Album Review: Botanist — “VIII: Selenotrope”

There is no other band out there like Botanist.  A lot of bands make this claim for themselves, and for most of them it is more or less true, but in this case there is no denying it: there is no other band out there like Botanist.  From the aesthetics to the instrumentation to the execution, everything about this project is both wholly unique and contrary to the dour, sometimes hostile black metal that this project shares its roots with, pun very much intended.  On VIII: Selenotrope, mastermind Otrebor returns to solo recording and expands the already inventive music they are known for.

Alright, so unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard of Botanist and what they do differently than their peers.  If you haven’t, let’s just recap the two major points very briefly.  One, the band’s aesthetic is crafted around a character called “The Botanist” who is “a crazed man of science that lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from humanity and its crimes against nature as possible” (literally, goals).  Two, the project utilizes hammered dulcimers instead of guitars (and are apparently the first band to ever install a magnetic pickup in a hammered dulcimer).  While originally rooted in black metal, you can tell that the resemblance is thin already outside of some slim similarities, and on VIII: Selenotrope, the envelope is pushed even more.  As with all Botanist albums that begin with Roman numerals, the Selenotrope was recorded solo by Otrebor, as opposed to with help from session musicians.  The first solo recording since 2014, Selenotrope sees the project move in a direction that is much more expansive and experimental.  The harsh vocals are all but gone, replaced instead with whispers, chants and choral arrangements, which leaves the blast beat drums as really the only thing resembling black metal on here.  However, you know my feelings on bastardizing black metal, and they are overwhelmingly positive.

I don’t think I will ever truly get over how much I adore the hammered dulcimer sound that Botanist have been perfecting all this time.  It inspires such a huge range of dynamics and feelings that I’m actually shocked more people don’t consider it when composing music that isn’t folk.  Of course, there is so much raw beauty inspired by such an ethereal sound, and it’s hard not to get lost in the gorgeous wash of melody hitting you when tracks like “Angel’s Trumpet” and “The Flowering Dragon” really kick in, but there are moments here that are brooding and contemplative as well (see the seemingly improvised solo dulcimer composition that is the title track).  The instrument really can do a lot when it’s played by someone with untouchable skill and boundless creativity, and there is no better example of that than on Selenotrope.  The way the dulcimer opens up space for the bassline to fill in is nothing short of genius, and the change-up in the vocals perfectly compliments the instrumentation in a way that does not detract attention from anything and also holds its own in the space created.  You know you’re listening to something special when the crescendo hits and all the pieces come clearly into focus, like they’ve been turned up and fine-tuned just for this moment.  This feels like a Botanist that is fresh and inspired.  Not that recent releases like Photosynthesis and Cicatrix haven’t, but Selenotrope is something above and beyond.  It is an album that inspires true awe at the beauty of nature and music and what they can do for each other.

Call it avant garde, call it progressive or experimental or whatever else you want, you really can’t nail down everything that is Botanist with one term.  The project encompasses so much more than just the sum of its unconventional and inspired parts, and Selenotrope is the culmination of all the hard work and ingenuity that has gone in so far.  What else can you say except “long live green metal”?

— Ian

VIII: Selenotrope will be available May 19 on Prophecy Productions.  For more information on Botanist, visit their official website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s