The Rickety Old Shack

Botanist — VI: Flora

Botanist - VI: Flora, cover

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. This is absolutely not the case with Botanist, a wholly unique project based out of California, USA.

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 is no longer present on newer efforts.

It took Botanist several releases to perfect the trademarked sound the project is known for, specifically the clear, warm-sounding dulcimer mixed with intense yet somewhat restrained drumming. The lack of traditional guitars really gives the material an ephemeral, haunting quality as the notes ring out so much differently than the typical guitar-plus-distortion setup literally every other band implements.

The album opens with "Stargazer," and right away the dulcimer prepares the listener for what will prove to be a rather unconventional listening experience. The drum sections are intricate and quite varied, mixing extreme metal blastbeats with more traditional beat patterns. Another aspect of the drums which I appreciate is how natural they sound — they are not chopped, grid-locked or otherwise sterile-sounding. The production quality on VI: Flora is excellent; the recording and mixing are clear and detailed, but avoids sounding too clean and polished as to be inhuman.

Generally speaking, each track consists of long instrumental passages and sparing use of vocals. The tempo varies from track-to-track and even within songs themselves, as songs like "Rhizophora" open with brooding, slow melodies which give way to frenetic, blasting drums and swelling dulcimer passages. There is a lot of nuance to the application of the unconventional instrumentation, this is far from a project crutching on a gimmick.

The whole album was a real treat to discover. As a huge proponent of black metal in all shapes and forms, finding such a unique and interesting project is always satisfying. Previous releases from Botanist showed a lot of initial promise, though the compositions and production weren't at the level they needed to be. The project's third EP, The Hammer of Botany showed Botanist had settled into its niche and VI: Flora continues that evolution and is easily its best showing yet.

Summary

While Botanist's present day links to the black metal are tenuous at best, you can still hear faint echoes of the artform even in current material, largely the vocal style. Regardless, this is a metal album as unique as it is well executed — which is to say, very. VI: Flora is a progressive / experimental metal fan's dream, the sort of gem that makes hawking over disparate niches and obscure genres worth the effort expended.

Album Information

Release date: August 11th, 2014
Record label: Independent

Otrebor — hammered dulcimer, drums, vocals

Track Listing

  1. Stargazer
  2. Callistemon
  3. Cinnamomum Pathenoxylon
  4. Gledista
  5. Rhizophora
  6. Dianthus
  7. Leucadernon Argenteum
  8. Pteriophyte
  9. Wisteria
  10. Erythronium
  11. ...Gazing...

—by Derek

Published: October 12th, 2017