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.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.