ryan‘s solo during the first solo in the opener, the message regarding chemistry resounds, and the call and response in “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” only reinforces the idea, but the truth is it’s everywhere across Force Field how unreal this band has become in crafting songs that are both fiery and likely to leave a lasting impression.

As is their wont, they shake up their approach with the closer, and in this case, “Liv a Little” with its organ, synthesized-sounding handclaps, blown-out vocals and somewhat slower pacing recalls classic glam rock more than some of the psychedelia they’ve touched on in the past or the poppier vibes they’ve elicited in pieces like “Ice Age (Hey Baby)” from Gravitron, “Wreck You” from TAB4 or even the spacey “Half as Much” from 3. Even with the semi-shift in style, “Liv a Little” over in 2:42 as if to highlight the crispness of Force Field on the whole and the sheer will with which The Atomic Bitchwax at this stage in their tenure — nearly 20 years since forming, nearly 10 with this lineup — keep their material so lean and, indeed, forceful. Their style is utterly their own, and they sound like a band having a blast while pushing themselves physically and aesthetically. Accordingly, while dizzying, Force Field makes for an absolute joy of a listening experience.

The Atomic Bitchwax, “Houndstooth” official video

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The Atomic Bitchwax website

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3 Responses to “Review & Full Album Stream: The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

  1. GlenW says:

    I dig it.

  2. Robb says:

    The only down side to this release is that I already submitted my top 20 albums to JJ , and have not received this gem in the mail yet. It is sure to be a definite top 3 for me. I just can’t get over how tight and fast they play their songs. The review was right. they have a style all their own.

  3. Dendrito says:

    Same thing happened to me as Robb says, this album plus Borracho & The Re-Stoned ones were left out of my poll that I already submitted. Definitely one of 2017 best releases!

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