The Atomic Bitchwax are a three-piece rock band from New Jersey, USA, whose music is mostly riff-driven, blues-based, largely instrumental heavy guitar rock — what most people would call stoner rock. But while many of the so-called stoner bands stay in the slower, more drugged-out end of the rock spectrum, the Bitchwax are like a knife fight in a phone booth: fast, noisy, tight and precise while seemingly out of control. In a few short years, the trio's ability to play as three amazing soloists, or as a single-minded rhythm section, or both at once, has given them a reputation as one of underground rock's hidden gems: a power trio whom fans rank alongside Cream, Mountain or The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The band formed in Long Branch, New Jersey in late 1992, when Monster Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell began jamming with drummer Keith Ackerman and then-Godspeed bassist Chris Kosnik. For the first few years the members' commitments to other projects prevented them from recording more than a few demos, as Kosnik played guitar with Daisycutter, then both he and Ackerman joined Slaprocket. Nevertheless, by 1997 the band had found time to tour briefly with such artists as Clutch, Eyehategod and Spirit Caravan, and to contribute the track "Hey Alright" to the Welcome to MeteorCity compilation disc.
Independent label Tee Pee Records signed the Bitchwax in 1998, and their debut album was recorded in Trax East Studios that same year. The eponymous record showcased Ackerman's hyperactive drumming, Kosnik's fuzzed-out bass and vocals, and the technical but soulful guitar of Mundell, influenced by such heroes as Tommy Bolin, whose "Crazed Fandango" is covered on the disc. Unspecified contractual problems kept the completed album sitting in the vault until June 1999, but this might have been a blessing in disguise: in the meantime the trio headed out on a Stateside tour with fellow stoner-rockers Nebula and Core, building up credibility as a blistering live act with the non-mainstream rock junkies who would become their biggest fans.
After the first album was finally released to underground acclaim, the band returned from the road to record a second, simply called II. The new record continued and refined the themes of the first, including another cover tune (by British space rock pioneers Atomic Rooster) and a guest appearance by guitarist Warren Haynes. Combined with even more touring, the album further cemented the Bitchwax as a riff rock fan favorite, even earning them the dubious honor of High Times Magazine's 2000 Doobie Award for Best Stoner Rock Band. Another cover tune, Aerosmith's "Combination," found its way onto the Right in the Nuts tribute album.
2001 was filled with a European tour and more recording sessions, which combined with some tracks from the 1995 demos to form the Spit Blood EP, released early the next year, but before it was released in 2002 Ed Mundell announced he had quit the band, seemingly sounding the death knell of the Bitchwax. Mundell continued working with Monster Magnet, and Chris Kosnik recorded an album with his band Black Nasa, but eventually the guitarist reunited with Ackerman and several other New Jersey musicians on a new project, first called 77 and later renamed The Formula after a song from the first Bitchwax record.
This last would finally prove to be an omen, when persistent rumors of a reunion finally came true with a few December 2002 shows in Europe featuring The Atomic Bitchwax with all three original players. In May 2003 the group played more dates, including the Emissions from the Monolith festival in Ohio, even debuting newly written songs, and with another European tour beginning in July and more shows to follow, there is every hope that the Bitchwax well is far from dry.
One guy wanted the word 'atomic' in the name, and the other wanted the word 'wax'. Well, I came in one day, and they asked me to say a word, so I just said 'bitch'. If I'd known that they were trying the name the band, I would have tried to come up with something else — honest!
–Keith Ackerman, on the origin of the band's name