Botanist — VI: Flora
As mentioned in many of my reviews of modern black metal, the genre has experienced a huge surge in popularity and overall growth. The bulk of bands under the ever-expanding umbrella of "black metal" tend to share a lot of core elements to their sound, mixing their own specific nuances into the standard brew to create new, more diverse sounds than the progenitors of the genre in decades gone by. Botanist come at things completely differently, brandishing a highly experimental take on the innumerable blackened genres.Eschewing guitars completely, Botanist composes its material around the hammered dulcimer, which gives songs a truly unique sound shared by exactly zero contemporaries. Botanist promotes its music as "green metal," and is so far off the beaten path that it is probably a bit disingenuous to classify them as black metal at this stage. Earlier, more primitive offerings from Botanist hew a little closer to black metal, specifically the wretched vocal style and low-fi audio quality — the latter of which doesn't apply to newer.
It took Botanist several releases to perfect the trademarked sound the project is now known for: the clear, bright-sounding dulcimer leads mixed with some extremely nuanced and varied percussion tracks. The lack of traditional guitars really gives the material an ephemeral, haunting quality as the notes ring out so much differently — and demand such different song-writing — than the traditional guitar-plus-distortion combination which literally every other band abides by. VI: Flora is such a sonically unique and bizarre album to behold. The chiming dulcimer is able to convey melody and aggression even without distortion or the typical lead guitar sound, all anchored firmly in place by the drums.
The record opens with "Stargazer" — and its bright, menacing notes ring out — which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album and makes it clear that you're in for an interesting ride. The drum sections are intricate and quite varied, mixing extreme metal blastbeats with more traditional grooves and beat patterns. Another aspect of the drums which I appreciate is how natural they sound — they are not chopped, grid-locked or otherwise digitally sterilised. The production quality on VI: Flora is excellent; the recording and mixing are clear and detailed, but avoids sounding too polished as to be stripped of all humanity.
Generally speaking, each track consists of long instrumental passages and sparing use of vocals. The tempo varies from track-to-track and even within some songs, as cuts like "Rhizophora" open with brooding, slow melodies which give way to frenetic, blasting drums and swelling melodic passages. There is a lot of appreciable nuance to the use of such unconventional instrumentation on VI: Flora. This is far from a project crutching on a gimmick, this strange brew is actually quite good. It feels as though the drums and the dulcimer take turns being the lead on each track, and the tracks don't follow any sort of obvious verses-chorus-verse formula.
The Botanist project was a very fun discovery to make, and VI: Flora os easily its best work — truly hitting its stride as the production and song-writing comes together to realise a lot of the latent potential of the project's sound. Previous releases from Botanist showed a lot of initial promise, though the compositions and production weren't at the level they needed to be. By the project's third EP, The Hammer of Botany it had settled into its niche and VI: Flora continues that evolution. I'm truly excited to see what comes next.
Hailing from the outer fringes of the black metal genre, Botanist serves up its best full-length effort to date. Showcasing improved mastery over the peculiar combination of hammered dulcimer and extreme metal drumming, Botanist serves up 11 tracks of some of the most unique material you'll ever hear. Despite the abscence of ripping guitars, VI: Flora is imbued with a metal spirit and manages to get quite aggressive regardless.
Release date: August 11th, 2014
Record label: Independent
Otrebor — hammered dulcimer, drums, vocals
- Cinnamomum Pathenoxylon
- Leucadernon Argenteum
Published: October 12th, 2017