As singer for namesake L.A. fusion metal band Otep as well as a self-published poet, Otep Shamaya very much views herself as a serious artist and Otep's music as serious art.
Most of the band's fervent fans, with whom Otep interacts extensively online, agree with that idea. And right now, some of them are seriously upset. The reason? The release of Otep's third full-length album, The Ascension, originally slated for March 20, has been indefinitely delayed amid a corporate crunch and swirls of speculation that the band has been dropped from its label, the newly merged Capitol Music Group.
As of this writing, the band's entry at Wikipedia says, "Less than two weeks before the scheduled release of their new album 'The Ascension,' Otep are among the first acts dropped due to the merger between Capitol and Virgin Records." But Shamaya herself posted a MySpace bulletin saying no official word had come down to the band that it has been dropped, and Bobbie Gale, head of publicity at Capitol Records, told New Times that the band has not been dropped but that no rescheduled release date has been set for The Ascension.
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Obviously, the delay in the CD's release is disappointing to Shamaya. "Over 2 years of my life poured into an album that sits in a frozen stasis waiting for paperwork and emails and XL & PDF files to be reviewed and stamped in boardrooms somewhere high above the smog and kinetic violence that spirits the frenzied climaxes that nourish me," she wrote on the band's messageboard. "What a world."
Indeed. The only trajectory for Otep since Shamaya formed the band in late 2000 with bassist eViL J (Jay McGuire) has been forward and up. The hype started to hit before the band had even recorded a demo. Sharon Osbourne saw Otep play at what was their eighth show ever and, as soon as they came offstage, booked them for Ozzfest.
Capitol Records then signed the band based solely on the strength of its intense live performances, releasing Otep's debut, Sevas Tra (that's "art saves" backward) in 2002. The album was a dark, dense odyssey filled with dizzying power chords, vocals that ranged from singing to screaming to rapping, and lyrics that lashed out at "war serpents," "mental midgets," and "hypocrites" in a haze of hubris and self-made symbolism.
By the time the second album, House of Secrets, came out in 2004, Otep had built a broad fan base, and the album climbed higher on the Billboard charts than Sevas Tra (reaching number 93, versus number 145). While on tour for House of Secrets, Shamaya started writing songs for the next album.
That next album became the now-hostage The Ascension, and there's all sorts of newness to it: new producer (Dave Fortman, who's also manned the boards for Evanescence and Mudvayne), new guitarist (Karma Cheema), new drummer (Brian Wolff), new dimensions of sound (power ballads and more intricate song structures), and a new recording environment (New Orleans). The record is not only filled with visceral rhythms and vocal vitriol but also brims with smoother, more seductive soundscapes; it's the kind of melodic metal record that the malcontent masses would eat up, if they could buy it.
The song "Confrontation" is a politically charged, rap-metal protest anthem, reminiscent of the band's tune "Warhead," which appeared on House of Secrets. Both songs level sonic fury at the Bush administration and what Shamaya sees as the methodical dismantling of civilian freedoms.
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"When I wrote 'Warhead,' the president at the time had a 62 percent approval rating," Shamaya tells New Times, speaking from her L.A. home. "He was feeding us all these big plates of bullshit, just spoon-feeding it right into our little mouths." But where "Warhead" was a call on the bullshit, "Confrontation" is a call to arms. "I just felt moved to write a protest anthem that would encourage people to get up off their laziness and do something and celebrate the idea that is democracy," Shamaya continues. "It's very frail and fragile, and it can be taken away with just one little amendment here, one little amendment there not just one fell swoop but tiny nails in the coffin."
As part of its extensive online outreach to its fans, Otep has posted a couple of songs and a sampler from The Ascension on its MySpace profile, as well as the video for the first single, "Ghostflowers." It's also been fielding video and art submissions for the "Confrontation" video. "I've always thought that the Internet was the greatest way to connect with fans," Shamaya says. "It's 24-hour-a-day visibility. We're going to really try to find more unique ways of connecting with our fans and empowering them to be more creative and involved."
As for the delay in the release of The Ascension, which Otep started promoting last fall, the band's ardent fans, who refer to themselves as "Shadow Soldiers," aren't sitting around on their laurels. A stroll around the band's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/otep) and messageboards (www.otep.com) shows that many fans are pre-ordering multiple copies of the album at Amazon.com and talking about starting a petition to encourage Capitol Music Group to release The Ascension sooner rather than later. The band isn't just waiting and whining either. Shamaya says Otep's legal team is working on getting the album released, even if it means going to another record label.
In the meantime, Otep is hitting the road for a spring tour with Static-X to promote The Ascension's impending release. Fans would probably do well to check out the shows, because they might be the only place to hear the new stuff for a while.