Temple Ball (Man’s Ruin, 1999)
Considered by many to be their best work, Temple Ball probably got the biggest reception of any OTIS album, released by the mythic Man’s Ruin imprint in 1999. When the band played Roadburn a couple years back, this was the record they relearned for the occasion. Thus, Temple Ball contains the definitive versions of “Windows,” “Nothing” and “Super Typhoon” packed into over an hour of solid heaviness. To some, it not only defined the band, but the genre, as well.
The album opens with “Mile High,” a fuzz-rock rifforama that comes groovin’ up slowly, this song hovering in the air like a thick cloud of pot smoke. “Nothing” packs the same punch here as it did before, albeit with perhaps an added layer of fuzz shovelled on overtop. Then we get “Vitus,” one of two covers on the album, though neither is explicitly labeled as such. This here is OTIS’ take on “Born Too Late,” filtering the original Saint Vitus classic through a heavy haze of bong-water and effects pedals. It’s hard to top the original, but I don’t mind this fuzzed-out version from time to time.
You could say that “Windows” receives similar treatment on the 10-and-a-half-minute “Windows Jam.” Obviously, the skeleton of the song is the same, but we do get some added effects on the riffs and a slightly different drum sound on this jammed-out version, which throws in a couple more instrumental breaks (I’d almost be hesitant to call them “solos”) as well. The band often just jams for 10-15 minutes when they play live, and it seems they’re clearly in their element doing that same thing here.
“Super Typhoon” also gets a bit of a freaky makeover, as OTIS opts for more effects pedals across the board—which suits this music just fine, thank you. “Down” is a tune that is often overlooked, as it’s just a shade over three minutes long. The vocal effects are laid on pretty thick on this one, which rumbles along at a decent clip, though it doesn’t really stand out otherwise. “Mississippi,” the band’s take on Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” is even shorter, but it distinguishes itself with some thick, heavy riffage—and yes, there’s plenty of cowbell here, too!
The album ends on a pair of nine-minute numbers, albeit with one shorter song sandwiched in between. “New Mole” is somewhat akin to the droning “Big Muff” from its predecessor, though this one does contain additional percussive accompaniment and perhaps some semblance of structure. Gotta love that Cheech and Chong clip at the end, too! “Steamroller” really lives up to its name, a four-minute track that flattens all in its path. This one’s got a bit of a Vitus feel on the verses, though it picks up the pace a bit for the chorus. And finally, we have “Diesel.” The bass-driven intro has a certain Sleepy quality, though the psychedelic overdrive guitar riffs are strictly OTISean. This is a pretty solid jam, man!