So much of the hype surrounding Bitch Hawk has focused on the individual achievements of its members, all of which seem to perfectly back up the reputation of a band who’ve been so lovingly described as “Bathory meets the Beastie Boys”. It’s a bold claim for sure, but for a band who boast a renowned songwriter for Charlie XCX and Lana Del Rey, and a well-known jazz guitarist to name but two, a genre mash-up of that calibre doesn’t seem to far out of the question. And while the early singles may betray some slight embellishment of the truth in that regard, comparisons to the likes of Kvelertak and Turbonegro speak for themselves, and from that evidence, Joy looks to be the introduction to an intriguing new prospect in hardcore.
And in practice, Joy is exactly that, with vicious hardcore rubbing shoulders with black-metal animus for a mangled, contorted listen that revels in its own violent exhilaration. It’s certainly the sort of loud, brash album that puts Bitch Hawk’s twisted, violent ambitions at the very front, but to some extent, that’s all it really does. It’s worth taking consideration that this is Bitch Hawk’s second album this year, and while both are unquestionably good, there hasn’t been a great deal of progress made from one to the other. There’s nothing precisely wrong with that, especially when Joy is as bracing an album as it is, but with the minimal progression that isn’t exactly expanding the band’s sound (not helped by how brief some of the tracks can be here), it can feel like something of an afterthought in places.
Admittedly that’s more of a nitpick than anything, but when Bitch Hawk portray themselves with such a raggedness and a viciousness, it’s the sort of thing you’d want to see them make the most of. Don’t take that to mean that Joy is a bad album either, because that couldn’t be further from the truth; on its own, this is the sort of hardcore that would undoubtedly come into its own live in the most intimate of environments, but still manages to tightly pack in plenty of thrills on record. It’s primarily thanks to the black-metal influence that these stand out as much as they do, coming in Fred Burman’s ice-edged sneer and how well integrated the roaring walls of guitars are with the hardcore speed on tracks like Got No Time For You Tonight and Kall Värld. It’s a pretty unrelenting listen all the way through, and while a track like Optical Character Recognition is more indebted to punk in its more mid-ranged pace, it’s the little details like Henrik Holmlund’s complex drum fills or the snarling, fiery production that tie it all together for a more cohesively powerful listen. And of course, even the slightest proximity to black-metal brings in a hearty dose of misanthropy, and on Good News and Slime, Burman’s presence steamrolls over any notion of comfort or accessibility, and it really can sound great.
Again, all of that makes for an album that can be pretty impressive here, but the overriding feeling is consistently how much better this would be live. It feels more like a warmup to that inevitable goal than anything else, and while that can be slightly distracting here, pushing Bitch Hawk into an environment where they can fully live up to the peak of their powers will only be a good thing in the end. That’s why, while Joy does work for what it is – and work pretty well, at that – there’s a ceiling placed over it with regards to how much can actually be gleaned from it. Even so, for hardcore that’s not short on bite, brawn and unflinchingly dark undertones, you can’t go far wrong with Joy.
For fans of: Kvelertak, The Armed, Viagra Boys
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Joy’ by Bitch Hawk is released on 2nd November on Adrian Recordings.