There’s no shortage of rage in the metal scene but rarely has it ever had a political target. Otep’s recent show at the Gramercy Theatre combined a kick-ass metal onslaught with a clear political message. That message firmly directed at President Trump.
The band’s latest album Kult 45, is rallying cry for the oppressed and disenfranchised. While Otep never shied away from dealing with important issues before in their music, Kult 45 is there most overtly political with songs dealing with gun violence, the reemergence of hate groups in America and rape culture. The socially conscious lyrics combined with Otep’s blistering nu-metal sound has made Kult 45 one of the more interesting metal releases in some time.
If there were any questions about where Otep’s political leaning lie, they would be answered just by seeing how the band’s stage was set up. Old Glory and rainbow flags are displayed proudly. The decapitated head of Donald Trump is spiked on stage while the mic stand is decorated with the president’s infamous overlong red tie. Also on stage was a defaced baby doll wearing Trump’s blonde toupee making it a somewhat more metalized version of the diaper-wearing Trump ballon currently floating over London in protest of the president’s recent UK visit.
So much of the appeal in Otep lies naturally in the band’s frontwoman, Otep Shamaya. She is bold, strong, sexy and artistic. All of those traits make up vital components of any person fronting a band. She commands attention and holds it. Her stance on stage as a defiant figure acts as an inspiration to those in the crowd who feel that their voices aren’t heard. It is unique to see a woman on stage making staunch political statements and then calling for the fans to raise their hands up in the traditional devil horns in support.
Shamaya lead the fans in shouts of, “fuck Mike Pence!” She stomped on stage and raised her fists to cheers from the crowd. Pulling the Trump head off the spike, she entertained the crowd by slapping it around and tossing it. The fans were rewarded by Shamaya emphasizing to them how much she loved them and appreciate their support.
The band itself is tight and backed up Shamaya’s vocal power with an equal sonic show of strength. The guitar shredding of Ari Mihalopoulos and Justin Kier’s drumming provided a more sophisticated take on the traditional nu-metal sound that the band has evolved from. Bass player Andrew Barnes not only proved to be a solid musician, but he even managed to draw attention away from the Shamaya at times with his over-the-top look. With his bulging muscles and his Roman centurion helmet inspired fetish mask, Barnes looked as uber-metal as one can get.
In the end, Otep is a hard-hitting heavy metal band that is proud of being part of the scene. Metal might not always get the respect artistically or musically as it deserves, but Otep has infused their music with an artistry and social awareness that has garnered them critical raves. Their Gramercy Theatre performance showed that while they may appreciate that, it is the people who they really care about. Connecting with the crowd, Otep promoted a message of inclusivity and diversity, bringing forth a powerful message to the world alongside a soundtrack of unrelenting metal.
Andres Schiffino is a freelance journalist and playwright specializing in alternative subcultures, underground art and film and the fringes of pop culture.