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Headbanger's Ball: Otep gives heavy metal a woman's touch.


OTEP The Ascension KOCH

TO THE CASUAL OBSERVER, heavy metal might seem like the gayest music ever. The leather-and-studs getups favored by Judas Priest are pure Folsom Street fare. And no matter how sordid the Behind the Music antics of Motley Crue and Poison were, most '80s MTV rockers still wore more makeup and had bigger hair than Lady Bunny. Yet the genre is woefully short on notable homos (Rob Halford, lead singer of the aforementioned Judas Priest, excepted).

Los Angeles quartet Otep has never fit neatly into the heavy metal mold, and not just because front woman Otep Shamaya is an out lesbian. Crowd favorites on three different Ozzfest tours, Otep eschew the obvious cliches--and macho posturing--that ankle many of their peers. Their arty sensibilities align them more closely with oddball outsiders like Tool and Jane's Ad diction. And never more effectively than on their third full-length, The Ascension.

It's easy to see why even Marilyn Manson has admitted that Shamaya frightens him. When she wails that her insides burn like lava on opener "Eat the Children," she definitely sounds like she suffers from agonies that no antacid could ever soothe. The second cut, "Crooked Spoons," is just as brutal: apocalyptic drums and caustic guitars whipping up a sonic frenzy that makes the cacophony of a monster truck rally seem like a lullaby.

Then Otep changes tack. With its piano introduction, "Perfectly Flawed" starts out slow and gradually gains momentum, rising in a graceful arc as Shamaya rhapsodizes romantically about individuality. This cut might be too potent for radio, but its hooks certainly merit heavy airplay. Ditto for the abrasive rallying cry of "Stand up / Speak out/Strike back!" that anchors the propulsive antiwar number "Confrontation" and for a cover of Nirvana's "Breed."

Otep isn't a one-woman show. Guitarist Aaron Nordstrom, drummer Brian Wolff, and bassist "eViL J." (Jason McGuire) all lend The Ascension terrific technical dexterity. Rhythmic surprises, including vaguely Middle Eastern percussion, jazzy bass fills, and hiccups in lightning-fast licks, impart additional impact to various tracks, while ambient segues in between--Sunday school ditties, twittering woodland critters--gel the album into cohesion.

With lyrical concerns including domestic abuse, pharmaceutical dependency, and more religious imagery than the Sistine Chapel, The Ascension is not a feel-good record. But if you have the temperament to weather its most extreme passages, it is a rewarding one.
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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

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Author:Reighley, Kurt B.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 6, 2007
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