Review Summary: Otep make an intresting album that definitly has its own sound, but trips over its own feet .
Lyrics are open to all sorts of interpretation, some people see songs meaning one thing while a complete other demographic sees another thing. Some songs are much more cut and dry than others, and some are meant to be open for interpretation. Going back to the 80’s when Dee Snider was battling the PMRC about what exactly his lyrics meant in some of his songs, now resulting in the often seen ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker. For as long as people have been writing songs, other people have been interpreting them in many different ways, some people see poetry, and others see ramblings. Otep is a interesting mix of the two, Otep Shamaya fronts the band that has been described as ‘not quite nu-metal, but not quite death metal.’ Otep writes her lyrics as poetry, with complex metaphors and interesting vocal lines. When she gets it right, they’re some of the most intense lyrics I’ve heard in a long time, but when they miss the mark, they stick out like a sore thumb. The problem with approaching writing like this is the simple fact that sometimes lyrics need to fit the music that is being played, in some songs (as you’ll find) the lyrics don’t pay any attention to…well…anything. As you read this review keep in mind that this is my introduction to this band, I haven’t heard anything other than this from this group, although I’m looking to after hearing the potential on this album.
Otep play an interesting blend of music, they have some elements of the much reviled ‘nu-metal’ and also carry some elements of common thrash and death metal. But altogether I believe they succeed in creating a sound that is definitely unique. The one thing that makes this band unique is the vocals. Otep Shamaya’s vocals are an interesting blend of singing, screaming and half yelled half screamed passages. They really do make for an interesting listen; the vocals are a very refreshing sound in that they don’t sound like anything you’ve heard before. But at the same time they can come off as whiny and misplaced sometimes, the overall feel of the vocals are just very different and may not appeal to everyone. The lyrics are the highlight and at the same time, the downfall of the record. The lyrics are written as poetry, you can read them just as well without music as you can with the music. Some of the songs like ‘Eet the Children’ and ‘Crooked Spoons’ flow seamlessly in between the lyrics and leave little room for interpretation. Whereas other songs like ‘Milk of Regret’ and ‘Ghostflowers’ just come off as ramblings with no sense of direction to them. You can tell that some of the songs feel forced, as if to create filler on the record. Which is its major downfall, the album fails to maintain a steady level of good memorable songs. Firing off the album with 4 great songs then letting one or two slide under the radar takes the listener away from the overall effect of the music.
The music itself is pretty diverse maintaining a creepy and somber atmosphere the entire way through, the only songs that don’t follow this formula are the songs ‘Perfectly Flawed’ and ‘Breed’ which come off more light and try to add another element to their playing. ‘Breed’ coming off almost as an old school punk song, and ‘Perfectly Flawed’ sounding like a sappy love song. But the rest of the songs carry the tone that is set out by the first few songs. Songs like “Noose & Nail’ and ‘Home Grown’ deal with such issues like religion and domestic violence and are some of the most powerful on the album. Although the tough (woman in this case) persona gets old after a while. Although she does a very good job at conveying her emotions and putting those emotions in words, I really can’t explain how good of a writer this woman is when she gets it right.
The other instruments on the album do play an essential role but almost take a backseat to the vocals. Not intentionally but it seems that the vocals were pulled much higher in the mix than everything else. The drums hold their own with some interesting fills and you can tell that this guy knows his way around the kit. Listening to songs like ‘Noose & Nail’ you will hear his best work on coming up with some different beats to some pretty generic riffs. The bass is audible at some points of the record and they do a pretty good job at maintaining the creepy atmosphere in the right places. Now this brings us to the guitars. They don’t do a bad job, that much is true, but when you really sit down and listen to them, they’re some pretty generic riffs. The main one in ‘Crooked Spoons’ is about as simple as they get. Now it’s nice to see a band not have to create insanely complex guitar lines in order to convey that they are good at their instruments. But spanning over 45 minutes and 14 tracks…as you can guess by the end of the record, the record gets a little boring.
Overall ‘The Ascension’ does a pretty good job at creating a brooding atmosphere and having some generally good songs with stellar lyrics. But the album fails to maintain that pace throughout the course of the record with bringing the tempo down when it should stay where it’s at. Altogether this is a pretty good release that deserves a little attention from the people who have followed this band from their earlier releases. But as a new set of ears, it’s a pretty good album with some flaws that stick out like a sore thumb, some are more obvious than others but altogether it has some pretty heavy and interesting tracks and I’m looking forward to hearing some more mature material from these guys, (and gal.)