Interview by Kim Kelly for Terrorizer #233, March, 2013
With his feet firmly rooted in Nature, Botanist mainman Otrebor has crafted an album based on the concept of the Mandrake plant. With his project redefining black metal, Terrorizer is eager to find out more...
"The popular saying, 'you can't please everyone all the time,' is grossly overestimated. It's far too positive even in its attempt to be conservatively realistic. I believe 'you can't please anyone all the time' is much closer to how things end up working out," Otrebor, the man behind Botanist, opines a bit wearily. It's easy to see why he'd tire of being asked whether the weird gimmick behind his band is really just a weird gimmick. After all, it ain't easy being the only one-man hammered dulcimer black metal band in the world.
"I know that some people love Botanist, others loathe it," he goes on. "I enjoy and appreciate that. I believe it is a good sign that one is making provocative art. I also know that's how it goes with any art made by anyone, ever. While I am thankful for all the support that is given to Botanist and intend to push the project as far as I can, I also feel that if the interest in Botanist ended tomorrow, I would continue to make the albums through the artistic vision I have planned for the project."
That vision is as convoluted and tangled as the roots of an old oak tree. Beyond the unorthodox instrumentation -- we'll get to that -- the other factor that severs Botanist so neatly from black metal and from conventional music at large is the complex and arcane mythology its creator has constructed around the project. Threads of anarchism, paganism, fantasy, madness and medieval withcraft are woven throughout the material with little regard for the uninitiated listener, and the backstory itself is the sort of whimsical, apocalyptic hippie anarcho-saga that a steady diet of LSD and Crass might spawn.
"All Botanist's songs are told from the perspective of a crazed man of science who has gone mad from witnessing what he views as humanity's crimes against nature," says Otrebor. The band website adds: "In his sanctuary of fantasy and wonder, which he calls the Verdant Realm, he surrounds himself with plants and flowers, finding solace in the company of the natural world, and envisions the destruction of man. There, seated upon his throne of Veltheimia, The Botanist awaits the time of humanity's self-eradication, which will allow plants to make the earth green once again."
Though that last quote comes across as a bit more negative than not, what with the whole "destruction of humanity" idea, the main message of this project is ostensibly positive, and, in fact, rather practical.
"The world is the most valuable thing in the world. The most essential thing. The world, as we know it, is divine. This unnamable, unknowable divinity's existence is reflected through our natural environment. If we, as humans, want to enjoy this world, to venerate it, to thrive within it, we must respect it; we must protect it, even if it's only for our personal benefit. if we don't, if we annoy the earth enough, the earth will kill us and move on."
You can't really argue with that line of thinking, whether you're a Pagan or a landscape developer who worships an entirely different type of green. Otrebor adds, "It is focused on venerating the form, function and spirituality of the natural world, and flora in particular. This is the primary goal as my view, as channeled through the music of Botanist, is that nature is divine. For the purposes of simplicity, I'll allow myself the use of the trite, catch-all term 'God.' God, which I mean as the force of whatever that causes what is to be, is unknowable. We cannot see or fathom it, but we can witness its manifestations, and there is no greater manifestation that what is represented in the natural world."
The Botanist's story is available for curious readers to devour in more detail on his website (see the end of the feature for the link), but for the moment, our subject was happy to shed more light on the inner workings of his craft.
The band is attributed to The Botanist, a "crazed man of science," but things go a bit deeper that a mere wacky black metal persona.
"I am not he, but he exists within me," Otrebor explains. "His entity is channeled through me in the albums that you hear. More plainly, his persona and his message is an allegory about nature, its importance and a rebellion against mankind's pervasive view of its own importance and how that view impacts all living things. This is an important distinction to make as if I did become The Botanist, if I did espouse that personality that exists somewhere within me, I would in fact go insane."
The band's latest album, titles "IV: Mandragora," is based around the mandrake, a traditionally eldritch, deadly plant -- poisonous, anthropomorphic, arkly sexual in its origin and hallucinatory in use. A bit more sinister than nature as God, then...
"The mythical mandrake is a humanoid plant creature that is a result of an alchemical practice of mixing 'human seed into animal earth.' What comes of this is a plant whose humanoid part dwells underground. When uprooted, the homunculus shrieks, killing all that hear it. The way the story in the Botanist album goes, Azalea, the voice of floral dissent that speaks to The Botanist and guides his actions, instructs The Botanist on how to raise an army of these mandrakes to eradicate humanity. That the mandrake as a semi-sentient being is capable of locomotion makes it the ideal notion of a soldier for Azalea's mythical army," he tells us.
The centerpiece of the album is comprised [sic] of the "Mandragora Suite," a five-song collection that details the rise of the Mandrake Legion. Two more songs follow, both independent of the album concept and dedicated to illuminating different plants altogether. One would thing that the sensible solution would have been to releasethe "Mandragora Suite" on its own, but then the second side of the LP would've seemed awfully short, so there you go!It'll be interesting to see how "IV: Mandragora" translates to wax, given the inherent bizarreness of the music it contains.
Botanist is like nothing you've ever heard before. That's not hyperbole or lazy writing; it's a fact. Fuzzed out, harmonious yet jarring, and deeply, deeply strange, narrated by grim Abbathian croaks and struck entirely on the strings of a hammered dulcimer (an ancient instrument from which the startling sweetness of the chords is derived). At times, it sounds like video game music; at others, it sounds as clear and hopeful as Alcest. It dips down into darkness, and soars back up towards the light.
This is black metal in name alone, and even that's debatable. Otrebor writes and records everything himself in true misanthropic woodsman form and prefers to keep it that way, although, as he reveals, Botanist may not always labour alone.
"I would like to take this fine opportunity to officially announce the Botanist live project. I have been actively working with some highly talented people in turning Botanist into a performing, touring band. The dedication and focus of these people has been inspirational to me and I am thankful for them. At this time, Botanist is intending on being a quintet and we intend to be ready for touring as of June," Otrebor says.
Ultimately, dear reader, you'll need to make up your own mind in regards to the Botanist and his peculiar creations. Its architect left us with a few last words to consider...
"Although I knew that what I was going to be undertaking was different and unique, those aspects weren't the ones that drove me. It isn't like I would giggle about imagining how much people would flip out over the material. I envisioned that I would have to self-release the albums in order to see them completed. I didn't expect anyone would help. That didn't concern me, either, as making the music felt so urgent. That level of urgency is still what burns within me today: That the Botanist project and what it is about is far bigger than I am, and so I must do it."