Reno, NV 89501
“All you take in are blood soaked hands and your countless lies/Rise up for your sacrifice in all one pound of flesh/Are you willing to sacrifice one pound of flesh?” This is the question posed by Mickey Roberts, lead singer of local death metal band Otis.
Those lyrics are from a song titled “One Pound of Flesh,” and while the track may go on to speak of sacrifice and standing up for your individual beliefs, but without a lyric sheet, Roberts could be singing about fluffy kittens for all most audience members would know.
Such is the traditional vocal style of death metal—deep roaring notes that give a listener’s throat sympathy pains. Roberts deals with the strain thanks to 14 years of practice, as well as professional voice lessons—not secret lubricants like pickle juice.
While the shredding guitars and speedy breakdowns may be the most easily appreciated aspect of metal—that and the windmill hair spins, of course—the lyrics often go unnoticed, leaving the actual message behind the occasionally poignant songs overlooked. They’re not all about bloody guts and disembowelment, at least not in Otis’ case.
“[It’s] more real life stuff that people everyday sort of deal with,” Roberts explains. “It’s just the darker side of it, no rainbows and balloons. The songs aren’t G-rated by far.”
The five band members, Roberts, guitarists Jake Helfrich and Josh Thibeau, bassist Vincent Bertolani, and drummer Logan Spurling, are also self-proclaimed history buffs. Many of its songs, such as “Undefeated Population,” are based around ancient wars, while others delve into more recent social tragedies, such as high school shooting massacres.
“[The song] ‘Chain Saws and Action Figures’ came from a diary of one of the Virginia Tech kids,” says Roberts. “[The songs] can get pretty gory and stuff, but that’s kind of the nature of the beast. … You want really intense lyrics for really intense thrash metal.”
The musicians have been taking out the thrash, so to speak, for the last five years, playing everywhere from basements to the Knitting Factory, although they’re most commonly found at Ryan’s Saloon, where they jokingly consider themselves the unofficial house band.
They don’t take their role as heavy thrashers lightly. A live Otis experience is expected to be full-throttle fun all night long, and sometimes into early morning.
“If Mickey’s not bleeding by the end of it, then we didn’t do something right,” says Bertolani of Otis’ stage antics.
“There’s usually a lot of blood,” agrees Roberts. “It depends on what I’ve got in my hand at the time and what I was drinking, but it’s very high energy. We actually got 86ed from one of the places here in town because we bled too much.”
The band that bleeds together stays together. The current lineup has been steady for two years, allowing the thrashers to finally put out their first home studio recording, currently self-titled, and free of charge at shows.
“With all the lineup changes it was really hard to actually record anything solid,” says Thibeau about earlier frustrations. “By the time we were ready to hit a studio, they would quit or leave the band and then we’d have to start all over again, teaching another person the songs.”
If the mandatory bloodbath and cold beer isn’t enough to encourage giving the thrashings of Otis a whirl, Spurling adds a few sentiments to inspire those still wary of the music their parents warned them not to listen to: “We’re just an old school American death metal band. We hope you like it, and if you don’t, don’t buy it … but still come to the show and get drunk with everybody.”