Otep is strong from the get-go

Special to The Times

WHEN Otep Shamaya appeared on the Whisky stage Tuesday night, her blond hair was perked in a ponytail. But it took just two seconds for her tattooed deltoids, devil salute and chin-first attitude to establish that this SoCal metal marshal is no Gidget.

The band is called Otep -- three bearded doomsters stirring up a hell-ox stampede behind their black-wrapped front woman, who lunged from pogo rally to sex slump, from full-throat roar to meditative melody to psycho mutter, during an hour-plus set. The band, formed six years ago, came off dense in mood, high on impact, low on instrumental flash -- though Shamaya's numerous facial reimaginings using only a little band of black elastic mesh made for a sharp visual hook.

Brian Wolff and eViL j united for an untypical drums-bass rumble that resonated almost African at times, while guitarist Karma Cheema jerked meat-carving riffs (the furious "Warhead"), tolled out dark arpeggios (the dramatic new "Ghostflowers") and bent queasy lines parallel to the sick lyric scenarios Shamaya depicted. A meld of rant, rap and poetry, the Otep gestalt often dissolved into hazy metallic atmospheres that recalled the Doors' "The End"; Jim Morrison, who stalked these boards 40 years ago, would smile.

Shamaya's aggro confidence made her a less vulnerable persona onstage than on record, despite a necessary curtailment of studio processing on her not especially mighty voice. That served the roiling core of Otep's audience (all ages this night) just fine, since strength is what they need -- Shamaya's fist-pumping demands to fight sexual abuse clearly hit a nerve. And when she suggested in blunt terms that it's our constitutional duty to replace a government out of control, she found few dissenters.

This may have been one of the last manifestations of Otep as an underground entity. The group's third full-length CD, "The Ascension," due out in March, taps Grammy-winning producer Dave Fortman and injects a significant jet of pop sensibility with the magnificently dynamic ballad "Perfectly Flawed," co-written with Holly Night. It's the song that will make Shamaya a star. And she didn't sing it.

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