Atavist is the fifth and least talked-about studio album by nu metal behemoths Otep. Ok wait, what the hell happened? Otep releases The Ascension and their popularity skyrockets. They then release Smash the Control Machine and make record sales. I got so fucking tired of hearing the word Otep at this point that I was about to punch someone. I don’t hear anything from them for years until I notice that it’s been awhile since their latest release. I checked up on them to discover that they released a new album months before. Crap, man, talk about a lack of advertising, did anyone even KNOW about this? Anyway, Atavist is a strong album, and even progresses in some ways. But to be honest, it’s the weakest album of Otep’s career. Not to make assumptions, but it could be that Atavist was used by the band for experimentation purposes in the same way that Nightwish used Imaginaerium. Here’s the problem with experimentalism and progressivism in music (and every musician knows this): it’s risky. It can either end up sounding fucking fantastic (Opeth, Portal, Augury, Devin Townsend Project, Dream Theater, Animals as Leaders, Soulfly, etc.) or it can end up being a complete disaster (We Butter the Bread with Butter, Metallica, Korn, etc.). With Atavist, it seems that Otep does a little playing around with the instrumentals, which makes it quite an interesting listen. But is it any good?
Chances of an album being good are greatly increased if the band jumps into the writing process with confidence. If a band is either forced to write a new album or force themselves to write a new album, the album can end up sounding pretty bad. Metallica front-man James Hetfield even said that this was the main reason why (cover your ears if you’re going to read the next two words aloud to someone) St. Anger was such a disaster; the band just wasn’t fucking ready. Well, Atavist sounds forced, unconfident, and uninspired. It doesn’t sound like the band knew what they wanted while writing this album. There are some bands where this is how they work. But with a band as traditional and simple as Otep, this wasn’t the best state of mind to be in during the writing process. The mood is hard to follow. There are parts where it has that eerie and really creepy sound they’re known for, which then jump into a really bland “heavy” chorus to then start going into weird…almost jazzy sections. It’s hard to describe, but the mood of the album is very inconsistent. But isn’t that a good thing in a lot of cases? Fuck yeah it is! But that’s where transitions come into place (dear bands: TRANSITIONS ARE YOUR FRIENDS, USE THEM ALWAYS). Otep use next to no transitions in between mood swings on Atavist. It ends up leaving the listener either confused or annoyed.
The album sounds utterly emotionless. How did Otep get their big fucking break in the first place? Oh yeah, it was because their music was angry as FUCK and heavy as FUCK and catchy as FUCK. Part of the catchiness was because of the hip-hop influence that’s a part of the nu metal genre itself. Well, kiss all that awesome hip-hop influenced catchiness goodbye because you won’t get any of that beautiful shit on this album. To look at this with an optimistic perspective, the structure of all the songs stays fairly solid most of the time. It’s just that all the other junk added on top isn’t organized. If they took some time to re-arrange a lot of the extra shit they put on the base of their sound, Atavist would’ve had a much more satisfying outcome. Is the sound of this album angry? Unfortunately, it’s not anywhere near what you remember from everything they released before it. It does retain some of the heaviness left over from The Ascension (probably the album that’s the most similar to Atavist, only a thousand times better). There is screaming, but even they sound forced and uninspired. Not that I’m saying that I want the band to stay angry at the world, but if they’re having changes in emotions, they need to shift their musical style along with them in order to stay fresh and original. This is what my favorite band, Opeth, did when they released Heritage. After years and years of releasing extreme metal albums, they decided that they wanted to go in more of a progressive rock direction. And because of that decision, they still sound fucking great. If they went ahead and wrote another progressive death metal album, I’m pretty sure that it would’ve sounded forced, dry, and uninspired.
Most of where the band sounds insecure and unconfident is in the instrumental section. The bassist is going fucking crazy, and it sounds cool; but it doesn’t connect with the music in any way. The drummer seems to be following the basic patterns that I would expect to hear out of them, which is cool. It’s when he plays these weird fills that just don’t make any sense that throw me off. The beginning of the first song, Atom to Adam, sucks. Did they have to start out with that shitty breakdown? Because right after that, the drum pattern is catchy as hell! The problem that I have with the guitars is that they don’t do anything special at all. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t make any mistakes, they’re spot on with what they do. But with a band this big and this old, they can do better than this, that’s for fucking sure. Once again, the bass is hard to get past. The band will be playing a dark, but driving section when, out of nowhere, the bassist plays this funky arpeggio that completely throws you off because of how LITTLE sense it makes.
I’m sorry, but this album just isn’t good. Any band that’s released an album that I gave a score of 18/20 shouldn’t be releasing an album like Atavist, which I’m giving a below-average score of 9/20. The band should’ve taken an extra year with this one like they did with The Ascension. Atavist is bland, forced, uninspired, dry, confusing, and hard to swallow. The songs, although structurally consistent and never fall through, are void of transitions and show little effort. I love the fancy bass riffs, although they have nothing to do with the rest of the music. None of the musicians make any obvious mistakes or errors, but I personally know that they’re capable of a better writing job than this. To be honest, if you’re not a hardcore Otep and nu metal fan, I wouldn’t bother with this one.