Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Atomic Bitchwax - Scorpio (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Stoner/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Wikipedia

I still haven't gone back to ground myself in the stoner/hard rock genre because, hey, so many albums, so little time. However, in reading up on it, I see names like the Atomic Bitchwax and Monster Magnet often. The two seem to be inextricably linked, given that everyone currently in the former either is or used to be also in the latter. The Atomic Bitchwax are the newer band, having formed in 1992, and this is their eighth studio album.

It sounds pretty close to the definition of what I expect stoner/hard rock to be: high energy riff-laden seventies hard rock from a power trio that's often instrumental but also featuring rough hewn vocals, as the band deem necessary. The only real variation from that template here is that there's very little fuzz in the tone of Garrett Sweeny's guitar.

Ninja is a great example of what the Atomic Bitchwax do instrumentally. It's a four minute blitzkrieg of riffs, with Sweeny delivering searing solos over a reliable rhythm section that's clearly channelling bands like Budgie and Black Sabbath at their most energetic. It sounds great on a studio release but I have come to learn that this sort of approach is best heard live.

There are other bands here, though they're mostly other heavy bands from the seventies rather than psychedelic ones from the sixties, the latter being most obvious on Super Sonic, which sounds rather like the former turned into the latter. The title track reminds of wall of sound Hawkwind even before the trippy effects show up around the vocals and underline the comparison. It's obvious in the chord progressions and the melodies. Sure, it ends on a Sabbath guitar note but it's Hawkwind through and through. It's my favourite vocal song here.

I certainly prefer the instrumental Atomic Bitchwax to the vocal Atomic Bitchwax, but I like both and they've clearly prioritised the former for a long while, as the opening track, Hope You Die, is a rework of a song from their debut album, to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. While it's vocal, it's really an instrumental piece that happens to have a few points where the instruments stop to be punctuated by an assault of a vocal line. While there are vocals and instruments, its rare for both of them to happen at the same. It's a really punchy song, a perfect way to kickstart a live audience.

I should add that I'd call the band stoner/hard rock, but they do veer on heavy metal at points, such as You Got It, whose music would have been called metal in the early eighties. That's a NWOBHM guitar, though it would have been a little more prominent and the bass a little less so on a proper NWOBHM track. The clean vocal and handclaps lend it a punky edge, but that was an inherent part of the sound back then.

Betting Man is a similar sort of throwback. Its guitar sounds even more like Fast Eddie than You Got It and Chris Kosnik's bass rumbles along just like Lemmy's would. Sure, that's no Philthy rhythm but it's so obviously influenced by Motörhead that I kept expecting Lemmy to start singing. And this is a great way to highlight how this would play pretty well to early eighties metalheads, even if they see stoner rock as modern alternative crap from the nineties. Give this a go, folks. You'll probably love it.

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