PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Otep: Hydra

Otep give us creepy, gothy, sometimes effective vocals laid over bland, forgettable music.



Label: Victory
US Release Date: 2013-01-22

Contemporary metal has a difficult task to perform. It is fantastical, whimsical, and playful, while simultaneously asking its listeners to take it seriously and experience a range of intense emotions that are rarely explored directly though contemporary popular music. A tremendous amount of contemporary popular music either focuses on real-life situations and discourses of authenticity, or wallows in ironic detachment. In metal Satan, nuclear war, or werewolf transformations serve as evocative signifiers of power, despair, rage, and exaltation, subjects that tend not to crop-up in any meaningful way on your average Kanye West or John Mayer record. So what metal tries to do it not easy at all, and the results are sometimes brilliant and sometimes disastrous.

Otep’s new record Hydra falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. When vocalist Otep Shamaya really gets cooking, shrieking like a rabid wolverine tossed into a crowded Wal-Mart, her efforts can be quite impressive. Her techniques remind me of the estimable Julie Christmas, and I am not saying that just because they are both female harsh vocalists in a predominantly male-dominated genre. Both vocalists share a tendency to offer surreal sung/spoken parts set to sedate musical passages, followed by intense harsh vocal responses or recitations to the preceding, quieter passage with accompanying instrumental explosions. The primary difference between these two vocalists is that Julie Christmas’s lyrics sound like something Wallace Stevens wrote while he was up all night smoking crack, while Otep Shamaya’s lyrics sound more like typical gothy, teenage, bedroom poetry, written on an angsty school night to the light of a clove cigarette.

One keeps getting the feeling, particularly on tracks like "Quarantine" and "Voyeur", that Otep are applying for a spot on the soundtrack to the next Human Centipede movie, and the results are mostly the same as that particular film series. And like The Human Centipede, Otep’s attempts to get a rise out of their audience feel somewhat hallow and unsatisfying. Art that is genuinely frightening and/or disturbing speaks to our anxieties, not just forcing us to look at them for a moment, but inviting us to share our anxieties with a particular artist or work of art. Films like Poltergeist, Blue Velvet, and Django Unchained do this beautifully. In the world of heavy metal, bands like EyeHateGod, Thergothon, and the above mentioned Julie Christmas expertly perform this difficult artistic task. Otep mostly come off sounding like they are trying too hard -- a very common mistake in metal.

What makes Hydra a pretty forgettable album is the general lack of memorable riffs or musical dynamics. Otep seem to rely almost exclusively on Shamaya’s vocal charisma, and if you were to take her out of the picture there would be basically nothing to listen to. Harsh vocals are often the make-or-break factor for new initiates into the metal world; if they can learn to enjoy them, they might be converted, but if they just can’t get around the screaming, they will probably never gain a taste for extreme metal. But as most metalheads will tell you, vocals are only one part of the equation -- compelling, meaty, stick-in-your-head riffs are probably more important. Hydra has its atmospheric moments, and Shamaya can bellow and wail with skill, but the rest of Otep kind of sound like they are phoning it in. Apparently Hydra will be Otep’s final record, and that might just be for the best. If Shamaya could get a more inspired backing band behind her, she might find some receptive fans at places like Waken and Bloodstock.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.