Botanist – I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From The Dead

08/01/2012 § Leave a comment

“Special ‘thanks’ to all those, real or unknown, who lacked the vision, commitment or ability to make a band happen with me” say the linear notes to this album. So Otrebor – otherwise known as The Botanist – decided to go it alone. This first offering from the black metal entrepreneur contains just three ingredients in the music: vocals, drums and hammered dulcimer. Black metal, for the most part, is not a genre known for taking immense leaps forward in terms of originality, so it’s refreshing to see a different instrument make its way to the foreground of a band’s sound. This release is a semi-autobiographical concept album which tells the tale of a reclusive sociopath known as The Botanist who lives in a lush, vegetation-filled environment called The Verdant Realm. Commanded by the demon Azalea, he creates an army of Mandragoras, known as The Mandrake Legion, to wipe out humanity and return the Earth to its rightful owner, nature. It is for this reason that The Botanist describes his own music as “eco-terrorist”.

This album comes in a double gatefold pack bearing, unsurprisingly, multiple drawings of plant life. I can only imagine that the specific identities for each picture were painstakingly chosen by Otrebor and bear a relevance to something going on in the album’s story. I can’t personally lay claim to any expertise in this area unlike The Botanist, who seems to spend all his time researching plant life when he’s not bashing away on his drums and hammered dulcimer. The lyrics are highly complex, and I’ll be honest, difficult to understand descriptions of the slow asphyxiation of the human race through environmental means. As verbose as they are verdant, I couldn’t help thinking this is what I’d be hearing if The Mars Volta ever got involved in experimental black metal. What doesn’t help is the rather small but elaborate font in which the lyrics are printed, making reading them a real struggle, but fortunately in this marvellous internet age there are various other – and more comfortable – means through which to view them. The Botanist probably wouldn’t approve, but you can’t teach an old Luddite new tricks.

There are actually two separate albums here in one, and you’ll no doubt have noticed the immense quantity of tracks, numbering forty in total. However, in spite of this large number the entire thing doesn’t go over 80 minutes, made possible by some extremely short track lengths. Most of the songs in this release don’t extend beyond two minutes, with some being a lot shorter than that. The Botanist’s vocals are some of the best I’ve heard in black metal – mid-ranged, guttural and spiked with a latent undercurrent of hatred. In a sense their timbre mirrors The Botanist’s state of mind – pained, angry but patient in resolve. His dislike for the modern world might well be vehement, but he has the time and forbearance to put his plan into action: when you’re commanding an army of plants, radical differences aren’t going to happen overnight. The album is all about gradual change after all, it is the slow unravelling of The Botanist’s plans, like leaves growing from a stem, which are mirrored in the lyrics and vocal delivery, though juxtaposed by the fast double kick drumming and pace of the instrumentation.

Let’s face it, the dulcimer is one of the main things which is going to attract people to this album, it certainty did for me when the promo was offered. It’s an extremely beautiful instrument and one which hardly ever gets a look-in in the metal world, but I can’t help feeling that it’s played with a good degree of limitation here. Black metal is a style suited primarily to guitars and drums, and transposing its style onto an instrument like the dulcimer just ends up crushing the quantity of that instrument’s output, like owning a mazarine butterfly but keeping it in a hamster ball. As a result, the dulcimer’s sound rings out beautifully in tone, but its notation is very limited indeed, being played more percussively than musically. The second thing which limits this album is the shortness of the track lengths. Hemming them in at around two minutes apiece doesn’t really give them room to move or breathe, and it’s in the longer numbers such as the five minute title track A Rose From the Dead when things really begin to take off.

In spite of this, both albums are highly interesting pieces of work, and some of the most unique stuff that black metal has come out with recently. My only wish is that Otrebor would give himself some slack with the track lengths; expanding them would, in turn, allow the creativity in the music to loosen up. The dulcimer is a wonderful addition in concept too, though at the moment it feels almost gimmicky since it’s not allowed the free reign it deserves, like a highly obedient sheep dog kept chained in the corner, dreaming of breaking free from its farmhouse and running uninhibited through the corn. In a way I’m reminded of the violins in Lake of Sorrow by The Sins of Thy Beloved: if you were to remove them from the music, you’d remove its only interesting element.

In my opening paragraph I referred to this release as semi-autobiographical for a reason. Like Lawless’s Jonathan in The Crimson Idol, Otrebor uses the identity of The Botanist as a thin veil for his own. Putting this album together in solitude and writing about the destruction of the human race gives me some clues as to his misanthropic mindset, and possibly why it was best that he attempted this project single-handedly. The power of the Mandrake Legion is obviously his exaggerated route for improving this planet, and one which I don’t entirely disagree with, we will all return to the Earth from which we came after all. With three more albums already in the works and nearing completion, I will be watching his progress with a keen eye. This double release is an admirable starting point, and I can only hope he continues on this path of creativity. Hopefully there are even greater – and more lavish – things to come.

Rating: 3.5/5

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