July 23, 2018 Otep – Kult 45 (Album Review)
She does not hold back, and she certainly never bites her lip, and now, Shamaya Otep has quite a few things to say about the good ‘ole U.S. of A. On Kult 45 – which arrives Friday, July 27, 2018, thanks to Napalm Records – she goes full-throttle sociopolitical commentary, lashing out at the snakes in suits, those maggots (and not the good Slipknot-y kind) in D.C.
Formed in Los Angeles in 2000, Otep (an anagram for “poet,” if you didn’t know) would perform their eighth gig at Ozzfest, and make their major label debut in 2002 with the hugely-popular Sevas Tra. The release immediately established the band as a force to be reckoned with, and put the spotlight onto its outspoken, completely bad-ass Frontwoman Shamaya.
Refusing to rest on a singular merit, the band would release six more full-length albums over the next fourteen-years, ranging from 2004’s House of Secrets to 2009’s Smash the Control Machine to 2016’s Generation Doom. It is no surprise that Otep would earn accolades and frequently top the charts throughout their career, as well as tour with the likes of Static-X, Five Finger Death Punch, and Shadows Fall. With their perseverance and dogged determination would come a growing respect for Shamaya, an outspoken and intelligent female pioneer in the once male-dominated field of Metal.
Always a name worthy of respect, Otep – Vocalist Shamaya, Guitarist Aristotle, Bassist Drewski Barnes, and Drummer Justin Kier – return with their eighth full-length offering, Kult 45. Here, the Nu Metallers dig deep into our present state of affairs here in America, raising the middle finger to boss babies, the NRA, ICE, religion, rape culture, and beyond. No topic is too taboo for the fiery Shamaya as she lays down the law one crooked institution at a time. Some might consider this topical approach controversial, though others are already fully-attuned to every single gut-wrenching ‘hot topic’ that inspires Shamaya’s embittered and empowering vocal rants.
Hoping to tap back into the raw energy that made Sevas Tra such a monumental record, the band recorded at The Lair in Los Angeles, utilizing the same equipment that helped formulate their debut, right down to Shamaya’s vocal microphone, a SHURE Beta 58. Taking it back to their roots, Shamaya and Aristotle self-produced the sixteen-track Kult 45, with assistant engineering from Larry Goetz, Nicolas Schilke, and Lizzy Ostro.
Kult 45 begins with “Hail To The Thief,” a fairly self-explanatory, under one-minute introduction that celebrates Agent Orange, the man who seeks to Make America Great Again. Utilizing this as a rallying cry, Shamaya then invites us to raise our fists, and chant along with rap-rocker “Halt Right,” a judging glance that inquires, well, let’s be honest, when was America great to begin with? Then, they rage against the machine on “Molotov,” a bass-heavy stomp that bashes a fist in the face of the Nazis, Fascists, and war-mongering politicians.
Shamaya’s Spoken Word introduction on “Said The Snake” lures us into a web of those that are willing to blindly die for these snakes in suits, simpletons reduced to names and numbers and PTSD cases. The Biblical allegories are heavy as the band does a schizophrenic slam dance of biting stomps and seductive vocal laments. This amps up a bit for “Undefeated,” where Shamaya raps a reminder of all that is not great in America – from militarized killer cops to rapists who get off scot-free for the color of their skin. Though, despite the finger-pointing, the track is really a call to action for the rest (best) of us; a reminder that in a Democracy, the people (theoretically) hold the power to imbue change.
“Trigger Warning” sees the band tripping into some Stoner Rock-esque territory, sonically, while discussing our culture that incorrectly points a finger of blame on the victims of sexual assault. Next, those intelligent and weary eyes turn toward the Bible and Christianity on “Cross Contamination,” where delicious bass weaves in and out of the Rap-Rock approach, one that seeks to crucify zealots and bigots for their hypocrisy.
Headbanger “Shelter In Place” tackles school shootings – and likens politicians to maggots who thrive on blood money from the NRA (“Hey! Hey! NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”). While you might want to thrash to this offering, the bottom-line is that, much like the entirety of Kult 45, this is not a celebratory topic by any means. In fact, Shamaya continues to take no prisoners on her attitude-heavy rap “Boss” (“I’m not a boss-bitch, I’m just a boss, bitch”), where she invites ladies (and inclined gentlemen) to challenge gender roles and take control of their own lives and ultimate destinies. While the meaning behind the song is solid and one that a fellow bitch can raise a fist to, the track ultimately feels a little weak, like a sonic after-thought.
Amping it back up, Otep goes full-on Rage Against the Machine for “To The Gallows,” a blistering, bubbling seether aimed at fellow “heretics” that wish to overthrow the madness in the White House. This is followed up with one of the album’s less political offerings, the under two-minute “Sirens Calling,” a feathery Spoken Word poem/musing that glances side to side through the mayhem and turmoil, but ultimately professes that “you are worthy of love.” Next, they go back to punctuated bass slams and Rap-Rock for “Invisible People,” a target on the back of the the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), impotent cowards who would have shipped Jesus back to Galilee.
In a truly haunting twist, piano, strings and wispy soft vocals from Shamaya blend together to author the beautifully languid invitation to courage, “Be Brave.” Because, despite the degradation of our society, if we can muster our bravery and demand a change, we can start a revolution that leads toward beautiful things. It is definitely the odd-woman-out of the collection, but a wonderfully haunting and splendidly-authored track that shows the softer side of Shamaya’s rage. Speaking of which, they end on a sludgy take on Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up,” perfectly befitting of the collection. Though, in truth, the end is not exactly here, and fans will be excited to find that there are two additional Bonus Tracks: “Feral Oracle” and “The Tribe Speaks.”
On Kult 45, Otep goes full-throttle sociopolitical commentary that ekes throughout every single pore of the collection, and for taking such a blatantly obvious stance with their music, Shamaya and her comrades certainly possess grandiose balls. However, Kult 45 beats the point home like a dead and lifeless orange horse, doing so, sometimes, at the cost of the music. Which is to say that on the album, the band are so focused on their raging against the political machinations, that they often times sound a bit derivative in their anger. If you are a die-hard fan of Otep, or lover of the mega-political Rage Against the Machine, you will love Kult 45, but, for the newcomers, this might not make you a convert.
Ultimately, however, if the collection opens your eyes to the daily atrocities happening here in America and inspires you to harness your inner-brave and demand change, then Otep and Kult 45 have done their job well. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Otep’s Kult 45 3.5 of 5 stars.