Botanist imagines screaming mandrakes, humankind’s demise on ‘IV: Mandragora’

The end has been sort of an unofficial theme this week, from what it might be like watching our final moments and how we’d mark them, to the conclusion of a long-standing project that fades away. Today, we’re simply delving into the end of humankind. No big deal, right? It’s going to happen anyway, but could it come from an unlikely source, one we never suspected?

If the Botanist has anything to do with it, ours will be a leafy demise, as we’re choked to death by the very nature we seem to be trying to wipe out at will for the latest strip mall or drilling site or whatever. We’ve long covered this story that’s at the heart of the music from Botanist, a one-man experimental black metal band that is likely one of the most unconventional projects you’ll ever hear. Sorry if it sounds like I’m repeating myself from past stories on the band, but for those who are new to these pages and/or to Botanist, I feel some review is needed. Botanist tells the story of the Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in exile in the Verdant Realm, where he surrounds himself with nature and plots the downfall of mankind. His primary influence is Azalea, the evil spirit of Nature and a demonic plant in and of itself that speaks into the ear of the Botanist (represented, primarily, by the whispery vocals you hear) and provides instructions on how to carry out the apocalyptic plan.

Botanist, the musician, who plays this music mostly on hammered dulcimer and drums, has returned with a fourth chapter and third overall release with “IV: Mandragora,” his first effort for Flenser Records and a natural progression from 2012’s “III: Doom in Bloom.” That record really branched out musically from the dual-released first two parts of the story, 2011’s “I. The Suicide Tree/II. A Rose From the Dead” and showed a completely different compositional vision for this project and story. The songs were longer and more involved, and the influence of Azalea grew even more aggressively and mysteriously. On “IV,” the Botanist’s voice is more present and forceful, more like the first two efforts, and his mission to bring about the end hits a boiling point.

IVThis time, the Botanist’s instructions and mission are far clearer. Azalea instructs him to create an army of mandragora in order to wipe out mankind, and to do so, he must resort of alchemical practices to bring this legion to life. Anyone who hears the mandrakes scream (naturally, this also makes me think of Iron Maiden’s “Moonchild”) instantly is claimed by death, therefore the Botanist seems to have a pretty handy weapon at his disposal if he can raise and nourish his troops of death. And as this story progresses, not only does the intensity of the Botanist’s mission seem to grow in fervor, so does his insanity and drive to follow Azalea’s mission.

“Arboreal Gallows” begins the record, and after sticks strike, the song melts into a fast tempo, with creaky growls indicating the Botanist’s voice as he spits out, “Their necks snapped irrevocably, penance for their crimes, atonement for their sins, from their death shall spring life.” That leads into “Nightshade,” that ramps up the terror and violence, as croaked growls and shrieks meet up (dual personalities? dual agendas?), and eventually it slips into a cosmic pocket that makes me feel like our main character could be lying on the forest floor at night, staring up into the moonlight through branches. “To Amass An Army” should not be too hard to comprehend, with a foggy, eerie atmosphere and Azalea giving directions on how to assemble to troops. “Seek the briony root, and raise the mandrake legion.” “Nourishing the Fetus” has a cool, airy feel to it, a melancholy sense musically, and here we begin to see the realization of warfare come to fruition. “Mandrake Legion” imagines judgment coming to pass, with the demonic minions rising and carrying out their morbid deed, with the Botanist observing, “Shrieking soldiers amass, extermination cries piercing, wiping clean the earth.” Morbid, yet glorious.

The final two songs on the album, we’re told, are not actually a part of the “Mandragora” storyline and instead are situated elsewhere. Both songs – “Sophora Tetraptera” and “Rhyncholaelia Glauca” – have a ramped-up musical intensity, seem to include sounds other than hammered dulcimer and drums, and even seem to layer Azalea’s voice, with both the usual whispering and a more outward yelling. At least that was my interpretation as to what’s going on here. The plant “Sophora Tetraptera” has both positive and negative uses for humans, and lyrically is sounds like there are elements of both healing and destruction. “Rhyncholaelia Glauca,” named after a type of orchid that grows on other things, seems to celebrate the flower’s existence, perseverance, and presence, paying homage to something that depends on something else for survival. Or I could be wrong.

Botanist has kept us enthralled, guessing, and a little frightened over the life of this project, and with the leaves and flowers getting ready to return soon here on the East Coast, I can’t help but wonder if I should keep one eye open on my long spring walks. The Botanist seems to have paid in full into this scheme and is furiously doing Azalea’s bidding, and the mysterious close leaves open many possibilities. At the same time, Botanist’s music seems to be gaining more leaves and roots with each new composition, and his musical army truly is coming to life. These albums keep getting bigger and more sinister, and there’s no telling how this whole thing will end. One thing’s for sure though: No one will be the same once this story ends.

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