Interview by Mary Spiro of Metallomusikum.Original posting here.
Botanist: he drums for the trees
I am a firm believer in having no rules in most anything, especially music. Black metal may be one of the most rigidly defined subgenres, and its fan base can be rife with elitist assholes (of which I can be one), but black metal is still the soundtrack of outsiders and miscreants. Therefore, the music of Botanist, which consists primarily of minimalistic hammered dulcimer melodies, doom-y drumming and strangled vocals, may be the most sinister black metal there is. That's right: hammered dulcimer black metal.
I first heard about Botanist, a one man black metal outfit from San Francisco, on the NPR website. Somehow, the melodic tendrils of this brutal, eco-terrorist wrapped themselves around my mind and heart. I vowed that I would track down the musician behind these hypnotic plant worshiping hymns and unearth his secrets.
Botanist has released two recordings. The first, which Botanist sent to me, is the double album I: The Suicide Tree/II: A Rose from the Dead. There are 40 tracks on this effort released in July 2011 on tUMULt. This recording mostly consists of short, fast black metal haikus. Instead of praising Satan, Botanist praises flora and something referred to as the Verdant Realm. Everyone has a god I guess. Vocals are reminiscent of the amphibious croaks of Dagon. The drumming is at times militaristic. The dulcimer is frenetic, discordant and evil. You will never hear anything like this anywhere. Guaranteed.
The newest recording is III: Doom in Bloom/Allies, which came out in May 2012. The first half of the recording includes seven songs performed by Botanist. The second half of this recording are Botanist songs covered by other artists. The overal vibe of this new recording is very different from the first. The songs are slower, doomier, more dirge like. I have read a handful of reviews on this second Botanist album and some are not very complimentary. But you know what? I like this effort even more than the earlier recording. Something about the slow, plodding beats, the buzzing dulcimer melodies and the whispered vocals make this recording feel more intimate, more organic, and even more devastatingly terrifying than the last year's work. Plus, the last one was 40 songs, just sayin'--that's a lot to get through.
I also read recently that the Botanist entry on Metal Archives was booted because the music lacked guitar riffs and therefore was not metal enough. Let me say a few words about the hammered dulcimer as an instrument for black metal. You might think that hammered dulcimer would sound too happy or sweet for this style of music. That might be true if you are thinking of a jig on St. Patrick's Day or an hymn at a bluegrass festival.
But when I hear a hammered dulcimer I think of a villain tying a poor damsel in distress to the train tracks. I think of creepy old black and white silent films. You don't get much more black metal than that. Furthermore, the way in which the dulcimer is played here, the sound closely resembles the tremolo guitar picking common in traditional black metal. Guitars are not required. I have heard tenor saxophones, violins, pan pipes, wooden blocks and even banjos used in black metal songs. There should be no rules.
At last word, Botanist has started work on another recording and is earnestly recruiting musicians to take this show on the road. Let's hope both become reality.
I was able to contact the man behind Botanist. Here is a short Q&A. -- Mary Spiro, Metallomusikum, October 4, 2012
Could you perform this music live? Or would you bring live performers with you on a tour?
If Botanist played live, I would almost certainly play drums and do the bulk of the vocals. For the rest of the parts, I would need touring musicians. I’ve broadcast this desire in interviews in the past, and will do so again here. One capable dulcimer player has come forward, but really, to make a tour happen, Botanist will have to grow far more in popularity in order to be released by the kind of label that could organize a tour in which enough revenue could be generated in order to pay the way of touring musicians. Perhaps some day.
Why do you conceal your identity?
The central theme of Botanist is the glorification of the Plantae Kingdom, and specifically that glorification as seen through the eyes of one person. The identity or specifics of that person are entirely up to the imagination of the listener. Just like anyone else, ever, who makes records, I, Otrebor, am of course a real person living a life that isn’t entirely involved with making music, but any presentation of that life, any images depicting my appearance -- basically, anything having to do with mundane reality, is not only immaterial to Botanist, but counterproductive to its aims. Botanist is not about me. It’s about Botanist. Should you meet me in person, or see me -- should Botanist ever perform on stage -- that relationship between listener and artist would necessarily change, which must be accepted. If you want to dig around and “figure out” who I am, please feel free. It’s not that hard to find. But what will it get you? Will you like Botanist more?
How is black metal particularly suited to the messages of your music?
Again, Botanist primarily concerns itself thematically with the reverence of a sense of sacredness in regards to Nature. Botanist has endeavored to, in some substantial way, adhere its work to the overarching tenets of black metal. As such, the core thematics of the project were adapted, as a sort of tribute, of homage, to the genre that has made such an impact in my life, and of the particular aspects of its philosophy, world view, mystique, sound, and lore that I personally identify with.