Few titles could be as apt for a Doom Metal record as Sons of Otis’s “Seismic”. The long, slow and hard approach that characterises both the genre and the science of plate tectonics is reflected in the history of the Toronto-based outfit who have been slowly grinding out a reputation for themselves in their native Canada and beyond for over twenty years now. Not that the glacial evolution of Sons of Otis has been plain sailing; the band are reputed to have gone through at least eleven drummers in their first decade. The current incarnation, stable since 2001, sees Ryan Aubin behind the sticks alongside the ever present guitarist/vocalist Ken Baluke and bassist Frank Sargeant.
“Seismic”, Sons of Otis’s sixth full length release, follows the same basic template that the band set out well over a decade ago, fusing doom metal and stoner rock with very prominent and overt blues and psychedelic elements. The band wears these influences on its sleeve in a way that few of their genre contemporaries do and while the more tonality of The Melvins, Electric Wizard and Monster Magnet forms the bedrock of their sound, 70s greats like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and even Led Zeppelin are given their due as well.
Opening number ‘Far From Fine’ sets the tone for what’s to follow. Though crushingly heavy from the outset, it’s immediately clear that there’s more to Sons of Otis than relentless, fuzzed out riffing and frontman Ken Baluke’s snarling vocal delivery. The liberal use of an envelope filter on the bass in ‘Lessons’, “Seismic”’s second track, creates an entrancing, spacey atmosphere that allows the band’s early 70s psychedelic influences to shine through, and it’s these instances, where some surprisingly soulful lead work and catchy vocal hooks are given room to breathe, that the album starts to starts to sink its claws into the listener.
There are a couple of other stellar moments. The instrumental ‘PK’ shows a more progressive side to Sons of Otis, with an unusual and experimental intro giving way to an absolutely storming doom number of seemingly infinite density. Closing track ‘Cosmic Jam’, meanwhile, is a tribute to the excesses of early 1970s stadium rock, taking a variation on the main riff of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and building it out into a spellbinding freeform nostalgia trip, with Sargeant’s ever-impressive bass work somehow holding this gloriously bloated indulgence together.
“Seismic” is not without its flaws however, and the album undoubtedly drags in the midsection before the aforementioned ‘PK’ administers a swift slap to the chops and ‘Cosmic Jam’ finishes on an enormous high. Baluke’s grizzled vocals feel under-used and a couple of instrumental tracks would have benefited from a little more panache through their addition. Production overall is fairly good but, somewhat surprisingly, the mix is a little lacking on the low end on most tracks.
Still, none of this takes away from what Sons of Otis have achieved with ‘Seismic’; a fine alternative Doom record that ranks among the most intriguing releases the genre has seen this year. The band is overdue some wider exposure outside their home nation and on this record may well be the one to finally cause tremors on a global level.