01. Eet the Children
02. Crooked Spoons
03. Perfectly Flawed
05. Milk of Regret
06. Noose and Nail
09. March of the Martyrs
11. Home Grown
Treading tricky ground here, bands like OTEP being at least partially critic-proof. For example: I'd like to point out that virtually everything about this band – including the coo-to-a-bloody-scream vocals, the stuttering basslines, the overwrought breathing into the mic and then shrieking some empowering profundity, and the talky rap lines that were dubious when CLAWFINGER did them, much less Fred Durst — is the painfully unoriginal legacy of alt-rock and nu-metal from the last decade. But does that mean that OTEP are just a good band past their sell-by date, or does it mean I'm a misogynistic woman-hating patriarchal oppressor?
I guess it depends on which side of the women's studies vegan potluck and poetry slam you woke up on today. But giving a band a pass just because it's got one or more penis-deficient personnel seems counterproductive and a bit offensive in the year 2007 — just as offensive as the warblings of the inevitable dickbrains who'll post under this review with misspelled and explicit comments about how and where they like their "women in metal." The truth, as usual, lies somewhere between the two extremes of thought, and can be found in the grooves of the plastic (or, more accurately, in the ones and zeroes of the downloads everyone filched while "The_Ascension" spent months in unreleased legal limbo).
So what is the point, after all that? The point is that OTEP are defiantly, frantically, and noisily stuck around the year 1999, churning out turgid riffs and clicky, overprocessed bass straight out of the glory days of COAL CHAMBER and STATIC-X. Vocalist Otep Shamaya's performances on songs like "Confrontation" and "Ghostflowers" are attitudinal and venomous, but she veers between a babydoll coo, a deathly roar and a swaggering nu-metal rapspeak that are all pretty played-out at this point. "Home Grown" is a forceful, high-impact slugfest of a song, but its "he hurts me because he loves me" lyrics and chuggedy-chugga-chug riffs are as predictable as the "fuck you!" scream in the bridge. There may be a way to retool nu-metal conventions to remove the bad taste of years of oversaturation, but if there is, OTEP didn't come up with it here.
Songs like "Noose and Nail" are more like rants with a soundtrack, stream-of-consciousness roar that thuds and plods and has a dynamic range of shrieky to shriekier. All well and good, but it gets numbing quick, leaving only a forgettable aftertaste and the surety that we've heard this all before. It's telling that the two most memorable songs on "The_Ascension" are a cover of NIRVANA's "Breed", and a ballad — "Perfectly Flawed" — that sticks out like a sore thumb (or, given the bruising nature of the rest of the music, perhaps a healthy thumb on a broken hand). Neither song has shit to do with the rest of the musical proceedings, and they stand out like oases of clarity on an otherwise muddled mess of melodramatic poetry, shopworn breakdowns and underwhelming songs.
It's frustrating, because the conviction in OTEP is obvious — it's hard to doubt the band's sincerity. But their delivery comes off a day late and dollar short, as the saying goes, and it's hard not to discount them as one last refugee wandering out of the nu-metal blast zone, vainly looking for somewhere more fertile to put down roots. Tairrie B. was doing it better ten years ago, and Karyn Crisis could kick the whole band's ass with one hand tied behind her dreadlocks on a bad day.