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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Otep

Ascension

Review by Gary Hill

When it comes to the extreme end of heavy metal, I really don’t think you’ll ever find an artist more artistic or creative than Otep. This band always seems to twist and stretch the boundaries of their sound, but yet they never lose the metal fury and the emotional and lyrical angst. If you like extreme metal you just can’t go too far wrong with Otep. Their latest installment is no exception. This disc is pretty much perfect. No song feels weak or out of place. They take plenty of chances but still manage to bring it home to the territory that is Otep. This might be their best disc yet. I’d recommend it to fans of Otep, but that’s probably like preaching to the choir. More importantly, anyone who’s a fan of modern, brutal metal should really pick this up. I can’t imagine a better introduction to the musical powerhouse that is Otep. I’d peg this as my favorite metal album of the year, and it will definitely make my short list for album of the year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Eet The Children
The introduction to this is a contrast. Otep’s voice is purely beautiful on the lullaby type vocal, but the lyrics are creepy and twisted. The launch into a brutal assault that’s frantic and furious. They drop it was back to a down tuned, slow paced grind later. It powers back out the fury again with an almost Suicidal Tendencies sort of movement. We get the chorus return from there. It drops down to the slow movement once more to end. This is one powerhouse opener.
Crooked Spoons
A rubbery, yet brutal, thrash riff creates the song structure for the first vocals here. They drop it back from there into a twisted, jazzy, mellower jam. This is odd, but oh so tasty. The number continues with an alternating pattern of these contrasting elements. This is weird, but also meaty and catchy. It’s one of the highlights of the disc. This ends with what sounds like a nasty domestic disturbance.
Perfectly Flawed
In a full change of pace, this track is a dark and gritty piano based ballad. It turns to something closer to Hole or Nirvana when it reaches the pre-chorus. This is accessible and has a touch of Beatles influence on it. A lot of extreme bands couldn’t pull this off. It’s a true testament to the skill of this group that this thing works so well. It’s actually one of my favorites on the disc.
Confrontation
A short nearly whispered section starts thing off here. Then they turn in another killer rubbery jam. This is heavy, but not as brutal as some of the other stuff. Musically I’d say that it comes in sort of like a heavier version of Living Colour. This is another strong track, but the disc is full of them. This thing is almost danceable. That’s not quite something you expect from Otep. Yet it’s still diamond hard. It shifts out to a more uniquely timed jam for the closing section.
Milk Of Regret
With the percussion dominated opening segment here you might be reminded of Godsmack’s “Voodoo” a bit. They move through some minor changes as they work this one up. Then later it explodes out into an angry jam that’s awesome. Fast and slightly off kilter, this is just amazing. It drops back to just bass in an almost prog rock riff later. They bring it back up with ways of noisy, creepy atmosphere from there. We work our way back to the fury after a time. It gets extremely intense after a time. This is dynamic, unique and extremely tasty. It’s another of my favorites on the disc.
Noose & Nail
A distant recording of children singing “Jesus Loves Me” is the first thing heard here. The needle is pulled across the record and the band launch out into more crunch-laden riff-driven jamming. This is another rubbery one. It’s angry, but what else do you expect from Otep? It’s also extremely tasty, but this, too is a “no brainer.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad track from Otep. It has a bit of a psychedelic feel to it at times, but never loses the power and fury.
Ghostflowers
This starts almost like a ballad and runs through like that for a time. A killer bass line takes it later and they build up from there in a progression that’s funky, but also brutal. After a time it takes on Eastern musical scales and yet they still continue to rock out like crazy. It moves through a number of changes and alterations, but never fails to deliver. What a thrill ride this one is. The pop bass on parts of this are unexpected, but so tasty. It’s another that has some psychedelic overtones at times.
Breed
Noisy serves as the backdrop for a short poem from Otep. The track shifts out to a fast paced, metal groove that’s extremely tasty from there. This is one of the more accessible segments of the disc. This is a cover of a Nirvana song, and feels a lot like that. It shifts out to another noisy poetry reading to end.
March of the Martyrs
We move back into the brutality here with this stomping cut that has a little of that Nirvana texture, but pounded into submission through sheer power. There is a great section to this one where frantic slap bass serves as the backdrop.
Invisible
Starting with dark sound effects and textures, a hard rock ballad motif rises up. It’s pretty, but also evil sounding. When it moves out into the chorus it has a more accessible motif that again brings in a bit of the grunge element. They alternate between these two modes, intensifying them with each reiteration. It turns a lot heavier later. At about four minutes in it drops way back for another short round of nearly whispered vocals. Then the track fades away. A false ending gives way to a Jim Morrison-like rendering, unaccompanied. Otep continues this way taking the song out.
Home Grown
A track about domestic abuse, this is angry and very much like old school hardcore punk. It’s a screaming, brutal powerhouse. The lyrics are frightening and on the money if you know anything about the mentality of such violence. The “F*** You / Now look what you made me do” chorus is just plain scary. A false ending leaves us with something way back in the background. Is it a child? Then we get a phone call that leaves a computerized menu followed by a dial tone to end.
Communion
Bass starts things here and the vocals come in with a dark, psychedelic approach over the top of this. It’s another where I hear hints of Jim Morrison, at least in the early portions of the piece. They shift it out towards pure brutality as they carry forward. This crescendos and shifts out to spacey noise, but then gives way to the opening segment again. The track alternates between these varying elements to continue. It’s a powerhouse of aggression, brutality and artistry all rolled up into one. When they drop it back down again later on and we get whispered, breathy vocals over the bass backdrop it’s enough to put a chill down your spine.
Uncredited Track
A little more than three and a half minutes of silence ensue after “Communion.” An echoing bass guitar wallows in the background. Otep speaks of a dream in the distance. It’s poetic and very much along the lines of Jim Morrison’s dark and brutal tales. This is strange, but very cool.
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