Sunday, March 10, 2013

Otep - The Ascension

Say hello to The Ascension, the third and bestselling album by nu metal quartet Otep. The Ascension is the first fully commercial-friendly Otep record (hence it’s commercial success). After releasing House of Secrets, which contained singles that instantly went viral, especially Warhead, expectations were brought up pretty damn high for the quartet. This was also a point in time where a lot of nu metal bands were becoming much less unique and submitting to the masses by releasing albums that were created with goals of making money and pleasing as big of an audience as possible (sometimes referred to as “radio-friendly” or “mainstream”). Starting in 2007, Disturbed, Saliva, Papa Roach, and Sevendust suddenly started going in directions that were much more conventional and minimalistic. That’s not saying that they started sucking after that, Sevendust and Papa Roach actually released their best albums during that time. The year 2007 also saw another wave of nu metal bands, some of which included Five Finger Death Punch and Hellyeah. In order to go along with the flow and to avoid the possibility of being alienated, Otep released a more conventional and mainstream-friendly album titled The Ascension.

“Hush little baby, don’t make a sound” are the first words that you hear when you press the play button. Remember, don’t get me wrong, conventional and mainstream-friendly doesn’t mean shitty, especially in Otep’s case. This isn’t just me saying that, because the album speaks for itself as to what makes it more attractive to the masses. The first major thing that you’ll notice is that the sound quality is crystal clear. Most of what was on Sevas Tra and House of Secrets was extremely distorted. Although this helped bring out the brutality of Otep’s sound, it’s harder for the average music listener to get into something with such low production quality. Every single time Otep Shamaya let out one of her signature screams, she would over-distort the microphone and actually sound a bit crappy. If the vocals on House of Secrets were less distorted, it would have been much easier to enjoy. Now, on The Ascension, everything is heard with diamond-clarity. Here’s the issue that a lot of people have with this: yes, the production quality is much better, but it takes away a lot of the brutality from Otep’s sound. Remember that Otep’s true sound is what they create with their live shows. This is why a lot of the poor mixing and distortion was recreated in the studio; because it just wouldn’t have had that same unique and chaotic sound.

Now that Otep is huge, the band and their label seemed to have forgotten why people love them so fucking much. On top of them sounding less heavy due to the high production quality, Otep’s actual music lost a lot of its heaviness with The Ascension. We get introduced to more ballads like Perfectly Flawed and odd droning tracks with gentle vocals that only fans of Otep can understand the beauty of. Although the softer tracks will make the heavier ones sound softer, the heavier tracks have lost some of their grab. The energy level is significantly lower on The Ascension than its two predecessors. This is what appears to be a result of more focus on writing music and less focus on releasing anger towards the world. The breakdowns are heavy, but they don’t even come close to pounding you into the pavement. On the contrary, the compositions of the songs themselves are much more creative and organized than House of Secrets.

The unorganized structure of the songs on House of Secrets were the biggest downer for me. The structure and songwriting skills expressed on The Ascension show increased maturity within the band as well as more of an understanding of what the hell they’re doing and knowledge of how to impress the masses while still satisfying their own musical needs. That’s something that’s very important for any band that wants to play a more mainstream-friendly and conventional style of metal (nu metal and alternative metal). Simplicity is also important for those genres and these four musicians pull it off well, therefore making the music easy to understand and take in (the kind of music most people that don’t have any patience listen to).

As insignificant as they may seem to the listener, covers are extremely important to the bands that play them. Out of all the songs in the world, a band will narrow their choices down to one single track that they feel has not only influenced them as a band, but also as human beings. A lot of times, the song will be something that the members grew up with. Sometimes, it’ll be a song of a completely different genre that the band wants to reinterpret. Otep just so happened to choose a song by one of the most iconic bands from the 20th century. Covering any song by Nirvana, especially a song as well-known as Breed, isn’t a risk that many bands are willing to take. Covering a Nirvana song immediately subjects the band to criticism and fire. A band with such a mixed reputation as Otep is the last band you would think of to cover that song (or any Nirvana song at that). Otep defy critical assumptions and pull of a fantastic cover that follows the song closely (probably a good idea). The roughness of the singer’s vocals have a similar feel to the roughness of Kurt Cobain’s voice, which is probably what made this cover sound so good.

The Ascension is simple, easy to swallow, conventional, yet creative and heavy at the same time. The biggest loss being the absence of most of Otep’s heaviness, The Ascension has proved to be a disappointment to many. On the contrary, Otep’s understanding of music, structure, and composition has taken a huge leap for the best. This huge leap in maturity has brought The Ascension to be an overall improvement from House of Secrets, earning my score of 15/20.