Review Summary: The only album worth listening to by them
Otep are a band that rose to fame during the nu-metal era for their willingness to experiment a little by including death metal elements such as the occasional use of blast beats and fast tremolo picked guitar sections; and also because they have a lesbian vocalist. Their first album Sevas Tra received a large amount of praise for its frequent changes in style, but from then on many consider their career to be one long downward slide. After this album there is only one album that really has anything of merit on it and that happens to be their strongest album, their third one, entitled Ascension. This captures the same style as Sevas Tra although it contains some softer moments throughout and is overall a lot tighter, and is a solid release from cover to cover.
The instrumental work to Otep's music is nothing that will set the world on fire but is definitely more than competent. The guitarist Karma Singh Cheema plays some rather simplistic pieces with the occasional moments of tremolo picking such as the introduction to the opening song March Of The Martyrs, and it makes for a solid, consistently heavy backdrop. What Cheema lacks in technical proficiency he more than makes up for in his ability to constantly make a solid groove that carries the music forward. The drumming is rather more interesting here with some cool beats found on Crooked Spoons using a lot of double bass during the introduction. There are also a few moments of blast beats that keep the album feeling varied and spice things up a little when it appears to be a little repetitive. The bass work is constantly audible and quite loud in the mix which is great to hear for a modern metal effort and adds a whole new dynamic to the instrumental work, playing off of the guitars and drums whilst doing something different.
Most people who listen to this band consider the vocals from primary songwriter Otep Shamaya to be the most important and enjoyable factor of the band and this would not be far wrong. She is an absolute demon behind the microphone, switching between clean singing and roars of unrestrained anger with ease. She is also a very good rapper as she shows off on fan favorite Confrontation and Crooked Spoons, Eet The Children and sections of Noose And Nail. There is less of an emphasis on the rapping as on their debut or its follow-up but it is still there more than enough for fans of their work and at around two minutes and thirty five seconds into Communion, Otep shows off one of the best rap sections of any Otep song to date. Her lyrics are as well written and cryptic as ever, with songs such as Crooked Spoons and Confrontation in particular being flooded with some amazing writing. One of the best things about this band has always been Otep's ability to write lyrics that are both thought provoking and yet relate-able to almost everybody and this is continued on Ascension with some of her best lyrics to date, if not the best.
The song craft here is the best you will find anywhere within the nu-metal genre. March Of The Martyrs kicks the album off with a straightforward death metal section before evolving into some gritty lyricism from Otep and building up to a thrilling closure. Before you can catch your breath, Confrontation kicks in with its simplistic but heavy as hell riff and somewhat optimistic-sounding rapping, and this trend of leading from one song directly into another without any real indication of a change continues throughout the entire album. Ascension flows almost flawlessly and this is where the real difference in quality between this and Sevas Tra can be found. Whereas that album disrupted itself with songs such as Filthee, Ascension really never dips in quality until the ten minute closing track, which is essentially just a collection of ambient sounds and distorted voice effects that really ruin it. Following the two heavy numbers that open up the album there is a much softer song entitled Perfectly Flawed that could not have been better placed. This song also shows Otep Shamaya to have quite a strong clean voice which would probably be unsuspected given the roars of anger she shows off throughout much of the album.
Ascension is arguably the most enduring and strongest nu-metal album released, with some great vocals and cryptic lyrics as well as some cool instrumentation. Whilst the instrumentals are not particularly technical, they make the best use of a minimalistic approach possible, and this album is one that I highly recommend.