Review Summary: A fantastic blast of music that is varied and has some of the most soulful vocals ever coupled with really cryptic lyrics that still convey so much emotion through them that this becomes essential listening.
When it comes to nu-metal the opinion of the world is near enough unanimously grim to say the least. Most people consider it to just be a thing of the past, the odd rush of nostalgia for them to occasionally go back to and mock how ridiculous their musical tastes were when they were in their early teens. Bands such as Slipknot, Korn and early Linkin Park that loaded their songs with so much pointless angst and directionless anger are commonly discarded and tossed to one side in favor of much more mature music such as Radiohead. However a few artists manage to live on and be just as enjoyable now as they were upon first listening, and Otep's Ascension is a prime example of why this band are one such case of this ability for a band and an album to endure the rapidly changing tastes of people and be as enjoyable now as they were back when the band formed.
This was an album that actually slipped under many people's radar and went unknown due to the fact it was released after the nu-metal craze died off, when many of the bands responsible for the movement had shifted into more commercial territory. This album embodies all the traits of nu metal such as the incredibly simplistic instrumental performances that revolve around open and top string guitar work, and the mixture of aggressive screaming and clean vocals and lyricism that paints a portrait of hate and aggression. This album also embodies traits found in more extreme genres such as death metal with its overly bombastic drumming at times such as the opening beat to March Of The Martyrs that crosses over into blast beat territory. It was released in 2007 to slightly above average reviews and is one of Otep's more successful efforts with more than 10,000 copies sold. For the most part, this band are highly disliked due to their overtly simplistic approach to music because of the obvious focus on Otep Shamaya's vocals, but it is actually a strong and enjoyable release.
The best feature of Otep has always been the vocal work from Shamaya and it should go without saying that this is also the case on this release. She has a rather wide range including some exceedingly powerful screams that are guaranteed to absolutely flaw the listener. Confrontation also shows off that she can rap decently, and she has a nice enough clean voice to boot. Her screams are occasionally half shouted but usually the overly forceful styling that was popular among the nu-metal scene and all these sides of her voice really do work well and she uses them really well. The screams dominate this release but are not over-used to the point of becoming stale, and the cleans are really well placed so as to place extra emphasis on certain sections of the music before diving straight back into the screaming headfirst such as is found two minutes into Confrontation. She opens up on Eat the Children with some really soft clean vocals over an eerie sounding sample in the background that really helps to develop a cruel and unsettling atmosphere. Her lyrics are another highlight of Otep's releases and are just as well written on here with a very cryptic nature to them that makes her meanings hard to understand but always carry absolute rage with them so that even without getting the actual meanings of the songs, one immediately realizes what manner of song they are.
The instrumental performances really aren't as bad as some would have you believe and play off Otep's vocals really well. They are usually the extremely simple single note 0 0 1 riffing found on most nu-metal releases with a very sharp guitar tone to them, but occasionally the guitarists shift into playing power chords whilst throwing in the occasional breakdown akin to the metalcore genre. However, this is always done extremely tastefully and precisely placed so as to make for an interesting dynamic that creates a good buildup to the climaxes usually located after them, as is found in the song Crooked Spoons which also has a great riff to open it. The drumming on this release is one of the stand out features about it, keeping every song feeling ridiculously intense and never being boring at all. The drum beats to Perfectly Flawed are the best to listen to, which also manages to be hands down the best song on the album. It opens up with some really nice piano work and Otep singing in a really soft voice over the top of it, with emotion dripping off of every syllable. It takes it a while but when the distorted guitars kick in it moves into one of the most haunting and lasting experiences in music. This song also has very little screaming found within it as it is reserved for a background spot that only adds to the dark atmosphere that this song carries.
If there is one problem with this album it is just that it can not last. The second half of the release is so inconsistent when stacked up against the first half. March Of The Martyrs is an incredibly powerful song but much of it is a lot weaker and feels like rehashed material from the first half of the album. The cover of Nirvana's Breed feels completely unnecessary within the context of the album and Communion is probably the worst thing the band has ever done with the most bland instrumentals in existence despite the soulful vocals from Otep. This is still a great album and more than listenable throughout but the second half has a feeling of deja vu that can not be avoided. The band had potential to make an excellent release and it just comes off feeling underwhelming after the last few songs. If you want some good songs off of this release, then listen to Crooked Spoons, March Of The Martyrs and Perfectly Flawed for an indication as to the sound of it. This is a highly recommended nu-metal album and the only album from its genre that really does stack up well today.