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.
Scribed by: Saúl Do Caixão