There’s a debate to be had about the continued usefulness of the term ‘black metal’ and whether or not it’s become something of an empty signifier, both in terms of some notion of a unified field theory, and on the more simple level of sonic descriptiveness. In truth, though, away from the rabid fancies of the kvlt-ists there has always been those who are willing to take the sacred template and run into the glacial forests with it. And for a good while now the black metal underground has been alive with acts doing strange and wonderful things, and 2012 is proving to be something of a golden year.
Enter the Botanist. It is a such a ridiculously, well, fertile creation it’s hard to know where to begin in describing it. The Botanist (singular) plays what is loosely black metal, he plays it entirely on drums and hammered dulcimer. He inhabits ‘The Verdant Realm’ where he surrounds himself in flora and awaits the coming apocalypse. The Botanist receives incantations from Azalea, the Satan of the verdant realm, from which he works up plans to speed up the downfall of man and the coming of the budding dawn. His work is a form of mystical eco-terrorism, creating hypersigils in form of music and text with which he seeks to hasten the apocalypse. He comes on like a cross between Wodwo, manifestation of the forest, and an avatar of that archetypal black metal figure, (minus the hammy anti-Christianity): pagan, cut off, hidden and possessed by the ancient spirits of the forest. But there is also something closer to the ideals of Ted Kaczynski at work here (albeit without the threat of actual violence) – man blundering and beyond salvation, subservient to technology, blindly destroying the planet, needing to be stopped…
But uberous concept aside (and the artwork by MS Waldron only adds to this: it’s strange and glorious), is what Botanist is doing musically worth attending to? And it’s pretty much an emphatic yes. On earlier records (I: The Suicide Tree and II: A Rose From the Dead) there was a real lo-fi oddness about the sound, coming on at times like a more vaudeville Macabre; but on III: Doom In Bloom, the production is cavernous and broad, the drums and dulcimer combining in an almost glassy piano-like throb that reverberates cleanly in the ear canal. This vast created space gives room for the vocals to swirl and coalsesce, by turns pitch-black, vomited or backgrounded and whispered, swirling like fog. On the 13-minute ‘Quoth Azalea, The Demon (Rhododendoom II)’ the pace moves from the album’s signature doom-laden crawl to a not-unlike Godspeed semi-crescendo at the mid-point, Botanist grakking out his floral manifesto:
‘I am yours, pentatheric master
Your germination is my task
May your red plantae legions
Sow the seed of the Budding Dawn
Tearing down the human presence
Uprooting their destructive ways
Your dominion will I engineer
May flora again reign supreme’
At its close, the track retreats into a kind of sinister sylvan calm, the dulcimer again coming closest to its glacial pianistic resting point. This gives way to ‘Deathcap’ more atonal and doom-laden, the lyrics veering closer to a notion of metamporphosis and symbiosis, the subject losing itself inside the toxins and eventual renal failure and death. These twin themes come to dominate the album, and in truth the template comes to be a fairly simple one. In terms of precedent of the sound, you might think of the cleaner moments of Xasthur, or the more military-minded Earth of The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull but it’s pretty much out there on its own, and lyrically? It’s definitely out there on its own, with a track like ‘Vriesea’ little more than a delineation of a epiphytic plant family inside of which certain breeds of frog have been known to live out there entire life cycles.
There’s a second CD of recreations and remixes courtesy of friends and several former associates of the Botanist, based around drum patterns imagined and discarded during the recording process of III: Doom in Bloom. These run from darkly atmospheric (‘Matrushka’) to the more symphonic ‘Cordyceps’ by former bandmates Ophidian Forest, to the almost chamber-black metal of Arborist’s ‘Total Entarchy’ (featuring what could be a theremin, or might be a headless, screaming geranium). These tracks flesh out the thesis and in my mind should be seen as an almost entirely separate project so as not to detract from the oddness and purity of what the Botanist is trying to achieve.
Is it black metal? I suppose formally and technically it probably isn’t – it’s too spacious, too resonant; but on some other thematic level it simply is black metal, or at the very least a close genetic relative. It’s also daft and brilliant. Fly agaric anyone?