It may be hard for younger metal fans to understand or believe, but there was a time when metal bands didn't perform at 120 bpm. Back in the day, lead vocalists would sing ... well, enunciate their lyrics, and there was often a melody or two. Some metal bands still do this—those that don't sound like they called in Cookie Monster to do lead vocals—and Otep is one of those.
Led by Otep Shamaya, one of the small but growing number of women in metal, Otep has put out its third album, The Ascension, and it sounds like the band decided melody and comprehensible lyrics would be a good thing. Over the course of 12 songs and one creepy, sludgy spoken-word piece, Otep hammers the ears, but never loses the listener thanks to the band's secret weapon: Shamaya herself. She has a remarkable voice, strong enough to howl like a full-blown metal god on "Eet the Children," "Confrontation" and "Home Grown," yet tone it down to a soft, wistful near-croon on "Perfectly Flawed." Although nothing on this disc is exactly surprising, "Perfectly Flawed" and the spoken word piece "Adrenochrome Dreams" show that Otep is willing to step off the roaring path and go wherever the muses take it.
Actually, there is one surprise on this disc: The band takes a fair shot at covering the Nirvana song "Breed." While they don't do much different with it (Shamaya's voice floats around the same register that Cobain's did), other than give it a spoken-word intro and outro, it's nice to hear a metal band willing to acknowledge that not all its influences came from within the genre. The Ascension is a strong album from a capable band, and if you're a headbanger, it's worth your pocket green.