Otep: Kult 45
A Review By: Matthew MacDermant
Otep’s eighth studio album, “Kult 45” is pure kickass political protest metal at it’s finest. Otep Shamaya, Justin Kier, Drewski Barnes, and Aristotle set out to self-produce a piece that would get the band back to its roots, while also delivering a wake-up call and rallying cry at this critical historical moment.
Shamaya herself described the latest album best. “Things needed to be said and songs needed to be written that reflect the times.” The times she speak of are clear to anyone who pays even a shred of attention and despite the reference to Trump(45), this is about far more than one man. It is about constant attacks on the working class, especially women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and other oppressed groups. Each song is a commentary on a serious contemporary issue, as well as a call to arms for the oppressed and their allies to stand strong, stand up, and fight back.
To create a musical and political statement in the most authentic manner, Otep determined self-production to be the only viable option. This allowed frontwoman Shamaya to, “Cast off the anchors and shackles of what others want me to do and just do what I want to do.” On previous records, producers and labels just got in the way of pure expression. The band was not free to create art as they saw fit. On “Kult 45”; however, things changed. Now, “We weren’t under anyone else’s agenda,” Shamaya proclaimed. “There was no pressure to create a ‘single’ or a song for the radio, and the band was really able to shine.”
Otep is a politically motivated band, unabashedly defending the working class and downtrodden through their lyrics. They are also a versatile multi-genre group that does not stay tied to any single sound or formula. Free of constraints, the band was really able to do both; mixing rap, metal, funk, even ballad into the tracks, while also delivering an on point message. While Shamaya insisted that this was a pure fan album, her use of original equipment from Sevas Tra, including the same SHURE Beta 58 mic, was surely a way for Otep to explore their roots and reflect. “The most authentic album” comes about when a band is free to break out of their comfort zone, be vulnerable, and find the notes and lyrics organically. This is exactly what Otep did. In their cozy LA studio, “Kult 45” was born from improv jam sessions and impromptu sound check recordings. From these beginnings, the foundation of real authentic music, a great record emerged. Let’s take a deeper look at a few of the tracks.
The album starts off with the dystopian and creepy “Hail to the Thief.” This really sets the tone for the rest of the album.
“Halt Right” is a rallying cry against the Alt-Right. Shamaya spits powerful verses in a rap metal style, with the chorus, “Hate won’t make America great again” pointing directly to the rise of white nationalism.
“Undefeated” is a cross between spoken word rap and low tempo hard rock with some pensive beats backing up the verses. It has a very Rage Against the Machine feel toward the middle, mixed with an infusion of spoken word nu metal. It brings up some serious inconsistencies in American democracy. Shamaya is imploring us to look around at what’s happening. Why are black men shot down in the streets, while rich white men get away with rape? The chorus, “Meet me at the barricade” and “This is what democracy looks like” is asking us to right these wrongs by standing together and building a real democracy.
“Trigger Warning” is all about sexual violence and rape culture. The song speaks to the rage felt by women who are victim to male violence. The song is about flipping the tables so that a perpetrator of violence feels what it’s like to be powerless. This powerlessness is the reality for millions of women. Male allies should be standing up against this victim blaming culture that excuses such aggressions. It’s not about what you wear or how you look. It is about violating a person because you think you are entitled to their body. When the tables turn, suddenly the rapist is all apologies. It is a small amount of catharsis, perhaps, to imagine this change in power dynamics. Primarily though, she is calling attention to the #MeToo movement which seeks calls out this entitlement, victimization, and shaming, while moving toward a broader shift in gender/sexual norms. All of this is in a classic Otep style, with quivering lyrics that continually rise into screams and fall back into whispers. The intensity rises with each chorus, toward a low octave screaming punch, finished off by the piercing air of a gunshot.
“Shelter in Place” takes aim at the NRA and gun violence in the United States. It a metal piece which finds most of its power in the chorus. “Hey Hey NRA! How many kids have you killed today?!” This is one of the most powerful indictments, as well as one of the most powerful choruses, on the album. The song is also accompanied by a music video which ups the ante, featuring a blood stained Otep and kids handling an assortment of deadly firearms. Head shots and mounting bodies fill the optics. It makes a very clear and disturbing visual statement.
“Boss” enters with deep bass and a world beats feel. It is close to a pure rap track, oscillating between slow, almost spoken word, and fast tempo verses. “I am the girl who became King” is an interesting line. It brings to mind many different questions surrounding gender roles in our society, which are taken for granted, but in fact, are merely constructs of the culture. Truth be told, Shamaya can rap.
“Be Brave” is a ballad. It is almost like an interlude on the album. It is primarily piano, with very heavy and emotional lyrics. “Be Brave” is a stand out track. It is a departure from the other songs and it shows Shamaya at her most vulnerable and open. This feels like a personal ballad to the fans facing the difficult struggles of life in these trying times. She is saying, it’s okay to feel scared and vulnerable. It’s okay to not know the path. “Just be brave with me,” and we’ll get through it all.
“Wake Up” needs absolutely no introduction. It is a cover of Rage Against the Machine. Shamaya stands behind the mic preaching the truth just like Zach de la Rocha back in 91. I wouldn’t say it’s uncanny, but “Wake Up” definitely pays homage to Rage, who were very influential for Otep, especially in the early years. The band gives their own flavor here and it works. It is a great way to close out the standard release.
“Kult 45” definitely has a lot of subject matter to work with and they cover a range of topics, from gun violence to rape culture to the xenophobic racism coming back to the fore in the era of the radical right wing agenda. In their usual style, the band punches the mic, riffs, and delivers powerful hits. The turn to self-production separates this album from all the rest though and perhaps it is a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, there will likely still be serious issues to cover for many years to come. Out from under the control of labels and producers, we may see a lot more of this “most authentic” version of Otep. I hope this to be the case.