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Sons Of Otis is:
Ken Baluke: Guitars, Vocals
Frank Sargeant: Bass
Ryan Aubin: Drums
Recorded at BWC Studios.
Engineered By Greg Dawson.
Produced by OX for Pipes & Pills Productions.
Mastered by Chris Goosman at Baseline Audio Labs.
Artwork by Alexander Von Weiding.
Sons of Otis have been bloody-mindedly practicing their heavy, uncompromising art for over twenty years now. Yes, it makes me feel old too; I discovered them pretty late in the game, really – in the early 2000s, amid a tide of piss-poor stoner rock (or “desert rock” as those in denial call it). The band’s association with Man’s Ruin and Small Stone has seen them lumped in with some very forgettable company indeed, and goes some way to explaining why it took so long for the world to realize just how fucking great they really are. The only real link between bands like Fu Manchu and the likes of Sons of Otis is the fact that Ken & Co. could easily smoke those party-rocking falses under the proverbial table. Musically, they share more of a kinship with the likes of Warhorse or older Electric Wizard – it’s no coincidence that the green-fingered Canadian trio toured with both bands at the turn of the millennium. Vocals drenched in reverb, rasped rather than sung, riffs that speak of EVIL, they’ve always brought to mind Geezer Butler’s insistence on Sabbath playing “downer rock”.
And “Seismic” is an unabashed continuation of their unique, fuzzed-up filth – more of the same, in the best possible way. The dark cloud of negativity that hangs over “Songs For Worship” and “Spacejumbofudge”, is still very much there, with lyrics that are as simple as they are self-flagellating. Titanic opener “Far From Fine” is about as venomous as a song can be: “Here I go again… LOST”. If there is a standout musical performance on this album, it is easily Ryan Aubin’s drumming – seeing him pound a drumkit into submission is a sight to behold, and this opening song was a highlight of their appearance at Roadburn a few years back.
“Lessons” is slightly less down-in-the-dumps, with a bluesier riff to it, until Ken Baluke screams out “WHEN WILL I LEARN”. That downer rooted-in-reality mentality is back again, and strikes a far bigger chord with me than any party-rock stoner rubbish! And yet, you can still headbang like a crazy fool in your misery… Very hard to pull off, but Sons Of Otis are masters at it.
“Alone” and “Guilt” are two further drags back into head-nodding misery, before Aubin decides to give us yet another musical smack in the face with his devastating fills in “PK”, an instrumental dirge that spirals into a mire of (home-made and purchasable by you, good reader from oxfuzz.com) fuzz and delay. The band then launches into the second (recorded) Mountain cover of their career, “Never In My Life” – it reminded me a bit of Neil Young’s version of “Oh, Lonesome Me”, a country music standard that was always performed with singular jocularity, until Young gave it a much-needed depth and relevance, not to mention poignancy, reveling in the depressing subject matter. Similarly, Sons Of Otis have given a song with an underlying sense of anguish (“I don’t want to leave her/But I want to love you too”) a depth and gravitas quite different to the excellent original. This is a band with a knack for pulling off brilliant covers (see also their version of “Born Too Late”), something which VERY few can do.
The final track, “Cosmic Jam” is the ultimate proof of this – I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard the first few notes, but yes, it was! A FUNKADELIC cover on a psychedelic doom album! Wonders shall truly never cease! The original version of “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic” is, quite honestly, one of the finest pieces of music to come out of the Seventies, a quintessential floor-filler that it is MANDATORY to love (if you don’t want to be considered a miserable, stony-faced WANKER, that is!). Therefore, a cover of this classic would usually be enough to make me dry-heave, but the consummate skill and reinvention that has gone into making this blistering outer-space version of such a historically important work of sex is… Well, it’s just utterly fantastic! I used to jam this song out with a previous band I played in, it’s such fun to play, but it’s hard to put your own mark on a pivotal classic like this to the extent that it merits recording, but Ken and co. have pulled it off in absolute spades.
There is a sense of fun and dedication (not to mention consummate skill) to this record that never veers off into parody or flippancy. Masters at work – LISTEN.
- Saúl Do Caixão
A good two decades after forming, Toronto ON’s Sons of Otis have evolved but stayed true to their roots by keeping things simple, engaging and absolutely bone-crushing. Seismic is an album of solid, bombastic steamroller rock’n’roll – slow, but deadly to anything in its path. It’s like Negative Reaction had a kid with Electric Wizard that was all heavy riffs and psychedelic psychosis, ready to rumble at the ring of the bell. Things even get Blue Cheer-y on the stomping, fuzz-laden rocker, “Never in My Life,” and a bit of Led Zeppelin blues comes out in the closing “Cosmic Jam.” Crack ‘em open, light ‘em up and brace yourself for the earthquake, because it’s coming.
If you think Monster Magnet are Hawkwind crossed with Motorhead, Sons of Otis are, on this album, Monster Magnet dragged through a lost weekend of biker gang depravity, waking up in a desert shack, surrounded by their musical instruments, severe headaches and plenty of comestibles. And then they plug in and play. This is some seriously low, dirge-y, repetitive, 70’s garage doom-rock. It is Monster Magnet’s Spine of God poured through a Sleep filter and left to distil in the bong for a week. Why am I extrapolating on imagery rather than describing the music? Well because once you get the idea of what’s happening here, that is what you’ll get. What is on offer here is a feel… dark rolling riffs and melodies, undulating and flowing, precise in its simplicity and almost smothering in its delivery. If you like your head nodding music slow, heavy and sludgy, Seismic could be your new go-to record!
- Chest Rockwell
As the day's light retreats in the onset on winter and the night succumbs to brutal, blackened cold, what a better time to comfort yourself with dark, brain-eroding psychedilic doom? Canada's Sons Of Otis know this, strategically scheduling the drop of their latest opus, the accurately titled, foundation-shaking Siesmic to tie in with a period of seasonal flux and asspociated introversion. It's with this kind of environment that you can fully explore the complex textures, and enveloping, hypnotic frequencies. It's not all button-basing and dial-twiddling though, with Sons Of Otis once again reclaiming their seat next to the Melvins in the Black Sabbath School of Doom and Sludge. Having clocked up 20 years of service since forming in the early '90's, the Toronto trio maintain a respectable momentum with Seismic, a potent, sluggish and strong-fisted album with depth and character that slowly unfurls and infects with each listen.
- Ryan Drever
I have to admit something here. I never got into Sons of Otis before. I’ve listened to a few things but was never hooked on these guys. Earlier this year though, I did begin to get a taste of more doom oriented music. When Seismic was announced, I decided to give the band another try. Now it would be unfair for me to compare this album to past material. I’m not going to do that as I’m not as schooled in it as others. What I can tell you is I have a new appreciation with the band and their music.
Seismic opens with the haunting and mesmerizing “Far From Fine.” That’s where the album cracks you in the skull and sucks you in. Through the doomy and even the spacey parts, this album kicks a lot of ass.
The album is massive clocking in at just under the 51 minute mark, Seismic’s deep and crushing riffs and jams will put you in a state of comatose and you’ll probably wet yourself. Yeah, it’s that good. Oh, the band covers Mountain’s “Never in My Life.” Their take on the classic song is certainly unique. They play it to their style of music but yet stay very true to the original. Very fucking cool!
- Bill Goodman
With almost 20 years of presence (on and off) one can call SONS OF OTIS nothing else but true veterans on the scene. The band may have just released their 6th full length entitled “Seismic” but these guys are a live proof that good things need their time.
If you find yourselves attracted to the mind expanding, soul shivering, low frequencies of Stoner Rock, then you simply can’t go wrong with any of the SONS OF OTIS releases. Actually, I am still waiting for the first album that won’t satisfy me, but SONS OF OTIS seem incapable of doing so. From what is said you can understand “Seismic” delivers the goods.
The band has adopted since day one a specific style which I often describe as a heavier/slower version of early MONSTER MAGNET. In “Seismic” they decided to shake things up a little bit. I would say this is the first time they decided to deviate from their classic formula. And yes, the album cover is totally misleading and way off.
The album is virtually broken into two parts. In the first half, you’ll come across with some of the heaviest, darkest and rawest material the band has ever written. This is probably as Doom as the band could ever sound. At some parts, “Seismic” brought memories of the suffocating character “Baal” (from ORTHODOX) had. Yet, the trademark style (including the spaced-out vocals) is intact! Just when the album starts getting a bit linear, SONS OF OTIS throw some descent doses of psychedelia to the recipe (starting from “PK”).
While I can see someone going either way, for me everything seemed much “cozier” and made more sense in this second half.
Certainly, this controversy might look weird to some and it is true that “Seismic” can’t be compared with “Temple Ball” but it’s an excellent album overall, proof that SONS OF OTIS can be successful in anything they decide to play.
P.S. With LO-PAN, WO FAT, FREEDOM HAWK, NIGHTSTALKER, LORD FOWL and many others, Small Stone Records is becoming one of the best recruiting labels in Stoner Rock.
Whatever half-assed excuses they may come up with, the cold, hard fact is Sons of Otis' 2009 release, Exiled, was a total creative cop-out; one that lazily matched uninspired dilutions of the Canadian trio's highly personalized space-sludge sound with largely forgettable leftover tracks poached from previous mini-releases for a yawn-inducing listening experience. And this after a four-year lapse since 2005's far more satisfying X, which itself followed another long hiatus encompassing the group's painfully protracted separation from longtime label the Music Cartel, and linkup with new backers, Small Stone. So could anyone be blamed for assuming that Otis was probably reaching the final, basement levels of their long career shaft? Well, hope to the contrary springs anew with the arrival of 2012's much improved Seismic, a sonically familiar (make that identical -- Otis don't change), yet gratefully re-energized expedition into the sticky sonic fudge achievable through the magical communion of an Orange amplifier and a Superfuzz distortion pedal. In fact, not since 1999's arguably career-topping Temple Ball album have Sons of Otis sounded this motivated, such is the heightened intensity (and shorter lengths, why not?) displayed by "Far from Fine" (featuring the telling lyric: "Here I go again, nothing's gonna change"), "Guilt," and "Never in My Life" (so assertive you wonder at first if it's a cover). Armed with more nuanced psychedelic feedback swirls and oftentimes restrained vocals from Ken Baluke (not just his trademarked echoing growls), the self-mocking "Lessons" repeatedly asks "when will I learn?," thus reinforcing its hooks into the stoned listener's remaining brain cells, like many other cuts contained here. Heck, even the token droning instrumental cosmic jam, "PK," feels more compelling in this context, and we haven't even mentioned the concluding (yet not quite as memorable) song that's actually called "Cosmic Jam"! In short, seems there's a little more life than expected left in this old warhorse, and maybe even a second lease on life for Sons of Otis if they put what's left of their minds to it.
- Eduardo Rivadavia
Seismic is an apt title for the ninth long-player from Toronto’s Sons of Otis. It’s the sound of tectonic plates plates shifting, heavy as a continent taking the listener deep into its primordial murk. Sons of Otis take the basic power trio template of bass, guitar and drums some dark places. It’s simple, but mightily effective. With riffs heavily reliant on tritone intervals (the Diabolus in Musica as it’s known), bass and guitar not straying far from the lower end of their fretboards, and drums stripped back but hitting heavy.
It’s a formula that’s maintained over the album’s seven tracks, each one an extended jam. “When will I learn” intones singer and guitarist Ken Baluke on ‘Lessons’, his voice sounding like Beelzebub himself gargling molten lava, self-loathing and fear always bubbling under the surface. With song titles such as ‘Far From Fine’, ‘Guilt’, ‘Alone’, and ‘Never In My Life’ this is music for the loner, the stoner and the uncool ones that didn’t go to the prom.
On the intriguingly titled ‘PK’ the band branch out into vocal-less space rock, like Hawkwind on mogadons (or should that be more mogadons?). ‘Never In My Life’ ups the tempo, firing off killer blues rock riffs ad even adding a little funk into the brew. Album closer ‘Cosmic Jam’ sounds like Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ played punch-drunk after a street brawl, in a good way of course.
The band have been around for twenty years now (originally simply called Otis), have had countless line-up changes, yet have admirably ploughed the same furrow oblivious to the fads, fashions and whims of the wider music industry. If you’re into Sabbath style heavy psychedelia it’s right down your gutter. If you’re easily spooked or don’t have the stomach for it, best stay away. As for me, well I never did go to any proms.
- Duncan Fletcher
Summertime in good old Blighty and on a lucky day you might just see the odd glimpse of the sun. On such days it’s customary to play some sunshiney skittish pop like The Beach Boys or The Association – so it was with with incongruity that I put on the latest album from Canadian super-heavyweights Sons of Otis.
The sky darkened as the first notes of ultra-monolithic psychedelic doom cracked the speakers on my stereo. The touchstone influence here is Electric Wizard; though don’t think for a moment that SoO are some sort of Johnny-come-lately outfit, the band having been active in some form since ’92. The similarities to EW come in the huge crescendo-riffing that still retains a groove, the malignant vocals and the crushing arrangements laced with echo and delay to create a disorientatingly woozy head-bursting metal totem. Some lighter relief is provided by the cover of Mountain’s ‘Never in my Life” though even that track is doused with punishingly psychoactive week-old bongwater.
Towards the end of the record a couple of instrumental tracks, ‘PK’ and ‘Cosmic Jam’, take things one stage further, jetting off from the netherworlds into an equally dark nebula, bringing the full effects overload guitar pulveriser with them. Leaves fall and decay. Fruit withers on the vine. Winter’s coming. Doom up children.
- Austin Matthews
Don't know Otis but I'd like to. I'm guessing he's bad-ass - just like his boys.
I'm gonna go ahead and say right now that Sons Of Otis have one of my favorite records this year with their latest, Seismic. I'll buy the earth-shaking vinyl just as soon as it's released, which I hope is sometime soon. I'm partial to Small Stone Records anyway - you know this - but I think there's something really extra-special here.
Seismic? You better believe it. It's also a pulsating galaxy of cosmic fuzz and space sludge with astral, echoing vocals. And it's undeniably imposing and majestic at the same time.
I feel the first tremors in "Far From Fine" and soak up the "Lessons" that teach celestial blues, mange. "Alone" brings impending, otherworldly doom and "Guilt" is full-on seraphic sludge. Incredible stuff. The instrumental, "PK", is the longest ethereal song on the album and it's probably my favorite, if that's possible. Just the name of the last track, "Cosmic Jam" should tell you enough. More of the same awesomeness.
I can listen to this album from beginning to end, lose myself and wonder what the hell just happened every time. Then I listen to it again. And again. Repeat.
I sure underestimated these guys a few years back and now I regret dismissing them so quickly. What the hell? That was a huge mistake and it won't happen again.
If there's one thing I'd nitpick about, it wouldn't have anything to do with the music. I think the album cover sucks. It doesn't even come close to capturing the full intensity of the tunes. Not even a tiny bit. Ok, maybe a muscle-car would shake the ground a little, too, and there's a cute license plate with the title, but nah, I'm not feeling it at all.
Enough ranting about the cover. The songs are what matter and a cool cover wouldn't make me love them any more than I already do.
Huge thanks goes out from me to Otis, whoever he is and wherever he may be. He should be really proud of his sons for the excellent music they're making.
The thing about listening to Sons of Otis is that, if you’ve ever heard them before, you probably know what’s coming. The Toronto tone merchants have trafficked in densely crushing psychedelia since before the release of their first album, Spacejumbofudge, in 1996, and despite lineup tumult, extended breaks between records, and one retirement from live performances, Sons of Otis have remained largely loyal to their aesthetic over the course of their six full-lengths, the latest of which is the aptly-titled Seismic, on Small Stone. If there’s a more fitting descriptor of guitarist/vocalist Ken Baluke’s fuzz, it would almost certainly have to involve the cosmos – “space-tectonic,” perhaps, but that’s not quite as catchy an album name. In any case, the sound of the 51-minute/seven-track outing makes a fitting inspiration for the title Seismic, and while, again, that’s nothing new for Sons of Otis, they do seem to have coalesced and refined their sound somewhat, even from 2009’s Exiled (review here). Exiled had a lot in common with the sprawling, lurching riffage that songs like “Alone” and “PK” present on Seismic, but there’s a more prevalent blues edge in Sons of Otis circa 2012 that comes across in the first two tracks here, “Far from Fine” and “Lessons,” which both follow a smoked-out course of dirt-covered regret and self-loathing. “Far from Fine” launches with a buildup of amp noise and the exasperated lines “Here I go again/Nothing’s gonna change,” in Baluke’s familiar echoing gurgle, while “Lessons” finds him repeatedly asking, “When will I learn?” over a descending bassline from Frank Sargeant.
That addled sensibility isn’t necessarily new ground for Sons of Otis – one recalls songs like “Losin’ It” from 2001’s Songs for Worship or “Nothing” from 1999’s Templeball – but what the band does better on Seismic is balance that head-down sorrowfulness with hazy jamming and weighted psychedelics. Also the shortest apart from the Mountain cover “Never in My Life” on the album’s second half, “Far from Fine” and “Lessons” are the two shortest and more straightforward songs on Seismic, and they’re well placed at the front. By the time the noise-infused eight minutes of “Alone” kick in – drummer Ryan Aubin thundering the song’s beginning with what I can only assume are toms wide enough to drive a truck through – it marks a change of mood almost in spite of itself, and “Alone” follows suit. It’s slower than “Far from Fine” and more droning on its riff. There’s still a stoned sense of hopelessness to it, as there is to everything Sons of Otis puts out, but where Exiled was murky as regards its purposes, Seismic seems to be more – dare I say it? – clearheaded about what it wants to accomplish. I don’t think it would be fair to paint the picture of Baluke, Sargeant and Aubin as being suddenly mature as artists – Sons of Otis have never seemed particularly unclear about what they want to be sound-wise, but their presentation of the album is nowhere near as mud-soaked as their rumble seems to be. The first two tracks cross that line that Bongzilla did on Amerijuanican between riffy sludge and abrasive blues, and “Alone” follows with noisy psychedelic expansion of those ideas, culminating in a cymbal wash and amp freakout that serves as a firm reminder that it’s more than a little bit about pain.
“Guilt” is a minute shorter than “Alone,” but no less lysergic, creeping along its low-end dominance. To go by titles only, “Far from Fine,” “Lessons,” “Alone,” and “Guilt” might be enough to make one think Seismic follows a messy divorce (from what I hear, they’re all messy, but we say it anyway), but that’s pure conjecture. In any case, the downer spirit is maintained, and with “Guilt,” Sons of Otis force the realization of just how long they’ve been at this and how many have followed since trying to capture a similar tonal feel. Templeball was out by the time Ufomammut released their first record, and Sons of Otis have managed to develop their sound without letting go of their creative impetus. “Guilt,” as the end of the first half of the album, presents a wash of Echoplex swirl toward its finish, but though its guitar and bass tones are always central, it’s Aubin who really delivers the standout performance. Like everything else on Seismic, he sounds huge and in headphones, utterly encompassing, which is rare for drums. But even they seem to be tuned down, and each resultant thud is, well, I think you can guess the word to use.
It was “seismic,” if you didn’t guess.
While all this material sounds jam based in terms of the songwriting process that birthed it, the 9:35 “PK” feels all the more so. It is entirely instrumental and based largely around a singular groove that, were it not also drenched in psychedelic swirling and layers of echo that seem to have lost their source (that is, all you get is echo – it’s not like Baluke’s vocal echo, where there’s a discernible line underneath), I’d think was a jam room track they just decided to keep. It’s a righteous groove, so I wouldn’t fault them if that was actually the case, but the vibe is more developed than something entirely live and off the cuff, though Baluke’s guitar solo before, during and after the midpoint of the song could very well be improvised and I’d be totally willing to believe that, with his off-the-cuff sounding runs and sustained pulls. “PK” defines in large part (it also takes of a large part) of the character of Seismic’s second half. It and closer “Cosmic Jam” – another dead on title from Sons of Otis – sandwich “Never in My Life,” and though the immediate familiarity of the Mountain riff does a lot to ground the listener and doubtless it was placed as it is to do just that, it’s the two instrumentals around that provide the context and the mood, which is spaced, stoned and above all: Heavy. These things have long been specialties of Sons of Otis, but they also do them better than most everyone else on the planet. Formulas that work require no fucking with.
To that end, it’s also worth noting that “Never in My Life” is not Sons of Otis’ first Mountain cover. In addition to tracks by both Lynyrd Skynyrd and Motörhead on Exiled, the band has in the past taken on Saint Vitus, and, on Templeball, they did a stonerized version of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.” The redundancy of source material does nothing to detract from the actual enjoyment of “Never in My Life,” Aubin hitting the cowbell and keeping time with his bass drum while Baluke’s fuzz takes the fore and Sargeant locks into the groove without letting go. There’s something exciting about a Sons of Otis cover that makes you subsequently listen to other acts with a curiosity as to what their material might sound like as performed by the trio. Either way, Seismic is rounded out by “Cosmic Jam,” which plots a similar course to “PK” if one not quite so singularly minded. Sargeant once again keeps the bassline running throughout, but Baluke breaks from the central riff after three minutes in to explore some echoing space noises and sporadic lead notes amid tape noise and the gradual build back to the starting point. The mood isn’t quite as dark as “PK” in part because of those leads, but the groove is languid and lazy, and even when Baluke returns to the riff, he does so only to ride it out to the song’s finish, giving Seismic a hypnotic finish rather than one that crushes in the spirit of the first couple tracks.
They may be well within their own element on their newest outing, but the fact is no one else does what Sons of Otis do as well as Sons of Otis do it. Their methods are unrelenting, and that’s no less true on Seismic than it’s ever been – the converted will continue to worship the vibrations and those who can’t take the punishment they’re dealing out simply won’t. Seismic, if nothing else, provides further evidence for the argument of the Canadian three-piece as being criminally underappreciated in the realm of heavy psychedelia, as they’ve long since mastered the form and refined their approach to the point of near-total individuality. Recommended.
- H.P. Taskmaster