Metal File: Otep, Dimmu Borgir, Unearth & More News That Rules

L.A. metallers Otep discovered a new energy while recording in New Orleans.

Otep’s forthcoming third full-length album, The Ascension, was written long before the Los Angeles metallers boarded a plane bound for New Orleans — where they’d track the effort with Grammy-winning producer Dave Fortman (Evanescence, Mudvayne) over the course of several months.

During the band’s stay, though, frontwoman Otep Shamaya said she couldn’t help but get caught up in the emotion of living and working in this forgotten, battered metropolis, left devastated in the wake of 2005′s Hurricane Katrina. Shamaya said the cheerless vibe that permeated this once grand city, and the hopeful spirit of the resilient survivors who continue to rebuild their lives down there, bled into Otep’s new material.

“We went there for a couple of reasons: Dave was there, and we wanted to get out of L.A.,” she explained. “It’s very easy for bands to make records where they live, but when you go home every night, it becomes more of a job. You can’t live the album all day, every day. In New Orleans, we could never escape that energy. We also really wanted to try to bring something to the economy of that area, but we didn’t realize how bad it was. Nothing’s happening there.”

When Otep arrived, Fortman drove the band through the city’s Ninth Ward, “and it was shocking. Absolutely shocking. There are entire neighborhoods that are just gone — pulverized. Boats pinned beneath houses. So that kind of seeped into the songs a bit. A part of that energy — part of the people who asked us when they saw us not to forget about them — that did seep into what we were doing. It had to. It was very important for us to include that energy in our music and remember how important art is and what it can do.”

Working with Fortman on The Ascension, which hits stores March 20 and features a cover of Nirvana’s “Breed,” was important for the bandmembers, Shamaya said, because they are huge fans of his previous collaborations.

“We liked the sound of his albums, the tonality of them,” she said. “For the type of band that I think we are, where every instrument counts, I wanted every instrument to have its own voice and tell its own story. With Dave, when you listen to the records he’s made, every instrument has a clear, signature sound. That was really important for us for this album; that’s what we wanted to happen.”

Otep — made up of Shamaya, guitarist Karma Cheema, bassist “Evil” J. McGuire and drummer Brian Wolff — had to refocus their attention for this effort, the singer said, and forget about anything they’d done in the past.

“From my perspective, knowing a lot of bands and listening to a lot of bands, the first record — even if it isn’t their best record — has this energy about it, this risk,” Shamaya said. “It seems that there’s this sophomore curse for most bands, but they still seem to become confident in the idea that they can write the music. But there’s something missing sometimes. I wanted to refocus our attention and pretend this was our first record and really try and not look at what we know, what’s worked and get mixed up in that whole corporate mentality. I wanted to fall back on our instincts and write songs that are important to us.”

On her end, Shamaya feels she’s grown as a growler and that, through her lyrics, she’s become a better storyteller. “I just wanted to be better at what I do. I think our strength lies in our ability to be a fusion band. Every player has their own influences and own styles, and that helps us create something different and new each time.”

But longtime fans shouldn’t expect a complete shift in Otep’s sound. Shamaya said this third set contains the same elements found on the band’s previous LPs, along with several fresh sonic elements. Lyrically, the singer said she derived inspiration from her own observations on society. The track “Invisible,” for instance, is a commentary on conformity, while “Perfectly Flawed” is a song that celebrates “uniqueness, and how we don’t all have to look like supermodels.” “Noose and Nail” is an attack “on the pharmaceutical culture in this country,” while “Home Grown” addresses the issues of domestic violence. “Eat the Children” was inspired by “those mothers who’ve been murdering their children, sometimes in the name of God,” she said.

“Sometimes,” she added, “I wish I could just sit back and write a song about a sunny day or a car passing, but that’s just not the way my instincts work at this point.”

The rest of the week’s metal news:

How’s this for a killer metal package? Dimmu Borgir, Unearth, Devildriver and Kataklysm have announced that they’ll tour the U.S. this spring, hitting more than 25 cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle and Los Angeles. The trek kicks off April 20 in Cleveland, with dates booked through May 29 in Atlanta. Dimmu’s forthcoming album, In Sorte Diaboli, has been set for an April 24 release. … The Red Chord are in need of a new guitarist, given Jonny Fay‘s departure this week. Fay said he wants to devote more time to running his New Hampshire recording studio, hence, the Chord will hold auditions in March. Those interested should make a video or audio recording of themselves playing “Black Santa,” from the band’s 2005 LP Clients. Touring experience is a must, and candidates should be willing to give up eight to 10 months of the year to the road. Interested? Contact the band through its MySpace page for more details. Fay, who will still contribute to the Red Chord’s forthcoming album, said the decision “was not an easy [one] to make. I have loved every second of my time in this band, and I will miss it dearly. However, as long as I have been involved in music, my true passion has been recording, and I feel that the time has come for me to give it my undivided attention.” …

Mastodon‘s recent stroll across the Grammy Awards’ red carpet caught the attention of E!’s “Fashion Police.” The boys were slammed for their “greasy hair” and offending “rat tails.” Not that the ‘Don’s about to take fashion advice from anyone, but you can watch them get raked over the proverbial coals in an arresting clip on YouTube. … Comeback Kid, It Dies Today, This Is Hell and Endwell will be hitting the road together next month for a series of 25 gigs. The tour will get under way March 21 in Philadelphia and run through April 17 in Seattle. Parkway Drive will also be on the trek between April 5 in Metairie, Louisiana, through the Seattle date. … Century Media’s inaugural “Metal For The Masses” tour, which will be co-headlined by the Haunted and Dark Tranquillity, with Into Eternity and Scar Symmetry providing support, will launch March 19 in Orlando, Florida. The trek will make 22 stops, including Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Chicago and Seattle, before wrapping up in Hollywood on April 14. …

Lacuna Coil and Shadows Fall will play a number of off-dates during the upcoming Jägermeister Music Tour, which also features Stone Sour. The bands will be rattling the floorboards of Piere’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on March 29; Northern Lights in Clifton Park, New York, on April 2; the Lincoln Theater in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 11; the Rialto Theater in Tucson, Arizona, April 26; and on April 27, the Sunshine Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico. … Massachusetts metallers — and Ozzfest 2006 vets — All That Remains, who are on their first North American headlining jaunt, will film their February 25 gig in Philadelphia. The footage will be featured on the band’s forthcoming, yet-untitled DVD, which should hit stores before year’s end. The band has been compiling footage for the effort for more than two years. … Italian black metallers Graveworm have put the finishing touches on their sixth, yet-untitled LP with producer Andy Classen (Krisiun, Belphegor) at the helm. The album will feature 10 fresh cuts, with guest appearances by Kataklysm‘s Maurizio Iacono and the Sorrow‘s Matze. Look for the disc in stores May 11. …

Victory Records has signed South Dakota’s Nodes of Ranvier. According to frontman Jon Parker, the band “could not be any more excited about the opportunity to continue to do what we love with a label that understands what it means to have humble beginnings and achieve big dreams.” The band plans to hit the studio later this month to start working on its Victory Records debut, which should surface in July. … Will Haven‘s reunion LP, Hierophant, has been set for a June release through Bieler Bros. In other album-release news, Porcupine Tree‘s Fear of a Blank Planet has now been slated for an April 24 release. … Canadian power trio Rush will release their new album, Snakes & Arrows, on May 1. The first single, “Far Cry,” will hit radio in March, and a full North American tour is being scheduled for this summer. The album was recorded in fall 2006 and was co-produced by the band with Grammy-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver). …

Prog-rock maestros Dream Theater have signed with Roadrunner Records for their next album, Systematic Chaos, which is scheduled for release in June. “This album’s got all of the elements we’ve become known for,” drummer Mike Portnoy said in a statement. “The focus on musicianship, the skull-crushing riffs, the big progressive epics and the heart-wrenching melodies are all there.” A world tour will follow the album’s release. … Slipknot guitarist Jim Root and axe maestro Joe Satriani will guest on the new solo album by Rob Zombie guitarist John5 (ex-Marilyn Manson). The disc, The Devil Knows My Name, comes out April 3, and the songs are all about serial killers. “I wanted a different tone to the instrumental with twisted imagery of sounds,” John5 said. “Utilizing serial killers came to light for this project while looking at their crimes and how distorted their minds work.” If that’s not scary enough, the disc will include a cover of Guns N’ Roses‘ “Welcome to the Jungle.” Backing John5 on the album is Zombie drummer Tommy Clufetos and bassist Piggy D. …

Demiricous will enter the studio on February 15 to start recording the follow-up to their self-titled 2005 debut. The disc will be the band’s first to feature new drummer Justin Boltjes (ex-The Dream is Dead). … Canadian misanthropes Unexpect have hired a new violinist named Blaise. “His talent will undoubtedly contribute to the developing mutation of our music,” the band said in a statement. Unexpect’s debut, In a Flesh Aquarium, came out in 2006.