Atavist (Victory Records)
For record number five in their career Los Angeles art-metal group OTEP has returned with a furious slab of modern metal that will be a delight to their devotees and smack in the mouth to any haters. Encompassing every key element that has made them successful, Atavist is the bands’ finest hour. The title itself, which means the recurrence of past behaviors or traits present in past generations and is open to several interpretations here. The album is certainly a throwback to the musical ferocity of the early years of the band, while breaking some new ground in areas they had yet to touch. It is an uncompromising record for a group that has had modest success (like when their song “Head” was featured in an episode of HBO’s True Blood last year), but perhaps the massive breakthrough still eludes them. If bigger acclaim is their mission, you can’t tell that by the music they make. Led by author, poet and activist Otep Shamaya, they won’t conform for anybody.
After the opening sound-scape of “Atavist Animus” the savage riffs and beats of “Atom to Atom” will just pummel your ear drums. Possibly one of the best songs on any album this year, the scathing attack on the church sex-abuse scandal and cover-up is chilling. Otep Shamaya’s guttural voice has reached yet another new level and matches the intellectual lyrical brilliance she is known for. She screams and sings considerably more on this record and raps less than past efforts. “Drunk on the Blood of Saints” is another uptempo track that will have the pit ninjas going off. The album is really strong musically, especially considering the loss of long-time bassist and collaborator Evil J McGuire. Coming in is a vaunted group of musicians like drummer Gil Sharone (STOLEN BABIES/ DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN/FISHBONE/PUSCIFER), his twin brother Rani (STOLEN BABIES/PUSCIFER) on guitar and bass, session guitarist Markus Estrada and bassist Tony Campos (STATIC-X/PRONG/MINISTRY/ASENSINO) who all brought their A-game to the writing and recording process. The entire album is full of punishing grooves, blast beats, fluid bass licks, breakdowns and crazy metallic riffage (as in hints of black metal shredding) that in some cases the band has never had before.
Atavist is not one-dimensional at all, which is maybe the best thing about it. The heavy songs are impressive, but there are a lot of little detours for the ear and mind that take you cool places. Volcanic, emotional cuts like “Remember to Forget”, “Skin of the Master”, “I Stand Alone” and the new single “Fists Fall” all have the requisite crunch that modern heads demand. “We Dream Like Lions” slow things down to a folksy tone poem that would make JONI MITCHELL or JOAN BAEZ proud. The harrowing serial-murder, fantasy poem of “Baby’s Breath” or the trippy “Bible Belt” change things up as interesting interludes that add to the listening experience. Few bands can really put together complete albums anymore, but this one bucks the trend in spades. The album closes out with a fittingly appropriate cover of THE DOORS’ “Not To Touch The Earth” which honors the original, yet is updated and heavy too. I think “the Lizard King” would have been tickled pink by this version.
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes