Review: Sons Of Otis ‘Isolation’

Sons Of Otis return with another slab of heavy psychedelic doom with their eleventh release Isolation. It’s not clear whether the album was re-titled to suit times of quarantine, distancing and anxiety but as a record it certainly fits the bill for current times. Never venturing far from the classic Otis recipe of rolling drums, pounding bass and ludicrously psychadelic riffing from band supremo Ken Baluke, Isolation will neither surprise long time followers of the band, nor will it disappoint. This is a lumbering beast of a record, claustrophobic in both heaviness and repetition.

Sons Of Otis 'Isolation'

We begin with Hopeless, a cosmic journey of density, with Baluke questioning whether there’s any call for optimism in the bleakness. Echoes bounce around in the space left by sparse work from the rhythm section, leaving only pessimism and darkness. Hopeless works well as an intro, not as ambitious as later songs but setting an excellent tone of what to expect.

JJ opens with otherworldly noises as your spaceship is inevitably sucked into the black hole of Baluke’s crushing tone. A surprisingly catchy, if still crushing riff accompanied by drawled vocals steeped in reverb continue the plod across the cosmos. Ryan Aubin’s percussion follows a hakiu simplicity that steers the song steadily without anything flash going on, allowing scope for Baluke to riff and solo away to a galaxy far away. The solos on Isolation are a real treat, never overblown but welcome in providing small relief from all the density. As Baluke’s wailing drifts away the percussion comes higher in the mix to bring an excellent track to an end. If you like your sludge slow and your doom spacey then this is a real triumph.

Trust is classically Sons Of Otis, a mid-tempo splodgey riff volleying back and forth with a heavier vocal led refrain that gets the feet tapping and the head nodding. More upbeat than the rest of the album, this track has more of a 90s feel to the song structure, with an almost Scandinavian stoner vibe to it. Bound to a get a crowd moving when our global isolation comes to an end, this is a standout track on the album, in aesthetic at the very least. A parting guitar wail punctuates the end of the track and leaves this listener with a daft grin.

If you like your sludge slow and your doom spacey then this is a real triumph…

Feedback of the sort the CIA would use to torment prisoners and a menacing guitar tone opens Blood Moon. Excellent doom riffing reminiscent of Electric Wizard when they were still making fantastic doom records follows to herald a seriously heavy track. Barely perceptible vocals over a thick wall of noise summon thoughts of hash smoke filled green rooms. Through the haze the lyric, ‘it’s coming straight for you’ can be made out, it’s clear that whatever is coming it would be best to get out of the way, for you will be flattened. A satisfyingly heavy chug continues before more down tuned wailing from guitar and pounding bass closes out another very good song.

The pace picks up a little with penultimate track Ghost. Ryan and Frank in the rhythm section start off with a bit more of a hurry than the earlier tracks, making the cosmic tones seem a little less pessimistic. The fills bring the band through at a faster pace as Ken intones his mental fog on what is the most explicitly intoxicated song on the album. This is not a laidback stoner vibe though, something scuzzier and more distasteful.

Last seen on these shores on an outstanding triple bill with fellow Canadian outcasts Dopethrone and Wisconsin’s chronic bud burners Bongzilla, Sons Of Otis have never been shy of their narcotic tendencies, it seems a quarter of a century of touring and making music has not dulled that blade. The album then closes with Theme II, a monster of a doom track with crashing percussion and low in the mix screamed and distorted vocals. Shimmering cymbals and feedback bring the album to a suitable end.

All in all this is a great piece of work from a band that continue to put out consistently excellent heavy music, if you haven’t liked Sons Of Otis previously then this is unlikely to convert you, but on the flipside if you enjoyed their earlier records then Isolation stands up well. For those unfamiliar with their sound I’d urge you to check it out.

Label: Totem Cat Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: Ian M