Botanist - Ecosystem
Aural Music
Blackened Post-Metal
8 songs (33:38)
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Goat

For a genre so intrinsically conservative, so bound up with its own rules and regulations, there is a vast amount of black metal (and indeed, black metal-related experiments) that are interesting precisely because they flout these rules and strike out for new terrain. Ecological black metal in the Wolves In The Throne Room/Fauna archetype is just one offshoot from the gnarly roots of the genre; Botanist goes one better in its naturalist inclinations, the subject matter of plants destroying humanity enough for any environmentalist supervillain to salivate over. And this project strikes at the very heart of its parent genre by swapping guitars for hammered dulcimer, making for a sound that is at once clearly recognisable as blackened while simultaneously very, very different. Initially a one-man group masterminded by the mysterious Otrebor, membership has recently expanded to include the likes of Ephel Duath mainman Davide Tiso on bass, a sign of the group's increasing popularity. They've been a long-term interest if not quite favourite of your humble correspondent since the 2013 split with Palace of Worms and subsequent albums have been curios if not quite bursts of verdant genius. The way that the dulcimer acts as a melodic, if clearly rhythmic, replacement for guitar riffs is interesting and usually captivating, but the compositional efforts lag behind a little, making for a result more of interest to genre aficionados than your average headbanger (read: music nerds will like this, no-one else will).

Yet as a musical project this bears fruit and Otrebor's mad-musical-scientist idea has the glimmer of genius that makes each new Botanist outing worth hearing, at least, and latest full-length Ecosystem is no different. With a greater focus on drumming behind the dulcimer and vocals in front of it, this is a step sideways from past efforts that relied perhaps a little too much on the dulcimer but it's interesting not least for the mix of harsh and clean, sometimes almost choirlike vocals that pull the music a little further away from black metal and towards that airy, tangled mass known as 'post-metal'. The melodies are allowed to breathe a little more here, ranging from density to sparseness on opener Biomass, not necessarily to the music's benefit as it does expose the simplicity of certain passages, not to mention the sometimes awkward clean singing. More really can be more, it seems - borne out from the lush, almost post-rock splendour of the likes of Alluvial which push the melodies to the front and which take on such a natural beauty with the choir vocals to the point where returning this to the blackened sphere with harsh snarls seems self-defeating, not to mention restricting most songs to under four minutes leaves the listener wanting more.

It all gives the impression that this is a series of experiments rather than a complete album, Otrebor exploring this style in a lab rather than a studio and recording the results along the way. So the two-minute-plus Disturbance is a brief blast of Cult of Luna-esque sludge as reinterpreted by hitting every instrument in sight, closely followed by Acclimation's more restrained and proggy exploration that is built as much around the bass as the dulcimer, the results weirdly art-rock. Abiotic continues to experiment with a sound closer to Current 93 than anything, eerie and eccentric clean singing atop a fragile and almost chamber music backing. The closing gallop of Red-Crown seems more familiar with its speed and intensity, not to mention the six minute-plus runtime allows for a little more depth to be reached. All a little bizarre and random and that it sort of works together with repeated listens does at least show that there's something solid here! It would be good to hear Botanist produce longer pieces that explore more of the atmospheric peaks that the project grasps at but doesn't always seize, but in the meantime this continues to be a fascinating experiment, even if hard to recommend to all. Greta Thunberg and Thanos would love this, though.

Killing Songs :
Alluvial, Acclimation, Red-Crown
Goat quoted 65 / 100
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