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Black Nasa (USA)
The Atomic Bitchwax (USA)

Sojo, June 5th, 2003.

The program looked promising, with two of Sopranoland’s best bands intending to rip it up. These power trios not only have in common that they’re from New Jersey, but also that they’re both led by bass player/vocalist Chris Kosnik. Black NasaEven though The Atomic Bitchwax is known to many people as “the side band of Ed Mundell from Monster Magnet,” there’s so much more to them. They were not only founded before Mundell was hired by that band to replace John McBain in the wake of Spine of God, but the fact that their debut album was only released in 1999 obscures that they were playing a hard-rocking blend of stoner elements, acid rock and prehistoric riffs à la AC/DC, Mountain and Grand Funk before that suddenly became fashionable again. Even though they never escaped underground status (and unless they calm down and incorporate some hip samples they never will, either), it’s fair to say that both their albums (but their debut in particular) belong in the pantheon of modern hard rock greats, oozing out an insane dose of intensity and offering superb musicianship that serves as a tribute to three decades of hard rock history. However, after several years Mundell was no longer able to reconcile his Monster Magnet-schedule with that of Bitchwax, so the fierce tandem of Chris Kosnik/Keith Ackerman unexpectedly came up with a replacement in the guise of Finn Ryan (ex-Core), a guy with about the most unenviable task imaginable Corey Stubblefield(if you thought Ed Mundell could play on the basis of the Monster Magnet albums, you should check out the Bitchwax releases, on which he really lets loose, like the true descendant of Leslie West, Tommy Bolin and Hendrix rolled into one person). Anyway, before the show by the jam-oriented trio, Kosnik first delivered the goods with his other band Black Nasa. Even though their set was ultra-short (clocking in after 8 songs/30 minutes), it confirmed that their approach is nearly the opposite of Bitchwax’s. Instead of monumental riffs and sizzling guitar solos, this band offers a much tighter, catchier and slicker kind of rock. Opening song “Diamond Girl” is the kind of song that’s vintage Black Nasa: even though it’s propelled by a kind of throbbing boogie-rhythm, Guitarist Duane Hutter’s slide guitar, the catchy chorus and the spacey-sounding bass turn it into an entirely different matter, a kind of updated version of accessible ‘70’s rock. Despite the fact that Hutter’s shrill slide leads sometimes made the overall sound lack the punch that would’ve turned it into an even more impressive sonic experience, most of the songs from their debut album sounded a bit more muscular than their studio counterparts: the delay-effects during “Ribeyed Love” (introduced as ‘our country song’) lent the song a weird atmosphere, “Monkey Knife Fight” is the kind of track that belongs on your Summer Car Mix Tape and “Holy Crap,” the debut’s opener, finished the show in great style. The four new songs confirmed the current direction’s even more straightforward and accessible: “Kamikaze” was still stuck inside my head a few hours after the show, even though it was the first time I heard it, while the calm intro and Hutter’s take on Southern rock in “Light” were particularly successful.

Finn RyanAs suggested above, The Atomic Bitchwax is an entirely different matter. That band isn’t about catchy choruses, concise structures and slickness, but about high-energy musicianship, insanely incendiary solos, heavy pumping bass and other assorted madness. Of course it helps that all three musicians got several opportunities to show off their considerable skills. Keith Ackerman is a powerhouse drummer (half man, half tendon) in the purest sense of the term, despite his fragile build capable of tearing the place apart with gigantic grooves and lightning-fast fills that constantly blew my mind. Kosnik himself lays down a greasy and elastic foundation that’s as much stoner as funk, while new guitar player Finn Ryan, though easily the most introvert of the three, came up with some playing that would give the average guitarist a half year-trauma, alternating concrete riffs with heavy fuzz, occasionally jazzy accents and – above all – deliriously howling solos squeezed out of a Gibson-turned-into-Scud. Chris KosnikEven though it took them a few minutes to get into that ‘now we’re ready to blow your minds’-groove (though the Pink Floyd references in the opening instrumental were swell), they delivered a manic performance that nearly made me forget to write down some useful observations. The Atomic Bitchwax are a classic power trio combining the versatility of Cream with Mountain’s crushing power and the manic energy of the best hard rock out there. If you’re looking for clearly defined songs with rigid structures, you better check out different bands (Black Nasa, for instance), since this seeing this band is more something of a physical experience, it’s about noise and wails and rumbling toms and throwing your fists into the air. Even though they’re arguably a hard rock band, the cool thing about ‘em is you could as easily file ‘em under other categories, as they share a psychedelic edge with the best stoner out there and are capable of laying down an acid blues groove that’ll have you wonder what year it is. 1970? But don’t get me wrong: they’re not just a gimmicky retro-exercise, the band’s got personality to spare. The new songs the band played (“Dark Chi” and “Going Gritto,” if I heard it correctly) basically sounded like a continuation of their already classic sound, while Ryan’s vocals sounded pretty convincing. It’s impossible to describe the total experience sufficiently, but the set was full of highlights: “Gettin’ Old” from the debut album (announced by Kosnik as “a song about my life”) was a fantastic slab of thumping boogie with an insane drum solo, “Cast Aside Your Masks” once again proved that Ackerman’s the true heir to Keith Moon’s legacy while Ryan laid down a scorching groove, and “Dishin’ Out a Heavy Dose of Tough Love”Keith Ackerman from their second release suggested the arrival of another “Age of the Guitar Hero,” as Ryan reconciled the styles of Hendrix and Angus Young. Then came the fantastic “Shit Kicker,” which must be one of their very best songs, an adrenalin-fueled, rousing rocker that was the greatest testament to the love of making music imaginable. And then … it was over. The audience, consisting of many people who’d witnessed the band’s previous gig at the Sojo – a never-ending decibel-marathon 10 months ago – had just reached it’s enthusiastic climax and yelled for more and boy, did they get something: unexpectedly, the band launched into a mind-blowingly intense version of the Melvins’ “Honey Bucket” (by the way, GET Houdini, the album from which it’s taken) and then finished the set with another red hot instrumental that made the audience long for more, which unfortunately wasn’t coming, as the band had played all the songs they’d rehearsed with their new guitarist. Ackerman appeared back onstage to apologize on behalf of the band, something the mob luckily understood. But hey, despite the short set (about 60 minutes, I guess), the walls and ceiling were dripping with sweat and if a large part of the audience immediately runs off to the merchandise corner, you know the band delivered the goods. It wasn’t hard to pick out Ryan as the newest member, but he did an admirably good job – it’s not that he replaced your average Billy-Bob, right? – and I’m pretty convinced that, given some time, this unit will even reach even more superlative heights. If they decide to come around again next time, I’m sure they’ll not only blow the roof off, but will also break down the walls and turn the venue into a ruin. So fucko, don’t you ever tell me again that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t being made anymore, because the evidence to the contrary happened right under your nose. Two days ago Creed broke up and yesterday The Atomic Bitchwax proved they’re one of the greatest “secrets” of hard rock. If it continues like this, it’s gonna be a GREAT week!

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The Killbots (B) / The Atomic Bitchwax (USA)

05/20/05
JH De Tijl, Diest

 

 

Delicate, tender & poetic ear candy.

Since they won the 2003 Limbomania rock concourse, The Killbots have had the opportunity to hone their craft on the road, by playing dozens of gigs and in the meantime trying out new songs. The first album has been recorded in the meantime, and will hopefully see the light of day soon. If this particular concert was any indication, the album's gonna be a treat for those who like their rock 'n' roll energetic, dirty and from the gut. Killbots / Atomic BitchwaxThey still don't know the meaning of the word "subtlety", but The Killbots do know how to craft nitro-fueled retro-rock and insert it with a healthy disregard for good taste and snobbishness. Many of their songs are built on in-your-face riffs that are updates of the AC/DC-Nashville Pussy-Grand Funk Railroad-axis of booze-blooze, and while some might argue the riffs themselves aren't enough to carry the respective songs, most of their efforts work surprisingly well, especially when the beer's flowing in generous gulps. Still spearheaded by the duo of Stöffbot (Kristoff Martens) and Strotbot (Frank Homolka) and propelled by the local Animal (Patrick Remans) on drums, The Killbots now also featured interim bass player Danny Czekaj (Mr Mama), who seemed to be entirely caught up in his enthusiasm, providing the band with muscular rumblings as if he'd been doing it for a few years. With nothing to lose and a lot to gain, they tore out of the gates with "Whirlwind Pussy" as if hellhounds were on their trail. Remans almost beat himself a hernia behind the drum kit and Czekaj banged to the groove even though he hasn't got the haircut for it, while the front men banged out some full-frontal rock 'n' roll. As the set progressed, the band alternated "older" songs with a few newer ones. "Shake Your Steak," which already appeared on their first demo, still stands out - part boogie, part instrumental work-out session -, "Sister" is a simple, unapologetically boys-will-be-boys rawk, while the newer songs (a.o. "Dirty Kind," "Planet Rock") basically continue the same direction, although the band's not afraid to inject a dose of melody into the songs as well. About two-thirds into the set, Homolka unfortunately broke a string, and even though the remaining three grasped the opportunity to kick off a breezy jam, it seemed to have brought them out of balance a bit, as the boundless energy and self-confidence got somewhat of a blow. Still, "Cuda 69" and "Nuevo" convinced and led the way to colossal set closer "Tantra," a 10+ minute beast that lives up to its title. The Killbots didn't deliver the best show I've ever seen them play, but they were more than just a worthy warm-up for The Atomic Bitchwax, which has me hoping their first full-length will live up to my expectations, so they can join the cream of the crop of tough Belgian rock 'n' roll really soon.

When The Atomic Bitchwax played in Belgium last year, they were the kind of band that did have more to lose than to gain, so to speak. Their previous release - the Spit Blood EP - was already two years old, Ed Mundell had left the band permanently and replacement Finn Ryan had only been in the band for just a short while. However, despite the fact that the trio's morale could have been much lower, they managed to deliver an excellent show, displaying an admirable dedication and energy, while those who were hesitant about Ryan's capabilities were probably convinced by the guy's humble attitude and admirable skill. Now, a year later, the band has a third album out (simply called 3) and another string of gigs behind 'em, so that Ryan should feel at ease with the band on the meantime. They didn't disappoint, although the sound wasn't nearly as good as last year (the high-ceilinged venue just isn't up for the task). From the first song onwards, they again proved they could be considered a Cream for the nineties. Of course, there's been happening quite lot since the late 60's and early 70's, but essentially, they're also three extremely gifted players playing with an awesome aplomb, throwing genres into a melting pot and coming up with a brew that'll blow you off of your socks. While it seems that Ackerman keeps getting better and better - the guy may be one of the most gifted drummers I've ever seen in this kind of band - Kosnik and Ryan aren't slouches either. Plucking away against manic speeds, Kosnik lays down grooves Jack Bruce would be proud of, while Ryan's ecstatic playing that works like an encyclopaedia of hard rock, blues rock, psych, soulful jazz touches and stoner fuzz. At any given moment during their most energetic songs, it seems as if all three of them are soloing at the same time. It certainly causes the concert to be a dense listening experience, but it never progresses into hollow wankery. While the band's jamming-mode used to be dominant during their earlier years, it seems that the presence of Ryan had caused 'em to tighten up the songwriting a bit. On stage, the new songs (they played more than half of their latest album) fit in perfectly with the older ones, but it wouldn't surprise me that when you're listening to the albums back to back you'd notice more discipline on 3.

Last year, the band played a rather short set because the new member had only had so much time to get to learn the songs, but this time around, they tore through Bitchwax's entire catalogue with a gluttonous fervour, kicking off with a few oldies: "Forty Five" from II, followed by "Hey Alright" and "Kiss the Sun" (originally written by Ryan's former band, Core) from the debut album. By the time they reached this one, the sound was in pretty good balance and the intensity didn't let up as they alternated new material ("You Oughta Know," "You Can't Win" and 3's magnificent opening song "The Destroyer") with more familiar tunes like "The Cloning Chamber" and "Stork Theme." Another thing about Ryan, besides the fact that he obviously felt much more at ease with his playing mates now, was the fact that he also has his share of vocals, taking a care of a few of the new ones, as well as a few older ones that Kosnik used to sing. The guitarist has a softer and higher voice, but he did admirably well, staying away from the gargling drunk grunt all too many similar bands seem to prefer nowadays. Since his entrance, the band also seems less prone to do instrumental jams (the latest album only contains one), while the vocals are usually more melodic, bringing the band a bit closer to Kosnik's other project, Black Nasa. Next up, the band also did a pretty impressive version of Deep Purple's "Maybe I'm a Leo" and then moved on towards the end of the set, which consisted of a string of songs that would set any place on fire. "Getting' Old," "The Passenger," "Going Guido," "Shitkicker" and "Birth to the Earth," - is there anyone who can resist such an adrenaline-rush, such a high-powered bunch of charged rock 'n' roll songs that are driven by the force of a Mack-engine and a heavy dose of tough ferocity? I already thought so. The band played their goddamn asses off, promised to stick to the set and disband with doing encores altogether, but in the end, the crowd just cheered and whistled and hollered and screamed their heads off, until the band returned (twice) to do two unrehearsed songs that were the icing on the cake. Because of their particular style, refusal to do things the easy way and lack of a silly gimmick, this band probably will never reach a huge audience, and never be hip, but believe me… as far as the rockin' thing goes, they completely destroy 99% of the rock bands out there. With their fingers up their noses.

Read album reviews of similar or related artists: AC/DC - The Killbots

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