Sound — 8
The latest Otep album may be named after a Catholic holy day, but it makes perfectly clear that it's a bit on the darker side from the first track. The_Ascension is the latest offering from the Los Angeles-based band, which is led by the versatile vocals of female vocalist Otep Shamaya and explores the seedier, often creepier side of life. While there are times when a few of the songs tend to get repetitive, the band does an effective job of creating an album that has almost an ambient quality that at times feels like a film soundtrack.
The first moments on March Of The Martyrs immediately grab your attention and sound like something straight from The Exorcist. While the band inserts the diabolic sound effects here and there, the song as a whole is pretty solid on it's own. A guitar riff ascends up and down most of the song and gives it a manic feel. Even if Otep doesn't play a style of music you're fond of, March Of The Martyrs will still likely leave a lasting impression. The huge difference in Shamaya's vocal style -- from ladylike and often sounding like '90s artist Poe to diabolic spawn -- is shocking and pretty incredible.
The band is fond of inserting something out of the ordinary into it's songs, and there is absolutely a mood that is created as a result. Perfectly Flawed begins with what could be a dramatic excerpt from a film. An argument is heard softly -- with a climactic crash at one point -- and then the first notes (played on piano) are put into the mix. The track turns out to be a ballad, which is completely unexpected after the chilling beginning. While the ballad might not be the most original or engaging, the band does deserve credit for having the guts for exploring different styles.
One of the standout tracks is Milk Of Regret, which has an exotic introduction, featuring interesting percussive elements from Brian Wolff that sound almost primal. The song eventually picks up, and still manages to include plenty of different musical techniques -- from pinch harmonics (supplied by guitarist Karma Cheema) and double bass pedal to an almost jazz-like breakdown in the middle. Shamaya also shows off her range in Milk Of Regret, and proves she has the talent and grit to compete with some of the strongest frontmen out there.
Lyrics — 8
Filled with religion-laced lyrics, the songs on The_Ascension probably are meant to border on the offensive. Of course, when Shamaya's vocals are doubled with the devilish sound effects, some worried parents might even accuse Otep of being sacrilegious. More realistically, the band is just creating the same time of dark, dramatic feel you hear in the accompanying music.
One of the slower tempo songs called Invisible is laced with various spiritual imagery and is an intriguing, if enigmatic song. Shamaya sings, You're so lovely when you cry; You're so perfect when you lie; You can bring my crucifix; Hold me up to watch me die. While it's hard to say what the song is actually about, there are other lines about pagan moons and preys dying that add to the overall creepy theme of the record.
Home Grown is a uniquely constructed song about domestic abuse. With lyrics like, He hurts me 'cause he cares; He hurts me and it's all my fault, it seems to have a message about the feelings that go through an abuse victim. It's actually a clever song, which features line after line that could easily be associated with the excuses that wife beaters, serial killers, and the like might make. It's a song that really shows the originality behind Otep and is probably the strongest lyrically on The_Ascension.
Overall Impression — 8
A notable addition to The_Ascension is a cover of Nirvana's Breed, which is surprisingly a pretty good version. Shamaya almost has a Courtney Love quality to her voice, which helps recreate that Seattle-tinged sound. The crazy sound effects are kept to a minimum and that was probably a wise decision. While Otep's version will never match the original, the band still is able to do justice to the classic Cobain tune.
Otep may just get too melodramatic for some with songs like Eet The Children (yes, that's eet with 2 e's). That particular track starts out with a sweet, yet very creepy Hush Little Baby intro, and quickly jumps into a distortion and scream-filled, chaotic song. The contrasts in Otep songs are fascinating, but it may be too dark (and at some points gothic-sounding) for some listeners out there.