Exploding with anger and bursting with raw emotion, Otep's latest album, Ascension, is the Los Angeles band's most powerful disc to date. Both brutal and beautiful, Ascension takes the band to new levels and leads them down some previously unexplored alleys. But Otep remains, at its heart, one of the most soul-baring, gut-wrenchingly powerful acts out there.
Guided by diminutive front woman Otep Shamaya -- quite likely the best female metal growler on the planet -- the band screams and scorches its way to the point. And in this case the point, as on previous recordings, is about self-abuse, pain, religion and oppression. But Ascension is also about change, both musically and metaphorically.
The haunting opener, "Eat The Children," explicitly looks at the loss of innocence. It's a compelling cut that benefits from the singer's eerie, a cappella rendition of the lullabye "Hush, Little Baby" that opens the track. Then the song -- and the album -- explodes, opening the door to a world of rage and pain.
It's a familiar theme for Otep, and they know how to play it well. What makes Ascension such a departure from previous discs is that it also wanders into some softer territory. "Perfectly Flawed" is a striking -- dare we say it -- ballad that is bound to land the band some previously denied mainstream radio airplay. The song is just as pained and emotionally desperate as the other cuts, but this track about complete imperfection boasts a more mainstream sound. In fact, it sounds a bit like a cross between Pink and Hole.
If there is one song that completely stands out, it is "Confrontation," a fight song of the most extreme degree. Defiant and demanding, it pushes back against "the rich man's war" in which the poor are punished and no one wins. Shamaya's songwriting shines here and she says a lot in a few words and just over three minutes.
Cuts like "Milk Of Regret," "Noose & Nail" and the creepily enchanting "Ghostflowers" will sound familiar to Otep fans, as they follow the original formula that has brought the band to the front of the alternative metal scene. One of the true surprises is "Breed," a cover of the Nirvana classic that could, again, put them in the ears of more mainstream listeners. It's an interesting and original take on the song, and while they've roughed it up to make it their own, it isn't nearly as ferocious as most of their other cuts.
"Invisible," tucked in near the album's end, perfects Otep's penchant for songs that begin with a whisper and build into a scream. Filled with religious imagery and brimming with pain, it is a brilliant example of Otep's dark musical yin and yang.
At the end of this perfectly orchestrated cacophony, Shamaya lends a bonus track that showcases her talent as a poet, something that she's already proven through appearances on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and with printed volumes of poetry. It makes for a haunting and compelling close to an album that is completely worthy of such an unsettling, spectacular finale.