Fronted by Otep Shamaya, a writer, singer, poet and painter, Otep, the band, has enjoyed tremendous underground success since their inception in 2000. Her feverish fans often come off as cultish in their worship of Otep so the announcement that 2013’s Hydra would be her last album was serious blow to the Otep cult, popularly referred to as the “Tribe”. So, in bringing about the end of the band, does Otep go out with a bang or a whimper.
I guess it depends on who you ask. A rabid member of the tribe will see Hydra as a quiet slice of brilliance. A creeping emotional catharsis layered with dark themes and unsettling ideas. The rest of us, me in particular, will see Hydra as an incredibly boring album that is painful to listen to. Otep is that artist who tries too hard to be “different”. Through juvenile prose and bland Nu-Metal backing music, Otep seems to be screaming “Notice me! Notice me! I’m so very, very different”. Juvenile prose is almost too good for Otep. Lyrically Hydra sounds as if Miss Shamaya stood outside a Hot Topic and recorded any conversation she could between angst ridden teenage girls dressed in all black.
Musically, Hydra fails from the opening note. “Rising” uses random bits of music and noise to back Otep as she abuses the dramatic whisper to a fault. This song is supposed to set the mood for the musical journey Otep wants us to take. Instead, it sounds like something Otep found in Jarboe’s dumpster. Imagine Jarboe, but lacking things like talent and vocabulary. “Rising” ends with Otep falling back on a most pedestrian style of Nu Metal barking vocals.
“Blowtorch Nightlight”, even the title screams high school talent show, is a clunker of song that could be the work of any Nu Metal band from the early 2000s. This could be Kitty, it could be Coal Chamber, it could be anybody. I don’t care how much you love Otep, there is no way to hear this riff and not instantly think of ten other bands. I’m assuming Otep figured she could raise this song out of its mediocrity by whispering the vocals and then exploding into Nu Metal screams of rage. Nope, she just helps cement it as boring.
“Seduce And Destroy” tries to change Hydra up with a slower tempo. Otep coos her vocals over thin, creepy guitar work. This might have succeeded if that slowness was left alone, but Otep just can’t step out of character. In comes the growling vocals and the butter knife dull riffage. “Crush” returns to familiar double-bass and bad thrash territory while “Hematopia” drives right off the cliff with a spoken word vibe more akin to the pretentious ramblings of coffee house poet than the dark confessions of a tortured soul. “Necromantic” is almost the exact same thing as “Hematopia” only we get some by-the-numbers Nu Metal grooves thrown in for whatever reason.
The most egregious example of Hydra’s failure is “Voyeur”. This song is spoken word gone completely berserk. There’s nothing wrong with strange stories being regaled to us over chirps, blips and bits of noise. Swans has done this very effectively as has Tom Waits on the brilliant “What’s He Building In There”. The flipside of those successes is Otep, who tries so hard to make “Voyeur” disturbing that she unknowingly crosses the line into comedy. “Voyeur” is the story of a man who tortures animals over the internet. Otep, being the avenging angel she is, captures and tortures this man to death.
In more talented hands this could be an interesting idea. With Otep at the helm it’s just more pretentious drivel. Lines like “He woke to the sounds of distant thunder” don’t help her cause at all. “He began to scream but the stitches held tight” Otep purrs as she describes the torture. My favorite lyric is right after she cuts off her victim’s lower jaw. “His tongue juts out like a slimy slug”. I also particularly snicker at “Once I’ve had my fun, bringing dark justice to this pathetic goblin”. Seriously? It’s like a poetry slam put together between gym class and study hall.
“Apex Predator” is where Otep gets her street on by rapping. I can only guess this song found its way onto Hydra because Otep surrounds herself with people who constantly rave about the genius of everything she does. “Feral Game” is another notch in the lackluster Nu Metal belt Otep is crafting. She screams “We remain animals” but really all we remain is bored. “Hag” is actually a good song, but it comes far too late in the record to be worth anything.
I realize the tribe will not be happy with me, but blind followers are called that for a reason. Anyone who stands outside the circle of loving Otep simply because she is Otep will spot the failings of Hydra instantly. This is monotonous music, the kind of one-dimensional offering that nailed the coffin of Nu Metal and helped bury it. Otep is released through Victory Records. However, if this monotonous exercise in tedium is truly Otep’s last album, then the victory is ours.