Botanist expand ranks, focus on plants bailing us out yet again on oxygen-rich ‘Photosynthesis’

In the dark annals of metal and heavy music in general, there have been myriad concept pieces that encompass entire albums and drive you into story mode. We’ve had government conspiracies and murderous nuns, chosen beings who cannot handle their powers and head down a path toward self-destruction, the plight of coal workers in the Midwest, aliens, you name it.  

Bay Area force Botanist have been creating conceptual pieces ever since they got started more than a decade ago, based on happenings in the fictional (we think!) Verdant Realm, and along the way we’ve had plant life battle back to wrest control of the earth from humans. But this time around, Botanist bring an album focus unlike any other we’ve heard before in that it’s simple on the surface but looks at a process that sustains life all over the world. “Photosynthesis” is literally about that very process. It focuses on plant life breaking down sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen, basically keeping animal life afloat in the process. Typically Otrebor is the sole person performing the music, but this is one of the project’s collaborative efforts where they expand the band as Daturus handles drums, Tony Thomas plays bass, Chelsea Rocha Murphy contributes vocals to a track, and the legendary Dan Swano is responsible for audio production. It’s a more full-bodied effort, and it bursts with life.

“Light” starts the record on a bright note as propulsive melodies stir, and the clean singing adds a hypnotic edge. The dulcimer rains down while the playing turns rustic and prog-fueled as the track ends in spacious wonder. “Water” slowly comes in as the melody chimes away, and the singing floats like a cloud. A dreamy haze hovers as whispers poke through the shadows before the playing turns spirited, and things charge and bubble as wild howls rip out into the night. “Chlorophyll” feels both ominous and grandiose as it stretches its wings while shrieks hammer, and an abrasive feel scrapes at the earth. Shadows wash in as the song bursts with energy, anguished wails leave bruising, and the power finally subsides. “Dehydration” stings with dulcimer notes before the drums kick in, and things are speedier than what preceded it. Harsh growls blister as the melodies begin to spread, setting off chemical impulses that rush the song into panicked gusts.

“Bacteria” hangs in the air and as the drums begin to unravel, and the track slowly builds its intensity. The drums then crush wills as Otrebor cries, “Regeneration!” while the music blends into dreamier terrain, adding clean calls before the track bleeds out. “Stroma” packs dulcimer, hearty growls, and even some atmospheric singing that melts your psyche. The pace is daring and pushy, adding a psychological edge as the fogs begin to collect, with things coming to a smothering finish. “Palisade” enters with the drums driving forcefully and manic vocals adding extra layers of anxiety. The playing feels like it wrenches your guts while synth creates a disorienting pall, while a pillowy haze settles as gentle strums take us away. “Oxygen” closes the album by launching in an urgent pace, rushing through and crashing into storms. Spirited singing mixes with shrieks, while the playing takes on the vibe of a black musical, pushing into chilling winds and murky synth. The dulcimer drips as the singing rises again, a choral gust warms chests, while Otrebor calls, “To the flora and the fauna,” as the track disappears into clouds.

There likely isn’t another heavy music record anywhere that uses photosynthesis as a conceptual center, but that’s fitting as there really is no other band quite like Botanist. “Photosynthesis” is a fascinating record, another great version of this collective form of the band that helps to fully flush out every corner. This album will live in your psyche both as a raging storm and a calming spirit as you consider the very process that helps us unworthy humans remain alive.   

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