Rockers stand the test of time
The Atomic Bitchwax is an undeniably distinctive name for a band, although even the most avid of music listeners may not be familiar with the group from Neptune, New Jersey. It’s the type of name that suggests a certain characteristic: out-of-the-box. Conveniently, that is just the type of sound which Bitchwax have cultivated for nearly 30 years under the leadership of bassist/singer/songwriter Chris Kosnik, the only surviving member of its original lineup. Kosnik and his merry gang of rockers are continuing to push the envelope of their musicianship after all these years on the job.
The Atomic Bitchwax have hung on to the intangible grungy essence of New Jersey rock, a niche of the genre which stems from the prominent New York metropolitan area punk scene which emerged in the early to mid 1980’s. This explosion in the “harder” genres—rock, metal, punk and their respective variants—saw many successful groups canvas the Garden State into the 1990s, featuring the likes of My Chemical Romance, Solace, Leathermouth and, on the more alternative side, The Wrens. Groups like these comprise a notable chapter in American musical history, and the fact that these guys are still rocking almost 30 years later is perhaps a testament to their deserved place within this history.
Despite all of this history and time, Scorpio sounds as youthful as ever, really. Opening track “Hope You Die” features punk-like vocals and thunderous percussion which enhance its aggressive nature and morbid subject matter. Through all of the darkness and heaviness of this track shines some skillful playing from Garrett Sweeny, the recently recruited guitarist who makes his first full length appearance with the group on this album. His waves of psychedelic riffs transition into a face melting ode which extends into the end of the song. The track is a microcosm of the album’s fuller sound, one that thoughtfully combines elements of hard rock with the vocal and lyrical qualities of punk, with whammy-laden elements of psychedelia serving as points of levity amongst otherwise heavier components.
“Ninja” is a great track. Its long, winding solos combined with proficient percussive support make for a fun four minutes. The dexterous abilities of drummer Bob Pantella are really on full display on this track. Title track “Scorpio” has more of a punk-like undertone but nevertheless abides by the overarching hard rock framework, utilizing distorted, aggravated vocal delivery, an energetic pace and punishing percussion. Standout track “You Got It” keeps this same mojo going with its brisk pace and bellicose vibe, and closing track “Instant Death” gives way to fun and playful riffs which simultaneously uphold that gritty energy.
In the end, Scorpio comes out appearing like a full work, one which focuses on perpetuating the traditions of its genre in a polished and crafty manner. Any scent of homogeneity in sound is waffed away by the competent musicianship on display throughout. Perhaps this would not be the case had this aspect of production been more rough-hewn, but it seems as if a conscious effort was made to focus on the simple things that matter most in creating art. As people collectively advance further and further away from the past, The Atomic Bitchwax are clinging to tradition in many aspects while advancing their sound into something refreshing simultaneously. The ability to do this in an undeniable mark of craftsmanship, so here’s to another 28 years.