On first glance, Botanist is a peculiar project, but look deeper and it makes perfect sense. It started as a solo project for a guy calling himself Otrebor, but one-man black metal bands are not uncommon, and his prominent use of hammered dulcimer is in line with other avant garde groups experimenting with extra-metallic instrumentation. Eventually, he started to bring in musicians to assist him in creating his vision, which\ again is not unheard of.
The Botanist moniker manifest itself in fixations with plant life. His self-described “Green Metal” is marked by observations about nature which, whether musty smells from fetid, floral swamps or the tranquil snow-blanketed trees of Scandinavian woodlands, have always had a hand in inspiring black metal atmosphere.
Since forming in 2009 Botanist has gradually become even less unorthodox. Some of his collaborators spun off into Lotus Thief, who make textured, dreamy post-metal inspired by classic literature and marked by hauntingly beautiful female voices. The project was so well-received it transcended a mere side dalliance and morphed into a band in its own right. Possibly as a result of that success, Collective: The Shape of He to Come (Avantgarde Music) sees Botanist acting like more than just a collective and instead resembling an actual band.
Otrebor recorded his drum tracks way back in 2010, a full year before the I: The Suicide Tree debut, but took them out of the mothballs and asked a handful of musicians to do the rest. But instead of asking others to create his vision, for the first time Botanist solicited creative input from others including Bezaelith (nee Beth Gladding) from Lotus Thief. They were given the tracks and, after instilling their own unique visions, gave them back to Otrebor who added keyboards and vocals.
Interestingly enough, after rescinding control of Botanist, Collective: The Shape of He to Come is arguably the most consistent release of the band’s canon. Certainly it is the easiest to digest the entire way through as Bezaelith’s expressive vocals seem like choral hymns from ancient churches. If this is still the Botanist, the plant life is ancient ivy climbing crumbling walls of nearly forgotten cathedrals.
“The Reconciliation of Nature and Man,” the third of six tracks, is possibly the quintessential Botanist track. The metallic clanging of what seems like a dozen dulcimers drive alongside more traditional black metal percussion and keyboards chiming like shoegazing psych-rock guitars. The vocals get more frantic as the song moves along, with the yin and yang of surreal female and harsh male vocals creating a great sense of foreboding.
Surrounding that aural perfection you have “Praise Azalea the Adversary,” a three and a half minute album intro that goes from sedate to sinister, and “And the World Throws off Its Oppressors,” a folk song backed with what sounds like harpsichords from space followed by an 11-minute opus called “Upon Veltheim’s Throne Shall I Wait” that is as elaborately symphonic as the preceding track was simple. Finally album closer “To Join the Continuum” is an extended, melancholic outro that incorporates sounds of birds and other wildlife. This proves that even though Botanist is embracing nurture, it will always come back to nature in the end. Perhaps Otrebor is finally seeing the forest for the trees.