Review: The Atomic Bitchwax ‘Live At Freak Valley Fest’

Let me begin by mentioning the fact I’ve been listening to New Jersey’s heavy, mind-melting, riff-warpers The Atomic Bitchwax (sometimes stylized as TAB) since 1999, as they were one of my gateway bands to the genre. As well, I consider them to be one of the most underrated stoner and riff rock bands on planet earth. Their dizzying, twisting and turning, slightly punky, take on stoner rock has been altogether heavy, psychedelic, ripping and completely unique to themselves for well over two decades now.

The Atomic Bitchwax 'Live At Freak Valley Fest'

Founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik , drummer Bob Pantella, and guitarist Garrett Sweeney have consistently put on clinics in dizzying, heavy-shred, and if anything, they’ve taken it up a notch over the years, as their last three albums 2015’s Gravitron, 2017’s Forcefield and 2020’s Scorpio (Sweeney’s first with the band) were head-spinning master classes in what’s possible with heavy, psychedelic boogie-rock. In fact, I hold them in such a regard, that I can without hesitation say Gravitron is one of my top 25 albums of the last 20 years. So, it’s fair to say I’m a fan.

Live At Freak Valley Fest, the band’s first proper live album, recorded at Germany’s Freak Valley Festival, in the summer of 2022 feels like an overdue testament to The Atomic Bitchwax’s capabilities as musicians. Kosnik, Pantella and Sweeney are all completely on fire over the course of the fifteen tracks. Opening with the first few bars of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein before launching into back-to-back songs from 1999’s The Atomic Bitchwax, starting with one of their signature cuts Hope You Die (also re-recorded with Sweeney’s on the aforementioned Scorpio), followed by mind-melting instrumental Ain’t Nobody Gonna Hang Me In My Home, The Atomic Bitchwax do not take their foot off the gas for a second, absolutely tearing through a career-spanning setlist.

Forty-Five sounds absolutely killer, while TAB 4’s dizzying instrumental The Giant is kicked up to head-spinning levels as Pantella and Kosnik completely own the rhythm section so thoroughly, it almost seems effortless, despite the fact the material has so many twists and turns. Houndstooth from Forcefield is practically flawless, before setting the stage for another signature track, Birth To The Earth, wherein the intro is so completely scorching, the attendees of Freak Valley Festival must’ve had to pick their jaws up off the floor. Kosnik is clearly having fun as he introduces one of Gravitron‘sripping instrumentals War Claw by announcing, ‘Not a lot of people know but we have two songs about Kung Fu’, before proceeding to absolutely rip a hole through time and space with this dizzying clinic in boogie-riff action.

I enjoyed the shit out of this as it’s an awesome career-spanning gift to long-time fans…

Kiss The Sun‘s crushing mid-tempo riff offers a nice palette cleanser before Kosnik announces the second song about Kung Fu, the blazing instrumental Ninja off Scorpio. The Atomic Bitchwax also dig deep into their discography with So Come On, off the 2006, Jack Endino produced, EP Boxriff, it’s easily one of their most catchy and dizzying songs, and a nice gem in the setlist. Forcefield’s closer Liv A Little serves as a killer, crowd-chant, sing along, with it’s massive, T-Rex-style stomp. The Atomic Bitchwax end super strong with a completely smoking version of Shit Kicker, taking it back again to the Self-Titled LP before revisiting Frankenstein for a brief outro to close the set.

All three musicians are absolutely on fire. Kosnik’s bass playing is so dizzying, it’s a miracle his fingers haven’t fallen off. Pantella puts on an absolute clinic in drumming, his rolls, and fills driving the music along so deftly, it sounds effortless. He is one of the most fluid and underrated drummers in all of rock. Sweeney, meanwhile, completely owns the material. As the ‘new guy’, who is also in Monster Magnet with Pantella, while Kosnik also played in them for almost a decade, so they certainly have musical chemistry, he rips the older material, while putting his own touch on the music, and it’s really cool to hear him let loose.

Sweeney‘s work in Monster Magnet is fantastic, but he really unleashes the shred throughout Live At freak Valley Fest and shows what a wicked guitar player he is. As well, The Atomic Bitchwax all sound like their having fun throughout the set, the stage banter is awesome, and put a smile on my face. My only complaint, if there is one, is I would’ve liked to have seen more of 2020’s Scorpio included in the setlist, but it is a very minor gripe.

Live At Freak Valley Fest is a killer, non-stop testament to the power and musicality of The Atomic Bitchwax, these guys have been so good, for so long, their playing, despite being so complex, feels effortless. As well, this live recording sounds fantastic. All the instrumentation is crystal clear, and it showcases the trios practically unrivalled individual skills, I’m obviously biased, but I enjoyed the shit out of this as it’s an awesome career-spanning gift to long-time fans and the perfect introduction for those curious about The Atomic Bitchwax’s powers. Absolutely scorching.

Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams