Botanist turns focus toward praise, adulation of beloved green life on joyous ‘VI: Flora’

BotanistReally great music is a labor of love. You can feel that in your bones when you come across an artist or a record that is filled with genuine emotion and passion for what’s going on musically and thematically. It’s not something that needs to be explained; it’s something that grips your heart and lets you know what’s there is true.

I’ve always felt that way about Botanist, the one-man, dulcimer-and-drum-led project of one Otrebor. Over the past several years, he has given us a glimpse into his Verdant Realm, where plant life and nature is the only thing that matters, and its human central figure the Botanist surrounds himself with the greens that he loves and takes care of so dearly. But there’s always been a sinister, dark edge to the record and the songs (especially on “III: Doom in Bloom” and “IV: Mandragora”), mainly because the Botanist and his surrounding creatures hope one day to bring humankind to their knees for the atrocities they have committed against plant life. But the intentions are noble. The Earth has spiraled out of control into a place of corporate-driven agendas, political fighting, and the strangulation of the very idea of scientific theory by some very short-sighted people. The Botanist imagines a day when nature rises again and reclaims what is her very own. These tenets play right into the heart of black metal aesthetics, where Botanist’s music has its base, but in a way no one ever really imagined before.

Botanist coverBut on “VI: Flora,” the scene changes a bit. Not that every bit of music Botanist has put out has necessarily been devoted purely to the Botanist character’s crusade, but this one is the most unique out of the entire catalog. I mean that musically and emotionally. This record is more of an adulation to the surrounding plant life in the Verdant Realm. It’s a genuflection, a devotion, an embrace of all of the elements of nature that make the Botanist’s very human heart glow. You can feel that shine through in the music, as these 11 songs are some of the most upbeat, emotional, and catchy of his entire run, and it’s impossible for anyone who listens to this record not to be carried away or even shed a tear for what’s being expressed here. It’s utterly jubilant in spots, and even when the music bears its edges, it’s more of fierce devotion rather than the will to maim. It’s an amazing, breath-taking collection that fits with the whole but truly has its own place.

Opener “Stargazer” gives the record a triumphant feel from the start, with the vocals veering toward whispery and washed-out creaking. The melodies glimmer at times over this track, and eventually it fades out and sets the stage for “Callistemon.” The song has an upbeat, almost post-punk feel, as the composition stings with power, and the vocals lie low in the layers of sound. Toward the end, the drums really burst with life, as Otrebor plays like Neil Peart in a burst of spastic, jazzy fury. “Cinnamomum Parthenoxylon,” named a critically endangered type of evergreen tree, is treated with faster tempos, explosive emoting, and a blazing attitude, as if the focus here is to lash out over this creation’s fragile future. It’s the first real hint of deep-seeded darkness on this record. “Gleditsia” bursts with life from the start, with drums rumbling, the dulcimer hammered with gusto, and turning into a catchy pace that could sweep you up to sing praises back yourself. “Rhizophora” trickles slower, with some buzzing, a nice dose of drone, and noises hanging in the air that feel like a hovering insect. It’s a mesmerizing song that can make you feel a little woozy inside.

“Dianthus” is another song with a really strong melody that packs a punch. It’s a catchy, steady track, with the vocals coming out as whispers again, and the back end of the song is damn near poppy! “Leucadendron Argenteum” is the longest track on here, running more than six minutes and establishing an amazing sense of atmosphere. The piece builds out of that spaciousness, and the tempo kicks up like so many of the other tracks on this record. The song is packed with heartfelt passion, both musically and vocally, and once the main body of the music burns out, quiet dulcimer takes the remains to its exit. Really strong. “Pteridophyte” has some noisy elements, as that energy washes over the music and gives it a rougher edge. Again, the outer edges appear to glimmer and practically give off a euphoric shine. “Wisteria” is launched by stick cracks, and then it’s off into the haze, with clean singing lurking. It gives a different feel to the song and also offers another new glimpse into this project’s heart. “Erythronium” emerges from the final notes of “Wisteria,” and it takes a colorful, driving push forward. The vocals again are whispery, the presentation is sweeping, and joyously so, and the song makes for one great last burst of praise. The final cut “…Gazing…” is 54 seconds of emotional comedown, as the dulcimer quietly leads us out of the Verdant Realm and back to reality.

Botanist has been one of the most prolific projects in metal the past half-decade, and each new chapter is enthralling and a another step up from what came before it. “Flora” is a very different record for this gifted artist, and it’s one that you can feel in every ounce of your being. You don’t necessarily have to understand everything that’s being said right away. You can sense the wonder and love in each note. It’s been an amazing ride we’ve taken with each new Botanist release, and Otrebor always has something new to reveal. If anything, maybe this record can help more listeners feel the love the artist and main character possess for nature around us and make us think twice next time we take it for granted. That’s worth hailing indeed.

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