Botanist is a curious and decisive band. The brainchild of drummer ‘Otrebor‘, their brand of unique ‘Green Metal’ (their chosen descriptor) takes familiar tropes from blackgaze and the more avant end of the black metal genre but uses a hammered dulcimer and harmonium in place of guitars. The result is perhaps more ‘traditional’ overall than you would imagine such a set up to be, but that’s because they use these instruments instead of rather than deliberately using them as an adjunct. It lends to an airy, almost ethereal, sound that gives plenty of space for all the instruments to breathe (it’s only the drums and bass guitar that survive from a more orthodox metal combo). This, tediously, has led to their blacklisting at metal-archives for apparently not being metal. Despite sounding very much like a metal band, and certainly more metal than many of their other inclusions. Quelle surprise…
Hammer of Botany was originally released as an EP to support their European tour 2015 with a run of just 250 physical CD copies, but now also includes the 13-minute Oplopanax Horridus to make it a full-length. With that in mind, it’s easy to presume that these would be some half-baked ideas or tracks not considered able to make the grade on a regular release. If that is the case then I certainly can’t hear it. Admittedly the production lacks the polish of the full-length release, more noticeable with the added track, but this doesn’t distract overall.
The album starts with The Footsteps of Spring, and a sparse riff driven by double bass gives way to a blast beat before crashing in with an almost triumphant rise through the scale. It’s this sense of dynamic that serves Botanist so well; they don’t feel the urge to fill every available inch of space, allowing the moments when it does come to a head to pack a much bigger punch.
Stachys Olympica changes things up a touch, with a slow-to-mid beat overlaid with a female vocal and interspersed with a whispered croak. Overall it feels more of an interlude than a song outright, though not out of place.
Pelargonium Triste highlights what Botanist do very well, and also showcases the hammered dulcimer’s benefits as a lead instrument. It allows the drums to lead the way but punctuates the song with half-tempo melodic stabs before joining in at full pelt to great effect. The blend of percussion and musicality from the dulcimer sounds so natural in this context that it’s amazing that no one had thought to use one before.
Oplopanax Horridus, the added track, is arguably the stand-out here despite the recording being slightly cruder. The length of the track probably helps in terms of scope, but for me the transitions seem more fluid and there’s more effort put into the vocals, which on the main EP tracks occasionally seemed like an afterthought.
I don’t have lyrics to hand for this release, but I’ll assume they’re on similar lines to the other material. Phytological forensics, sort of like a vegan Carcass, going in hand-in-hand with more traditional nature-worship whimsy.
If you’re not already familiar with Botanist then this probably isn’t the right place to start (go for Vi:Flora and work from there), but it’s definitely a worthy addition to their prolific catalogue.
This is a band I’ve admired for a while, and I note that they’ve recently recruited the ludicrously talented Davide Tiso, erstwhile of Ephel Duath, latterly with Howling Sycamore, and the vanguard of that dissonant guitar style more recently associated with bands such as Deathspell Omega. I don’t know the band’s internal dynamics, and on the face of it Botanist seems to be Otrebor’s baby, but I’d love to hear what Davide could bring to the table if given the freedom to do so.
Hammer of Botany is out now.