"Botanist is a one-man black metal project, and as you can probably figure out from the title, IV: Mandragora is his fourth release. It's a concept album revolving around an army of mandrakes raised to wipe out humanity.
The music is very avant-garde, creative and unique, using hammered dulcimer instrumentation. One man black metal bands can be lo-fi and unsettling, and while there is extremity, some parts of the album are almost soothing. The production is good, and what gives the music an edge is the vocals. Tortured screams, croaky yells and ominous whispers cut through the atmospheric mid-tempo music, giving it a sense of urgency, and make the up-tempo parts that much more frantic. (4/5)" -- Chad Bowar, About.com, February19, 2013
"Full length number FOUR from this local eco-terroristic, drum and dulcimer driven black metal one band band, whose first two records were released as a pair on our very own Andee's tUMULt label. At the time, as much as we loved Botanist's unique and warped take on black metal, we must admit we were a bit surprised when Botanist sort of blew up, making all sorts of year end top ten lists, even popping up on Pitchfork and NPR. We sort of assumed it was too weird to have much appeal, but it seems if anything, that weirdness only made Botanist more appealing to non-metalheads, and in another surprise twist, brought out the open minded experimental streak we had just assumed most metalheads might be missing.
But it's easy to see why people dig Botanist. Heck, Andee dug his stuff enough to put it out. Botanist's music is dark and twisted, droned out and buzzy, weirdly melodic, super trance-y and hypnotic, it's really barely black metal, the blasting drums and the croaked squashed spider vocals really being the only truly black metal elements, even the metallic buzz of the dulcimer, aping the sort of fast picked BM riffing, ended up sounding like something wholly other.
Botanist's third record, on the Total Rust label, found him slowing things down, and creating his own version of doom, which like his take on black metal was appropriately and fantastically skewed. Which brings us to 'IV,' the fourth Botanist full length in two years, and once again, a whole sonic shift has taken place, this one more difficult to quantify, it's not black metal, and not doom, and this time around, we're tempted to say it's not even really metal. Actually not at all.
When we first heard it, we were struck by how melodic it was, almost shoegazey, the dulcimer strangely recorded, to turn the brittle buzz of the early records into something washed out and gloriously distorted, single strings ring out like prismatic chordal swirls, and the more rapid passages blur into blissed out streaks of hazy blurred dreaminess. In fact, minus the vocals, Botanist 'IV' sounds more like some experimental shoegaze pop band, even the blast beats seem to have been ditched in favor of more midtempo rhythms, and then those are mostly buried in the mix, beneath clouds of reverberant overtones, of whorls of FX drenched metallic chords, that all seem to sprawl like clouds of metallic shimmer, laced with keening melodies, the whole thing surprisingly sun dappled and prismatic.
If we didn't know the grim story behind the lyrics of 'IV,' we'd assume the theme was one of redemption and rebirth, or in keeping with the Botanist's themes, 'IV' plays out like the soundtrack to post-human earth, once the human race has been eradicated, and the world is a lush nirvana, where nothing but plants grow, allowed to spread out endlessly, and reach forever heavenward. And heck, even with the vocals, it's hard to disguise the lush melodic elements that pretty much entirely define the sound of IV.
Considering the sort of surprising widespread appeal the first few records had, we can only imagine this one might just be the real big breakthrough record for Botanist, it's so catchy and melodic, so pretty and lushly layered, that it's hard to imagine that even some of the more metal averse folks wouldn't or couldn't be won over. We even suggested to the Botanist himself that he should release an instrumental version, imagining the pure psychedelic shoegaze sonic bliss that would result, but for now, 'IV''s glorious mix of lush sonic bliss and grim verdant vokills is more than enough." -- Andee Connors, Aquarius Records, February 15, 2013
"A metal band called Botanist sounds like it must be a joke. Metal, after all, is supposed to be hard, cold, brutal and ... well, metal. Metal bands have intimidating names like Oppressor or Immolation or Obituary or (ahem) Metallica. They do not—I repeat not—christen themselves in honor of plant care. Save that hippie tree-loving crap for folk music.
The thing is, folk and metal aren't completely divorced from one another. This is especially true for black metal—the subgenre in which the one-man act Botanist (whose one man is named Otrebor) fits, to the extent that he fits anywhere. The Helsinki seven-piece Finntroll, for example, sound like they could play at a Renaissance Fair. Bands like Enslaved (from Norway) or Drudkh (from the Ukraine) work to link their music to a pagan volk past, channeling Norse myths or Ukrainian folk tunes into a howling atavistic rage against modernity.
Botanist's folk leanings, though, are more idiosyncratic than any of these bands—and arguably purer, at least in some sense. He doesn't dream of wiping out modernity. He dreams of wiping out humankind altogether. It's not the volk past he celebrates, but a past (and/or a future) where people no longer blight the earth with their incessant crawling and breeding. Or in the words of 'Arboreal Gallows' from his new album Mandragora:
Invoke the gods of the trees
Dangling in the boughs
Human prey held high
Their necks snapped irrevocably
Penance for their crimes
Atonement for their sins
From their death shall spring life
Death throes ejaculate
From the corpses plummet
Into earth imbibe
To sow the seed of the nightshade
Not that you can make out the lyrics when you listen to the song. Otrebor's vocals are little more than a strangled gargle—it sounds like he's the one dangling in the boughs with his neck snapped. The music starts with two wooden clicks of the drumsticks, what sounds like an exhalation, and then a black metal drone filling foreground and background, shifting and pulsing, occasionally pausing to change tempo and then resuming its relentless rush.
Black metal is often defined by that buzzing drone. Usually, for bands like Norway's much-imitated Darkthrone, that buzz sounds like iron clattering in some foul pit, broadcast to you over a broken radio connection. It's the noise of satanic mills, in other words; the grinding of war machines being hauled by the orcs of Saruman. But for Botanist the buzz is higher, clearer, more crystalline, less like orcs than like feral elves or swarms of great gleaming bees. The dulcimer and the drums fuse into a single percussive blur—a ringing timbre that's a kind of spiky, twisted mirror image of shoegaze's ecstasy.
Like black metal and folk, black metal and shoegaze have affinities ... affinities that Botanist's approach makes unusually clear. Donovan's gentle whimsy or My Bloody Valentine's high-volume transcendence—there's an otherworldliness in both of those, a desire for magic that's the emotional core of their music. Whether you're wearing your love like heaven with Donovan or blown a wish with My Bloody Valentine, you're moving into a clearer, more translucent world, where flesh and death dissolve into a fey, shimmering joy.
That feyness is in Botanist too. It's just that the joy that rises up has been resolutely sundered from its last human link, so you end up celebrating not the release from the body and the mundane, but the extermination of both. On 'Mandrake Legion,' the cascading dulcimer starts to approximate a choral voice. There's almost an echo of Enya or Vangelis there—a gentle breeze of New Age uplift whispering about 'Mankind's ashes' and 'Wailing horror.' Sail away, sail away, and Orinoco flow will strip the flesh from your bones.
The brilliance of Botanist, then, is that he takes all these things that are not metal—gentle British folk, shoegaze, New Age—and shows you that they are, in fact, more metal than metal. The dreams of obliterating force or of rotted bodies returned from the dead—Cannibal Corpse and Emperor and Gallhammer—are all just more human byproducts. Fearing them is just honoring our own stain: putting our own meat on a hook and gibbering before it. If you really want the true unflinching coldness of anti-life, Botanist says, you need to stop and smell the flowers.
The last track on the album, 'Rhycholaelia Glauca' (sic) is a description of the title orchid, laden with technical botanical terminology and set to a slow, dissonant processional, as if the plant has come in glory to take its crown. 'Oblong pseudobulbs fusiform / Mountainous epiphyte / On cork bark grows / Oblong pseudobulbs fusiform,' Otrebor gags while the dulcimer rings. 'Aromatic sweetness / fill the air.' It sounds like he's celebrating his own asphyxiation. For Botanist a better world, a more joyful world, a world of a new age, is one in which humans have gone back to the mulch that spawned them. To care for the world is to loathe the parasites that crawl upon it. Botanist hates more purely because he loves—which is why his metal that seems like many things that are not metal often sounds like the most uncompromising metal of all." -- Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic, February 21, 2013
"Marrying black metal to folk instrumentation is nothing new, but no one does it the way Botanist does. Stark, lo-fi, and utterly otherworldly, the one-man act from San Francisco turns the hammered dulcimer into an almost synthesizer-like implement of doom. Not that Botanist’s new album, IV: Mandragora, is in any way plodding or groove-laden; instead, its neo-pagan-meets-science-fiction backstory is played out through a shimmering set of eerie dreamscapes punctuated by Botanist’s demonic, multi-tracked vocal harmonies. There’s nothing else out there like Botanist, and with IV, he’s truly hitting his singular, sinister stride." -- Jason Heller & John Semley, A.V. Club, March 6, 2013
BEGRAVEN MOT NORR
"Credo che i miei amici abbiano cominciato ad odiarmi dal 2011, qualcun’altro sicuramente prima. Ho sempre avuto un problema con il contenere l’entusiasmo, non che sia una persona che si possa definire solare e travolgente, ma ogni volta che c’è qualcosa che mi esalta non riesco mai a fare a meno di cercare di coinvolgere tutti. Ovviamente di quanto fossi molesto poi me ne sono sempre reso conto solo successivamente.
Così è stato anche quando ho ascoltato per la prima volta I:The Suicide Tree/II: A Rose From the Dead di Botanist, e vogliate scusarmi se non vi darò nessuna informazione di tipo biografico tanto a smanettare con l’Internet siete bravi, poi basta andare suBotanist.nu ,oppure potete leggervi quest’intervista che gli feci all’epoca e pubblicata quìcosì vedete anche quanto faceva cacare il mio inglese.
E questo era il 2011. Ma adesso, dopo due anni esce IV: Mandragora, il quarto dei cinque dischi previsti per questo progetto, che è senza alcun dubbio uno dei più ambiziosi degli ultimi dieci anni. Quì siamo ormai lontani dall’ossessività ritmica e dal verticalismo melodico dei primi due lavori, allontanamento iniziato già con III: Doom In Bloom e quì riproposto. Ora tutto si carica di un disarmante fascino erotico, cullato da suadenti melodie ('To Amass An Army', 'Mandrake Legion') e ritmiche quasi marziali ('Nighshade'). Dopo quel 'canto della sirena' che era III: Doom in Bloom, adesso dall’inizio alla fine assistiamo alla chiamata alle armi del Botanist, il suo grido di raccolta. Truppe pronte per la soluzione finale, le ceneri dell’umanità ne saranno il concime. 'Their necks snapped irrevocably/Penance for their crimes/atonement for their sins/From their deaths shall spring life.'
Mandragora è stata evocata, la crociata corrotta dell’uomo volge ormai al termine, la natura ora è pronta a vomitargli indietro tutto l’odio che le ha scagliato contro per secoli, le sue spine taglieranno le gole dei falsi re della terra, quei leader che hanno relegato la natura in uno stato di subiezione. Quando il sangue diverrà terreno, non ci saranno più lamenti, non ci sarà più sofferenza.
Per quanto riguarda la scrittura, disco si concentra principalmente sulle linee vocali, sulle parole del Botanist, intorno alle quali si intreccia tutto il pattern melodico, soluzione che fa di questo IV:Mandragora il disco più complesso dal punto di vista compositivo fino ad ora realizzato da Otrebor. Album dopo album la scrittura dei brani infatti si è sempre fatta più complessa, ma quello di Otrebor non è un processo di composizione comune, quì non è l’artista a mettere su un vero e proprio metodo, piuttosto sono le situazioni, è il concept stesso a creare/esigere il suo metodo espressivo, quasi al pari della scrittura automatica. Questa di Otrebor non è dunque una scelta, ma è l’unica via possibile per dar voce a quella che sembra essere ormai l’alba della fine dell’uomo.
No passion but Black, no altar but Earth." -- Andrea Minucci, Begraven Mot Norr, April 7, 2013
"People who say that there’s nothing new under the sun clearly haven’t heard of the Botanist. The one-man black metal project not only turns the genre on its head, but also sounds like nothing else I’ve heard before. Sure he acknowledges the confines of the black metal genre, but his approach is fascinating. First and foremost he foregoes the use of guitars and instead uses a hammered dulcimer. This gives the music an otherworldly quality, like it’s chiming from another dimension or something. The percussion admittedly lays a bit flat, but that only give the dulcimer all the more room to be on display. Finally the vocals sound downright inhuman. Imagine something in between the typical tortured black metal screaming and (for any Doctor Who fans who might be reading) the Daleks, which also fits in with the Botanist’s similar disdain for the human race. The album also carries the themes of the mythology surrounding both the Mandragora and the Mandrake root (as pictured on the album’s beautiful cover). There is a lot to take in with this project and it’s not all laying right on the surface, so dig in.
"Black metal often has moments of intense rebirth and re-imagining, and it’s projects such as Botanist that fuels these periods of incredible experimentation and in turn threatens to turn the genre completely inside out.
Botanist first came to our attention in 2011 with the forty track, double album I: The Suicide Tree / /II: A Rose From The Dead which we talked about here, and last years III: Doom in Bloom / Allies (which had a particularly interesting take on collaboration in its favour, besides being excellent). Otrebor (vocals, drums, hammered dulcimer) has been constantly and consistently moving Botanist forward and giving us much to think about in terms of how we treat the natural world, our attitudes towards it and that we have a responsibility for our actions.
IV: Mandrogora continues the story of The Botanist and is fairly complex in its narration which hints at magic, pagan ideals, and legions of Mandragora (or demons) that are brought forth to obliterate mankind for his part in the destruction of the plant world. This is a record of intense scope, and Otrebor once again uses Botanist as a platform to call for action and whilst many black metal acts out there have agendas and missions and messages, they don’t always feel rounded out – Botanist feels entirely whole, and completely necessary.
IV: Mandragora is as eerie as any of the other works of Botanist, yet this time around the music and the ideas and thoughts behind it have been condensed and tightened with a much more palatable approach (we loved I and II, but it was often overwhelming in its length and ambition) to the issues at hand. Of course, the music is still utterly impenetrable and the combination of drums and dulcimer gives Botanist an insanity that no other artist can compare to. Otrebor’s vocal style is still marvelously unhinged in its strangled screams of skirmish and his voice lends the songs a supernatural action.
'Arboreal Gallows (Mandragora I)' begins the record with a cleverly hidden melody that sits below the otherwise harsh sounds that Botanist usually deals in. The track shifts in sudden movements from devastatingly quick patterns into a much slower sections and this in turn leads to the discordant resonances of 'Nightshade (Mandragora II)' which is delightfully reminiscent of Bosse-de-Nage at times.
Off-kilter strangeness is the modus operandi here, and arrangements heard are devilishly impressive. Just when you think you’ve got it, Botanist throws out another curious strike on the hammered dulcimer and you’re right back where you started. It’s truly fantastic, in all senses of the word, and the otherworldly appeal of this project is dragged to the very forefront of the mind via the droned out landscapes of 'To Amass an Army (Mandragora III),' the fiery attitude of 'Sophora Tetraptera' and the doomed elegance that the almost choral aspect of album closer 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca' possesses.
IV: Mandragora is likely to be the strangest thing we hear this year; unless of course The Botanist finds he has more to say, which is not entirely out of the question considering the amount of material this project has produced in such a short space of time.
The Botanist will rise. And we will lose this fight." -- Cheryl Prime, Cvlt Nation, March 7, 2013
"Botanist relies on vocals, drums, and hammered dulcimer. That’s right, there are no guitar parts in the band’s brand of unorthodox 'eco-terrorist' black metal. They weave between some doomier, atmospheric material and dulcimer raging blasts. Much of the time, the dulcimer is distorted which furthers the black metal sound and the odd, croaked vocals may take some getting used to. In fact, this is certainly a band that you will either love or hate, due to the eccentricity of it there’s not much room for middle ground. But for the metalhead that must hear it all, this is an experiment that has gotten better with time." -- Kyle McGinn, Dead Rhetoric, April 10, 2014
"Το concept του συγκεκριμένου project βασίζεται στην εκθείαση/προβολή της φυσικής ομορφιάς και του γήινου πλούτου. Οι Botanist είναι ένα one-man band που θεωρεί πως κινείται σε black metal πλαίσια εφ’ όσον καπλαντίζει τη μουσική του με έναν απίστευτα γελοίο ήχο στα τύμπανα και ρηχές κιθάρες μιας και καλά avant-garde φύσεως. Το αποτέλεσμα είναι τουλάχιστον ξεκαρδιστικό με τις ανέμπνευστες μελωδίες να προσφέρουν επικές στιγμές κωμικής τραγωδίας. Η στειρότητα του όλου εγχειρήματος πραγματικά δεν έχει προηγούμενο. Χωρίς να ξέρω τις διαδικασίες ηχογράφησης αυτού του αστείου αριστουργήματος, υποπτεύομαι ότι επετεύχθη εξ’ ολοκλήρου μέσω του τυπά που κινεί τα νήματα πίσω απ’ την πελώρια αυτή μπάντα. Το κλίμα παλεύει να ακουστεί και καλά δυσοίωνο, και καλά ατμοσφαιρικό, και καλά πρωτοποριακό και πρωτόγονο συνάμα. Πραγματικά, κάποιος ας του κάψει τον εξοπλισμό. Το IV: Mandragoraμάλιστα είναι ο τέταρτος δίσκος του γκρουπ (δηλαδή δεν αστειέυεται που έχει το γιώτα-βι με διαλυτικά, όντως το εννοεί). Τρέμω στη σκέψη του πόση άλλη παρόμοια μουσική έχει κυκλοφορήσει στο παρελθόν. Εδώ ο κόσμος καίγεται και ο Botanist χτενίζεται…" -- unknown, Def Lines, February 21, 2013
"Botanist sind in mehrerlei Hinsicht eine Ausnahmeerscheinung in der Musiklandschaft: Ein einzelner Musiker aus San Franscisco, der unter dem Pseudonym Otrebor in seinen Songs vor allem seine Liebe zu Pflanzen besingt, Geschichten über deren bevorstehende Übernahme der Weltherschaft erzählt, dazu abstrakten Black Metal mit einem Hackbrett statt einer Gitarre als Hauptinstrument performt und auch alle anderen Instrumente selbst einspielt. Auch wenn bereits die bisherigen Veröffentlichungen sehr hörenswert waren: Auf 'IV: Mandragora' stimmt zum ersten Mal alles: Das Songwriting ist rund, der Sound ist deutlich druckvoller und professioneller geworden und die atonalen, ungewöhnlichen Melodien von Botanist bezeugen sehr deutlich, warum es sich hier um eine Band handelt, die man unbedingt auf dem Schirm behalten sollte." -- Sebastian Baumer, Der Lampiongarten, January 22, 2014
DON'T COUNT ON IT REVIEWS
"I've been following Botanist since his first release a couple of years ago. From his debut double album to last year's more experimental double album we, as in me and those who listen, have seen a shift in the project's tone and sound. This new album was, surprisingly, short in comparison to his previous releases and was released as an individual album instead of with some sort of accompaniment - whatever that means.
This newest installment in the Botanist's discography surprised me just a bit on that initial listen through. The principle ideas are still the same, you still have a foundation based on wretched vocals, drumming, and hammered dulcimer, but what makes this newest release stand apart from the previous two (three... four?) is in the progressions that these songs make. There's an addition of distortion and/or noise that gives these songs a bit more of a chaotic sort of vibe, in addition to a more dissonant sense of melody exhibited throughout as well. The entire thing reeks of that sort of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord influence, and I know I say that a lot but I don't find that a bad thing. But perhaps the band that it reminded me of most was a group called The Ash Eaters - if you've heard them. It's an interesting shift from the more melodic ideas of the first release and the doomier side on the last one, though I will say that tempo wise, you won't find as many outright blasters as you might expect. The tempo is a bit more balanced throughout.
To a certain extent I would say that this album does contain some of the project's most accessible material to date, hear 'To Amass an Army (Mandragora III),' though it also contains some of the material that, at least I found to be it's most difficult to get into as well, 'Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)'. It's sort of a mixed bag in that regard because sometimes you'll get into a groove with the drums while you have these more dissonant chords being played over top but it works, while other times, obviously, you'll get into a section where it sounds like complete chaos (but in a good way). A couple of times during those more intense bursts it did make me think of some more post-hardcore bands, though that may just be me. I have to say, while the debut was something I found I could just put on in the car and really enjoy it, and the follow-up was more of something I would put on when I was relaxing or doing other work, I have yet to find a good place to listen to this. That's not a bad thing, but I found that this one was a bit more taxing to listen to and found myself a bit worn out after it had finished. The entire Mandragora 'saga' (which is the first five tracks on the album for those not aware) is probably the most interesting collection of songs that the Botanist has ever put together simply because of those reasons though. It shifts from being almost immediate and accessible in one track to being completely off-putting and dissonant with the next. The formula isn't original but it works well because the tracks never feel the need to overwhelm you with a single idea (this song is completely chaotic while the next is all melodic). Despite being divided into five pieces, it does feel a bit more like a collective song so I never got the feeling that this was simply five separate songs (even if that might have been the original intention).
I dug this album, I not sure it'll stay with me quite as long as the previous full-lengths simply because of how some of the tracks manifested themselves, but it's an enjoyable, and surprisingly short, listen. Despite how polarizing the project has been up til this point, this might just be it's most polarizing album yet. It's not for everyone, and if you haven't gotten over the fact that this isn't a gimmick yet, this album won't convince you, but if you're looking for some interesting post-hardcore/chaotic black metal-ish and nothing has satisfied your thirst, do yourself a favor and look for this album. (8.5/10)" -- Ian Flick, Don't Count on It Reviews, May 14, 2013
EAR INFECTION MUSIC
Sometimes, you can't talk about something without talking about something else. What I mean is, you can't really talk about Appalachian instruments without at least mentioning the dulcimer. And you can't talk about the dulcimer without talking about black metal. I mean I guess you could. But let me draw your attention to Botanist, a one-man band of the black metal variety, who employs none other than a hammered dulcimer to beat out his epic, monstrous melodies. And you may be surprised how rich some of those melodies are, how soothing their delivery can sometimes be. There are moments when you might flash on Explosions in the Sky and remember oh yeah, I used to like those guys. The dulcimer, in truth, doesn't matter that much to the sound. It mainly just adds to the nerd-appeal that a black metal band might have to go for these days. You know, establishing a set of strange rules and following them, like an invented language. That's how you get metal bands with canine and avian vocalists. Does anybody want to start a black metal band with electric ukeleles where we sing about fertilizer and call ourselves 'BloodMeal?' Get in touch.
Anyway, there's plenty of nerd appeal in Botanist. On his previous three releases, he's built a mythos in which he is a forest-dwelling plant-lover who wants humans to disappear violently. This has a lot to do with Black Metal's foundational obsession with Norse mythology, although it is certainly an original twist. Likewise, the vocals have twisted their roots, simmering down from a shriek to more of a woodland croak. Which works out nicely, which is an adverb black metal fans probably don't want me using. Botanist's fourth album, Mandragora IV (sic), envisions a war of mandrakes versus humans. It's out February 19th on The Flenser. The mandrakes will win, and I will listen attentively." -- Scott Hunter, Ear Infection Music, January 17, 2013
"Heavy, harrowing and fiercely metallic.
Like Xasthur and Leviathan, The Botanist is a one-man outfit that relies heavily on atmosphere, blast beats and demonic vocals. But that’s where the adherence to black metal formula ends: The Botanist combines multifaceted beats with distorted hammer dulcimers that imbue his music with harrowing, unearthly intensity and shatters all preconceptions in the process. His fourth album, IV Mandragora, is his heaviest and most musically developed. Where past releases tended toward the kitschy and clangy, IV Mandragora finds a way to make his dulcimer strings sound otherworldly. The vocals still resemble those of whiskey-drinking frog, the closest comparison being Inquisition’s Dagon, but the music is more fiercely metallic than ever. “To Amass an Army (Mandragora III)” is ominous and nightmarish, relying on layered minor-key passages and tumbling drums to express existential despair. “Mandrake Legion (Mandragora IV)” is faster and more surreal, overlapping repetitive chimes with battering double-bass beats.
The lyrics of the anonymous Botanist are even stranger than his music. IV Mandragora is a concept album about a scientist (the Botanist) who cultivates an army of mandrakes to wage war against mankind. Throughout, The Botanist seems several seeds short of a full garden: A textbook misanthrope, he dwells in his private sanctuary, The Verdant Realm, in the land of Veltheimia and talks to his plants about the day when greenery will again conquer the earth. In keeping with the dark green theme, five of the songs are named after actual flowers, giving The Botanist extra credibility for those who thrall to the work of Carl Linnaeus and Norman Borlaugh. For open-minded black metal fans, IV Mandragora isn’t just different, it’s just about essentially, expressing old themes in an entirely new way." -- Jon Wiederhorn, emusic, January 23, 2013
Metal Album of the Year 2013, #6/7 over all genres.
"Il mio amato Metal! Parte della mia formazione musicale è metallara, ancora adesso ne ascolto parecchio e 'il disco 2013' è stato Mandragora di The Botanist. Un Ent eco-terrista che suona metal “urlato” con aperture melodiche proprie di certo emo chiamato appunto scr-em-o." -- Ernecron, December 16, 2013
"My beloved metal! Part of my musical formation is metallic, and I still listen to it quite a bit. The genre's 'album of the year' is 'Mandragora' by The (sic) Botanist. An eco-terrorist ent that plays screaming metal with definite emo sensibilities that are precisely known as scr-em-o." -- Ernecron, December 16, 2013
FULL METAL ATTORNEY
"I’ve been following Botanist since its debut, and I have loved every minute of it. By now you’ve certainly heard about the project which creates metal-like music with drums and hammered dulcimer, but maybe you haven’t actually heard it yet. For those who’ve had their interest piqued, IV: Mandragora is the perfect place to start.
Botanist’s first release emulated black metal, with short bursts of song played at high speed. The second release went the opposite direction, with long, moody compositions emulating doom or perhaps the WITTR school of black metal. Naturally, IV: Mandragora synthesizes the two approaches, for the most dynamic Botanist album to date.
With Botanist, what surrounds the music has been nearly as interesting as the music itself. As always, the art is excellent. But the strange eco-terrorist storyline was, until now, of marginal importance to me personally. For the first time, I’ve begun to see how it all ties together. The five-part Mandragora suite makes use of all the tricks Botanist has shown us thus far to, undeniably, tell a story. It begins as high-speed black metal ('Arboreal Gallows'), serving as menacing introduction. The doomy 'Nightshade' seems to draw us into the Verdant Realm and set up the conflict. Anticipation is clearly the mood of 'To Amass an Army,' and the grand 'Mandrake Legion' shows this completed army in all their glory. Throughout, the drums drive it forward (especially 'Nightshade'), the croaking vocals are as insane as ever, and the dulcimer buzzes ever more like an electric guitar in all its dissonant fury.
The frequent tempo changes and digestible length make it the easiest starting point in the catalog. As someone who was fully enthralled since the beginning, the challenging Doom in Bloom remains my favorite by a slight margin, but Mandragora may well be remembered as the consensus favorite." -- Kelly Hoffart, Full Metal Attorney, March 28, 2013
HEAVY BLOG IS HEAVY
"Botanist has got to be one of the more unique and interesting bands in black metal. Instead of guitars, this one man project uses a hammered dulcimer to create the disturbing sounds found throughout the discography thus far. Luckily, this avant garde act isn’t just wearing his gimmick into the ground by releasing the same record time after time; the newly released Botanist album IV: Mandragora features more doom/post-black metal influence with greater emphasis on melody which makes for a surprisingly catchy experience once you get past the band’s abrasive sound. Suffice it to say though, you’re likely to not have this listening experience elsewhere in 2013.
This is easily the band’s greatest work yet. I don’t know how someone can manage to make music that is both absolutely hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s Botanist for you." -- Alkahest, Heavy Blog Is Heavy, February 14, 2013
"Botanist is a one man black metal (using the term loosely) project by an anonymous San Francisco based musician named Otrebor. This week we have been listening to his latest offering, IV: Mandragora. The album is serious, The Botanist (a character channelled through Otrebor) creates a crushing, confrontational sound played almost entirely on the drums and hammered dulcimer, with low, croaky vocal screams that tell of a world where humanity has been destroyed, and nature has reclaimed what it once owned. Botanist is one of the most interesting and original takes on the genre we’ve heard. Otrebor has created his own lore surrounding the world and character of the Botanist which you can read on his site." -- Heresy Label Blog, January 13, 2014
"Drawn from recordings made in 2010, but released this year, this third full-length from Northern California’s mysterious one-man project is yet another working of verdant misanthropy and herbaceous hypnotism. The music’s core continues to be The Botanist’s (that’s his name, the band is merely ‘Botanist’) wonderfully naturalistic black metal drumming, but there could be electric guitars in the mix this time– or is that just his now-infamous hammered dulcimer on a detour through various distortion effects? Perhaps both; you can definitely hear the latter in its untreated form on t.s 6+7.
In any case, the added reverberations bloom into melodies that are surprisingly dreamy; arboreal cathedrals where Cocteau Twins and Pale Saints are worshiped alongside Les Legions Noires and Deathspell Omega. (Night)shades too appear of the similarly escapist Nuit Noire and similarly plant-fixated Turdus Merula.
Despite The Botanist’s unconventional instrumentation and 4AD pseudo-pop sensibilities I don’t think of his work as post-black-metal: in fact it is more black metal than most black metal, conveying an ongoing narrative of vegetative malevolence, human extinction and the return of true balance to nature with an eery sincerity born of beliefs he describes as ‘eco-fascist.’
Metal as fuck too is his absolute refusal to conform to any expectations but those of the gnarled murmurs in his own head, ascribed by his mythology to the artifice of the demon ‘Azalea.’ This particular installment in the Saga of The Botanist sees him induced to alchemically raise an army of Mandrakes to wage war on humanity.
Many black metal bands invoke the solitude of the forest, but Botanist wants to be the forest. If plants had thoughts, surely they would not sound like human thoughts. Likewise if plants made metal, surely it would not sound like human metal. This is glorious; play any and every track. The Budding Dawn approaches." -- Lord Gravestench, KFJC, May 28, 2013
THE GRIM TOWER
"It is uncertain to me what exactly Botanist mastermind Otrebor was up to this time, but Mandragora is a huge leap from the territory of his last album which was more of a melodic drone/doom combo with black metal vocals. That album I thought was passable; but certainly not my thing - hence I decided to give the man another chance and decided to check out this final chapter of the plant people saga which would be far better material for a novel than a musical album quite frankly; I can certainly say that I would rather read about this than listen to it. The plant human idea is quite intriguing and definitely original.
However, I could not absorb even one of these tracks into my body through the act of photosynthesis. Otrebor was simply tapping into the electronic black metal side, which is a complete turn around from what I heard just one year ago. Though it wasn't my cup of tea, I could at least make it through that album; while this one sounds rushed and incomprehensible. While the disc has the same erratic feel of the last album, I have no idea why in the hell Otrebor decided to release this album with an electronic filter used on his vocals in some instances which just rubs me 900 different ways of wrong.
The album is filled with uncommon riff ideas, odd melodies and a sort of trance-vibe, but the speed of the drums and the vocal approach make this just seem a little weird for my taste. Perhaps too weird, and I usually like weird shit. I just don't like the use of programmed drums here and the riffs stay in the same style for so long that it becomes annoying, almost robotic. It's quite comparable to the music of a far-distant future - the very thing that generations to come will enjoy, long after I'm dead. Maybe this is what black metal will sound like in the year 4052, but I don't think it will catch on well for the year 2013.
Mandragora is not a long release, but it was a pain to listen to. I just don't think that I was ready for it, like it was a level above me; from a conscious plane that I have not had the honor of ascending to yet. But I will say that the final track on the album, 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca 9:40' [sic] might be worth checking out and provides a great sense of closure to the saga.
If you like your black metal weird and robotic, this one's for you." -- Eric May, The Grim Tower, March 21, 2013
"In recent years, few acts have piqued curiosities like the Botanist, and with the release of IV: Mandragora, the act might be reaching critical mass. When the first Botanist recording appeared in 2011, the prospect of a black metal project propelled by a hammered dulcimer superceded the actual compositions. Now, the music has caught up to the concept, a live lineup is being assembled, and Otrebor is hitting the interview circuit hard, proving to be one of the few characters in metal boasting both an agenda and a healthy dose of self-awareness.
So, for those that want to get hip to what's probably the coolest, most original thing black metal has seen in a handful of years, here's what it would sound like if Dagon from Inquisition was the commander of a micro-army of mandrakes..." -- Jordan Campbell, Last Rites, March 1, 2013
MEAT MEAD METAL
"Botanist imagines screaming mandrakes, humankind’s demise on ‘IV: Mandragora’
The end has been sort of an unofficial theme this week, from what it might be like watching our final moments and how we’d mark them, to the conclusion of a long-standing project that fades away. Today, we’re simply delving into the end of humankind. No big deal, right? It’s going to happen anyway, but could it come from an unlikely source, one we never suspected?
If the Botanist has anything to do with it, ours will be a leafy demise, as we’re choked to death by the very nature we seem to be trying to wipe out at will for the latest strip mall or drilling site or whatever. We’ve long covered this story that’s at the heart of the music from Botanist, a one-man experimental black metal band that is likely one of the most unconventional projects you’ll ever hear. Sorry if it sounds like I’m repeating myself from past stories on the band, but for those who are new to these pages and/or to Botanist, I feel some review is needed. Botanist tells the story of the Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in exile in the Verdant Realm, where he surrounds himself with nature and plots the downfall of mankind. His primary influence is Azalea, the evil spirit of Nature and a demonic plant in and of itself that speaks into the ear of the Botanist (represented, primarily, by the whispery vocals you hear) and provides instructions on how to carry out the apocalyptic plan.
Botanist, the musician, who plays this music mostly on hammered dulcimer and drums, has returned with a fourth chapter and third overall release with 'IV: Mandragora,' his first effort for Flenser Records and a natural progression from 2012′s 'III: Doom in Bloom.' That record really branched out musically from the dual-released first two parts of the story, 2011′s 'I. The Suicide Tree / II. A Rose From the Dead' and showed a completely different compositional vision for this project and story. The songs were longer and more involved, and the influence of Azalea grew even more aggressively and mysteriously. On 'IV,' the Botanist’s voice is more present and forceful, more like the first two efforts, and his mission to bring about the end hits a boiling point.
This time, the Botanist’s instructions and mission are far clearer. Azalea instructs him to create an army of mandragora in order to wipe out mankind, and to do so, he must resort of alchemical practices to bring this legion to life. Anyone who hears the mandrakes scream (naturally, this also makes me think of Iron Maiden’s 'Moonchild') instantly is claimed by death, therefore the Botanist seems to have a pretty handy weapon at his disposal if he can raise and nourish his troops of death. And as this story progresses, not only does the intensity of the Botanist’s mission seem to grow in fervor, so does his insanity and drive to follow Azalea’s mission.
'Arboreal Gallows' begins the record, and after sticks strike, the song melts into a fast tempo, with creaky growls indicating the Botanist’s voice as he spits out, 'Their necks snapped irrevocably, penance for their crimes, atonement for their sins, from their death shall spring life.' That leads into 'Nightshade,' that ramps up the terror and violence, as croaked growls and shrieks meet up (dual personalities? dual agendas?), and eventually it slips into a cosmic pocket that makes me feel like our main character could be lying on the forest floor at night, staring up into the moonlight through branches. 'To Amass An Army' should not be too hard to comprehend, with a foggy, eerie atmosphere and Azalea giving directions on how to assemble to troops. 'Seek the briony root, and raise the mandrake legion.' 'Nourishing the Fetus' has a cool, airy feel to it, a melancholy sense musically, and here we begin to see the realization of warfare come to fruition. 'Mandrake Legion' imagines judgment coming to pass, with the demonic minions rising and carrying out their morbid deed, with the Botanist observing, 'Shrieking soldiers amass, extermination cries piercing, wiping clean the earth.' Morbid, yet glorious.
The final two songs on the album, we’re told, are not actually a part of the 'Mandragora' storyline and instead are situated elsewhere. Both songs – 'Sophora Tetraptera' and 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca' – have a ramped-up musical intensity, seem to include sounds other than hammered dulcimer and drums, and even seem to layer Azalea’s voice, with both the usual whispering and a more outward yelling. At least that was my interpretation as to what’s going on here. The plant 'Sophora Tetraptera' has both positive and negative uses for humans, and lyrically is sounds like there are elements of both healing and destruction. 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca,' named after a type of orchid that grows on other things, seems to celebrate the flower’s existence, perseverance, and presence, paying homage to something that depends on something else for survival. Or I could be wrong.
Botanist has kept us enthralled, guessing, and a little frightened over the life of this project, and with the leaves and flowers getting ready to return soon here on the East Coast, I can’t help but wonder if I should keep one eye open on my long spring walks. The Botanist seems to have paid in full into this scheme and is furiously doing Azalea’s bidding, and the mysterious close leaves open many possibilities. At the same time, Botanist’s music seems to be gaining more leaves and roots with each new composition, and his musical army truly is coming to life. These albums keep getting bigger and more sinister, and there’s no telling how this whole thing will end. One thing’s for sure though: No one will be the same once this story ends." -- Brian Krasman, Meat Mead Metal, February 21, 2013
For those who may still be unfamiliar with the strange, black metal phenomenon that is Botanist, here's the short course: Botanist is a one-man black metal band, and the two primary instruments are drums and hammered dulcimer--think of removing the soundboard from a piano so you can strike the strings directly with mallets, like a xylophone. The albums--four so far--are all about The Botanist, a man who really loves his plants but doesn't care too much for humans. They lyrics tell of his hopes and dreams for the destruction of the human race, leaving only plant life behind.
Botanist's fourth album, Mandragora, finds The Botanist raising an army of mandrakes, which in legend are humanoid plants with screams that can drive people mad or kill them outright. The track listing reads like an instruction manual for creating a human-destroying horde, with titles like 'To Amass an Army,' 'Nourishing the Fetus,' and 'Mandrake Legion.' Creating mandrakes is a fairly ghastly process that starts with hanging humans in trees, but I'll leave it to the reader to learn the rest of the details from the lyrics. The misanthropy in the music is pretty standard fare for black metal, but the context is certainly unique.
The menace in the music itself is ratcheted up a bit from the previous recordings. The dulcimer is distorted for the first time, making it sound like some kind of evil harpsichord. Check out the sinister bass line--another Botanist first--in the second track, 'Nightshade,' or when the vocals rise from the usual low croak to a pained scream in 'Nourishing the Fetus.' None of these bits are particularly wild deviations from the previous albums, but given the self-imposed limitations on the instrumentation, even the slightest changes can seem monumental.
What has impressed me most with the progression of these albums is the quality of the songcraft. I hesitate to use the phrase "novelty act" because of its negative connotations, but when your main melodic instrument is as unusual in metal as a hammered dulcimer, you can't create four albums worth of material--certainly not material that's worth listening to--without solid songwriting. The melodies on the previous album, Doom in Bloom, are haunting and lovely, and Botanist has kept that up on Mandragora. The song 'To Amass an Army' could almost be a ballad, were it not about trying to destroy all of humanity with ambulatory plant monsters.
If the first three albums weren't your cup of tea, it's unlikely that Mandragora will convert you. But, if you haven't bothered with the previous releases because the whole thing sounds like a bit too much to take, I'd urge you to dip into Doom in Bloom or Mandragora and reconsider your opinion. I've read that the man behind Botanist may have as many as five more albums in the works for the series, making this potentially one of the strangest and most epic musical arcs in any kind of pop music." -- Justin C., Metal Bandcamp, February 26, 2013
"Drums and a hammered dulcimer. These are the weapons of choice by the one-man experimental black metal project known simply as the Botanist. His multi-album debut, I: Suicide Tree/II: A Rose from the Dead, created quite a lot of buzz back in 2011 and consequently, found its way on several year end lists. You can’t deny that mixing black metal orthodoxy and a dulcimer with an outrageous concept of a mad scientist in self-imposed exile who plots the destruction of man just sounds amazing on paper – it does. But honestly, though I really appreciated this project’s debut for both its musical audacity and artistic vision, I didn’t feel it had a lot of repeat value. Despite being sold as a black metal project, the double CD onslaught of blast beats and trapezoidal chaos, felt more like a grindcore album, with the average track not spanning more than a minute and half long. This also had the by product of making the album a tough pill to swallow even after you get past its inherit shock value.
However, his follow-up, 2012′s II: Doom in Bloom, is an absolute dynamite record. Instead of what felt like mini-jam sessions on the debut, you now have real honest to goodness songs with theme and structure. The project also throws you for a loop, as the music is now rooted (pun intended) in atmospheric doom than purely black. The fast and furious pace of Botanist’s mallets are now slow and methodical, hammering out wonderfully crafted doom inspired riffs, giving each song its own unique identity. There is a real sense of progression on Doom that was sorely lacking on the debut. So when the Botanist announced his follow-up, IV: Mandragora, I had high expectations for this release. And luckily, I was not disappointed.
Two taps of the drum sticks and our journey into the Verdant Realm begins with opener 'Arboreal Gallows (Mandragora I).' For the first time, the music actually sounds like black metal, with blast beats and tremolo hammering leading the charge. Botanist’s vocals remain the same, undecipherable shrieks through an artificial larynx. I enjoy his quirky vocals but I can definitely empathize with the folks who don’t. 'Nightshade (Mandragora II)' changes things up considerably with a more Doom in Bloom sound to it, where about a minute in an extremely catchy melody is introduced that becomes the main theme for the entire song. The treble based breakdown midway through is just fantastic and provides a perfect bridge to the song’s finale.
'To Amass An Army (Mandragora III)' returns once again to an all out onslaught of atmospheric doom that at times almost sounds like a lullaby. Even the vocals go from maniacal singing to softly spoken whispers. This is some very adept songwriting from a project that for the most part, relied mainly on the shock and awe tactics of its debut. 'Nourishing The Fetus (Mandragora IV)' brings us back to the black, and follows the same formula of the album’s opener. But it is the next track, 'Mandrake Legion (Mandragora V),' where Botanist really hits his stride as he incorporates some new vocal elements that give this track a sense of depth missing in prior songs. 'Sophora Tetraptera' continues our journey once again following the same pattern as the first and fourth track by introducing a catchy dulcimer melody, a breakdown, and then coming full circle with the same opening theme before ending. As with a lot of great records, Botanist saves the best for last with the almost 10 minute finale 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca.' If there is only one track on this record you are willing to invest in, this is it. All the major elements I previously talked about have been jam packed into this one song and the result is just fantastic. The track’s ending passage is especially a highlight, with an extremely heavy doom riff that drudges along repetitiously, slowing in tempo until the whole journey comes to a full stop.
IV: Mandragora was mastered by Jack Shirley of The Atomic Garden Studios and I am happy to report, this is bar none, the best sounding Botanist record to date. Botanist records have always had relatively high dynamics but this time out, it really shines. Shirley did a wonderful job to prevent too much spill given the sheer amount of percussion on this record. And because of the relatively high dynamics, you can viscerally feel every tap and hammer as transients are clearly intact. The mix continues to place the vocals back, but that was a design choice and not a product of poor mastering. What’s also interesting is once you get used to the hammered dulcimer sound, you start to hone in on the Botanist’s superb drum work, which is constantly doing double duty providing both rhythm and bass. I am absolutely thrilled with the final result and I guarantee if you are already familiar with the Botanist’s previous work, you will be in awe on how good this record sounds.
Simply put, Botanist has released his stronger effort to date with IV: Mandragora. If you enjoyed any of the prior chapters, you really owe it to yourself to check this record out now on The Flenser’s Bandcamp page. If this is your first encounter with the Botanist, start here, and work your way back. Also, I can not end this review without mentioning the amazing packaging thatTheFlenser designed as well as the fantastic artwork by M.S. Waldron. These two aspects alone make it worth buying the CD or LP over just downloading it. Highly recommended. (8/10)" -- Alex, Metal-Fi, February 25, 2013
"Botanist: self-proclaimed by its sole mind, Roberto 'Otrebor' Martinelli, otherwise known as 'The Botanist,' as 'eco-terrorist black metal.' His first effort, I: The Suicide Tree/II: A Rose From The Dead appeared back in 2011 like a gargantuan banyan tree falling over onto the roof of a multimillion-dollar mansion. All of a sudden there appeared in the black metal scene a bizarre, hyper-environmentalist mixture of vocals, drums, and hammered dulcimer… notably quite a lot of that last one, actually. Otrebor would go on to refine the spontaneous and dulcimer-laden sound of his debut with last year's III: Doom In Bloom, which as the title suggests, had a lot more of a doom-ish vibe to it, with a more cohesive sense of composition as well. And now, in 2013, Otrebor is back, ready to assault your senses once more with his bizarre form of one man black metal and joyous songs of mutant plant creatures crawling into your eardrums.
So on what path does Otrebor take Botanist's tangled twigs and anti-human crusading this time around? Well, fans of more orthodox black metal sound rejoice, because IV: Mandragora, Botanists third studio effort, is probably the closest the project has yet come to a more typical, straightforward black metal sound. Even more tightly knit than Doom In Bloom and far more so than the double album debut, Botanist's 2013 effort is comprised largely of the 5-part titular track, a pleasingly bizarre mix of very froglike, Inquisition-type vocals ('Arboreal Gallows'), a haunting bass line for the first time ('Nightshade'), and distorted dulcimer. Wait, what did he just say?!
That's right: with round four of Botanist's material, the dulcimer is actually distorted, and this is probably the one thing in particular that gives the album more of an actual black metal sound, or just more of a 'metal' sound in general. It's a small alteration turned into a gigantic leap, and this is actually an incredibly intelligent musical technique, because with a project such asBotanist that really only makes use of drums, vocals, and the dulcimer, the slightest change in the formula of such minimal instrumentation can make a monumental difference, and such is the case with Mandragora. The distortion combined with the harsh vocal delivery creates quite the intense vibe at points, especially when blended with the faster drum patterns on tracks like 'Sophora Tetraptera' and 'Mandrake Legion.'
In short, the fourth chapter of Botanist's pantheistic saga of praising plants while abhorring the human species is both a regression as well as an evolution. Mandragora can even be thought of as something of a fusion, if you'd like, between the first and second albums. The chaos of The Suicide Tree/A Rose From The Dead is there in the now-distorted dulcimer that sounds more evil than ever, and yet so is the more doomy, melancholic atmosphere of Doom In Bloom, especially on the beautiful ballady nature of 'To Amass An Army' and towards the middle of closing track 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca.' If you haven't enjoyed Botanist's prior material, then there's a pretty low probability that you'll enjoy Mandragora, which sticks to the same core, off-the-wall sound even with its leap forward with the distorted dulcimer. But if you've enjoyed Botanist's previous work, and can't wait to see other seeds he has planted in his garden for this year, then you need to get on a listen to Mandragora immediately, preferably within the vicinity of some mandrakes, if readily available." -- Apothecary, Metal Storm, April 5, 2013
"Much of the response to the first two Botanist releases boiled down to one fundamental point: 'What the fuck?' The weirdness of this one-man band is undeniable. Nobody other than Botanist mastermind Otrebor is making black metal records with drums and hammered dulcimer as the only instruments. And even if there is somebody deep in the forests of Latvia who IS making black metal records with drums and hammered dulcimer as the only instruments, he or she certainly hasn’t built an entire mythos surrounding a misanthropic old floraphile, singing praises to the botanic inhabitants of the Verdant Realm as he plots the destruction of the human race.
Spend some time in the Verdant Realm, and the uniqueness of Botanist’s music begins to expand way beyond the simple facts of its creation. The 2011 double-disc Botanist opus I: The Suicide Tree and II: A Rose from the Dead transformed clattering drums, croaked vocals and the dulcimer’s tinny texture into the sacred music of the vegetable kingdom; 2012’s III: Doom in Bloom slowed down the pace and admitted some major keys, letting in some light and air to keep it healthy. Botanist shares a vocal style and esoteric mythology of black metal, but that’s it. If on paper this seems like a gimmick destined for the mulch bin of metal history, in execution it’s a majestic, brimming, dynamic thing that claws deeper with each listen. Otrebor is on his own trip.
Whereas past Botanist albums offered paeans to dozens of plants, IV: Mandragora concentrates on just one. 'The creation of the homunculus mandrake through ancient alchemical practice is an example of the ideal crossroads of myth, history, culture, pseudo-science, and fantasy that Botanist could ask for,' Otrebor tells us via email. 'The mythical mandrake is a creature that is part plant, part humanoid. The humanoid part hides underground, and when it is uprooted, it shrieks, killing any living thing that hears it. In the Botanist myth, Azalea, the floral demon that speaks to The Botanist and directs his actions, tells The Botanist how he is to raise an army of mandrakes to wipe out humanity.'
How does the Botanist sound continue flowering on IV? 'The aim with each Botanist full-length is to make it remarkably different from those that preceded it,' Otrebor explains. 'Anything that is remarkably different from what’s been done already is the beginning point for each successive full-length recording process. The path through III had progressed from an amplified/lightly distorted tone to an increasingly developed distorted acoustic sound…some had commented on the amount of ‘space’ in the records. IV endeavors to switch directions, with a fuzzy sound, largely to close that space and give a different perspective on the core values of the music.'
With three more-than-full-length albums in under two years, one wonders where Otrebor derives his tireless productivity. 'I believe that creating this music, developing the concept, and speaking for the Natural world is something that is far bigger than I am,' he tells us. 'I’ve [said] since the beginning that the creation of Botanist is something akin to summoning or channeling, in that although I’m doing it, there’s something of an unknown force that guides me. Call it The Botanist, call it the spirit of flora, that force helps decide on what to do now and far down the road. There are many more planned, up through IX at this point, all of whose concepts and progressions of sound are already clear.'
So that means you only have five albums’ more to prepare for your death at the hands of a plant derived from the post-mortem ejaculation of a hanged man. Better get listening to IV: Mandragora pronto." -- Satan Rosenbloom, Metalsucks.net, January 16, 2013
METAL SUCKS' IV: MANDRAGORA PREMIERE
"Back when I predicted that Botanist’s new album IV: Mandragora would fuck your face off in 2013, the one-man mystification machine that is the band’s Otrebor told us that the new album was fuzzier, less sonically spacious than his previous work. You can definitely hear what he means in 'Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV).' Botanist’s main axe – the hammered dulcimer – absorbs the air with repetitively chiming, wobbly harmonies, sounding more like the world’s oddest My Bloody Valentine cover band than a project rooted in black metal. The drums are suffocatingly flat, and the cymbals sound just as distorted as the dulcimer.
But while the song’s sonics are all fuzz and obfuscation, there’s an openness to 'Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)' too. The clanging drops out at 2:05 to reveal just a few drum hits, a simple chord and some low-pitched muttering. Could that voice be Azalea, whispering to our man Botanist about how to raise his army of mandrakes to destroy mankind? Maybe, but the moment is still a refreshing one, almost sweet – a brief pause for a glass of Miracle-Gro on the marathon march to the obliteration of the human race by the plant kingdom." -- Satan Rosenbloom, Metalsucks.net, February 13, 2013
METALSUCKS' DAVE MUSTEIN'S TOP 15 METAL ALBUMS OF 2013 (#12)
"On paper, The Botanist comes across as a deranged hermit (ok, he is), but contrary to most expectations, his music is no gimmick. There have been numerous occasions when this folky, botanical black metal has been the only thing I want to listen to. It’s music that sounds like it grew straight out of the ground, with muffled, hazy drumwork and the verdant echoes of hammered dulcimer. Bizarre, indistinct vocals cement Mandragora as one of the strangest yet surprisingly listenable releases of the year." -- Dave Mustein, MetalSucks, December 3, 2013
"It took three albums for me to finally pay some attention to San Francisco’s Botanist, and wow was I missing out. This is an excellent example of 'Aquarius Records black metal,' which if you’re not from the SF bay area basically means that it’s weird as fuck. Conceptually you can think of the project as kind of a cross between bay area neighbors Om and Portland’s Velvet Cacoon: Botanist take a minimalist approach with only drums, vocals, and a hammered dulcimer, and as bizarre as that combination seems the end result actually does sound pretty close to raw, stripped down black metal. Like Om, Botanist’s talent enables them to craft surprisingly listenable and effective songs despite the sparse instrumentation. Actually it’s pretty illustrative of the musical skills of Botanist’s sole member Otrebor AKA The Botanist that the songs on IV: Mandragora are so enjoyable and well put-together; he is able to construct captivating melodies and song structures with just a single instrument and drums, while so many other mediocre metal bands can’t even come up with a memorable riff across an entire album. If you want a lesson in songwriting this is a good album to check out.
The seven oddly-named songs on IV: Mandragora are more or less identifiable as black metal, although the riffing style runs the gamut from buzzing, blasting chaos to slower and more melodic fare. Some hints of post-rock even show up on a couple songs in the middle of the album. The dulcimer is a pretty effective substitute for guitars, lending the album a sickly, tinny sound which somehow fits perfectly with the band’s bizarre plant themes. The vocals take the form of a constricted, alien speaking/ranting that only serves to further elevate the band’s sound into higher spheres of weirdness, while the drums provide another complex layer of color to the sound. The Botanist also plays drums in international black metal project Ophidian Forest, so it’s not too much of a shock that the percussion skill level on this album is quite high.
Botanist’s approach to music is weird enough, but once you start reading about the concepts behind the band you quickly realize that Botanist is easily one of the weirdest metal projects out there, period. The band has constructed a fairly elaborate mythology around a character called The Botanist who lives in isolation in the Verdant Realm as a way to escape humanity’s destructive ways. Black metal has always been about individuality of expression, and it’s hard to find a better example of that than these guys. As bizarre as they may be, Botanist is exactly the type of forward-thinking, completely original music that the genre needs." -- Chris, Musical Warfare, May 12, 2013
"Botanist; the solo-project of Roberto 'Otrebor' Martinelli cuts a sharp farrow through genre pigeon-holing and, here, manages to combine elements of Doom / Black Metal and post-rock into a rich cocktail of percussive styles - blast-beats, kick-drums, snappy snares and tom-toms and the eclectic, shattered feedbacks and sustained vibrations of a hammered dulcimer. Naturally the hammered dulcimer being a percussive instrument while overlapping that of strings almost mimics the distorted BM guitar sound while still retaining a unique sound. Rather than detracting from the compositions the hammered dulcimer actually blends well with them because Martinelli makes it a central part of the percussion.
The philosophy behind Botanist is self-evident: nature in revolt and its destruction of humanity. Indeed, it echoes somewhat with that of Finnish philosopher Pentti Linkola who sees nature self-destructing in order to vanquish itself of the parasite; man. 'Arboreal Gallows (Mandragora I)' sets out the lay of the land and flows with a confident drum patterns through which the hammered dulcimer begins to clamour allowing the track to feel much more expansive than it actually is. Martinelli adds Abbath-like croaks to deliver an inhuman menace while harsh sounds begin to crash and fracture. 'To Amass an Army (Mandragora III)' starts with hushed vocals before plummeting into an abyss of whirling, barren, percussive blasts - over which the dulcimer rings and clatters. Rather than being an experimental mess one aspect is evident throughout the tracks, and that is the tight and competent arrangements of the tracks - they are executed well and this makes the listening experience almost addictive - because amongst the relaying time signatures there is melody and musical development that bleeds through making the aural experience compulsive and rewarding. The bleak, strong BM undertones of 'Nourishing The Fetus (Mandragora IV)' ebb and flow like Burzum's eponymous album in parts. 'Mandrake Legion (Mandragora V)' barrels along with blast-beats and a real, raw BM-like feel. This track, of course, is the anthem for Martinelli's '...army of Mandragoras brought to life through ancient alchemical cult practice [through which] Azalea commands The Botanist to create this shrieking horde of death in order to wipe the Earth clean of its enemies.' It sets up a nice, green-fingered, precursor for 'Sophora Tetraptera' and the closing track 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca'. The latter of which snaps and sparks with sharp beats and an almost mock-military style, it is the most complete track on the album in terms of bringing all the previous styles and patterns together while maintaining a continuous flow of new sounds and clanging dulcimer vibrations - anthemic towards the middle, it crests towards the advent of what seems an inevitable victory. The BM-like feel is maintained, but Martinelli has admirable created a new hybrid by his keen playing style and unique use of the hammered dulcimer.
It's not an immediately accessible album, but then that's probably the point! Martinelli doesn't produce throwaway pollutants - he has, here, crafted something which only reveals itself after repeated listens and only then does the scream of the Mandrake become discernible. Excellent! (5/5 Kudos)" -- Michael Cunningham, Musique Machine, June 3, 2013
MY LIFE IS METAL
"When I first heard about these guys on NPR(!), I wasn’t really digging the music. Then I saw them live. Then I started listening to this album on repeat. It’s pretty bizarre – black metal stylings with unusual instrumentation. It’s evil in new ways! These songs sound kinda shite at low volumes, so make sure you crank up the volume so you can hear everything clearly." -- My Life Is Metal, February 19, 2014
"The hammer dulcimer, basically a harp with strings that are struck by mallets to create pleasant resonating tones, has been used since the Middle Ages by a wide variety of musicians, including classical composers Pierre Boulez and Igor Stravinsky. Their efforts and accomplishments with the instrument have little to do with the music of avant-garde extreme metal of Botanist, whose only member Otrebor bangs the shit out of his dulcimer and layers it over a soundbed of black metal blast beats, syncopated drumming and sepulchral vocals to create a barren, textural landscape of unconventional and unsettling noise. Clearly, the guy’s music is out there, but compared to his whack job lyrics, Otrebor’s music seems as mainstream as Usher. There’s some seriously weird split personality shit going on here. When Otrebor conducts interviews he does so as himself and, as best he can, explains the motives and approaches of Botanist, but when he hits “Record,” Botanist takes over and Otrebor becomes merely a conduit for Botanist’s ideas and expressions. See, Botanist is kinda like an evil Lorax, he speaks for the trees and the various plants in his “Verdant Realm” who seek to reclaim the earth after mankind has wiped itself from the planet. Thus far, Botanist has released two [sic] albums about sinister plants with their own complex mythology: 2011’s I:The Suicide Tree/ II: A Rose From the Dead and 2013’s IV: Mandragora. The latter is a concept album about a scientist that wages a war against mankind with an army of cultivated mandrakes. As strange and alluring as his music is, clearly Otrebor needs to get out into the sun a little more." -- Jon Wiederhorn, Noisey, April 9, 2013
"IV: Mandragora, the fourth album by one man drum and dulcimer act Botanist, might be the entity's most fleshed out and realized effort. Elements of black metal shine through a bit more obvious as it sounds like the hammered dulcimer is distorted this time around and the tempo strays from the dirge that seemed to accompany most of III: Doom in Bloom, Botanist's most recent work before this.
By now, you should all be familiar with this North Western US act. Botanist is a nature, more specifically, plant, themed black metal band without anything but drums and a hammered dulcimer. This makes Botanist an easy target for skeptics and purists, but thankfully, the quality of music quashes those notions with excellent and unique music that's engrossing and still carries a touch of aggression and violence.
Previous efforts were polarizing. The first two albums, married together, were frenzied, unsure and dissonant blasts whereas the third album, one of my favorites from last year, was more attentive to melody and was quite meditative in its slower progressions and stronger use of sustained melody. Where those felt a bit lacking, IV: Mandragora feels complete.
Those unfamiliar with Botanist might have trouble imagining a hammered dulcimer replacing guitars for the entirety of a black metal record, but it simply works. Unlike with previous efforts, the dulcimer is distorted (just a bit) so those uncomfortable with its clarity and the seemingly 'unmetal' aspect of it can rest a bit easier now.
Thankfully, the dulcimer isn't just a guitar fill in, something to grab attention but not warrant it. Instead, the percussive nature of the dulcimer offers a nice interplay with the drums which share an equal part of IV: Mandragora's spotlight and combine for a very vibrant and pulsing feel throughout the album. Sometimes it's got this mournful harmonizing effect like in 'Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)' whereas other times it's a jagged and dissonant stab like in 'Sophora Tetraptera' where it's ugly and spiteful. The variety of tones and textures produced matches so well with the croaking rasps and tactile drums. Each note hangs in the air like the sounds of insects in a quiet woodland. Everything is so organic and warm, even the more malice ridden approaches within IV: Mandragora lack the cold austerity of modern technology.
Botanist continues to improve and develop one of the most unique sounds in extreme music today. The sparseness of IV: Mandragora works to highlight the rich textures and great atmosphere created. I find myself uninterested in the lyrics and aesthetic of Botanist (although it all seems to fit incredibly well). It's not that I find it stupid, or offensive to the music, I just don't particularly care for story telling aspect, or rather the assumed identity; all I really care about is how great the music is." -- Perpetual Strife, March 29, 2013
"Talk of one-man black metal band the Botanist typically focuses on the project's instrumentation of choice: hammered dulcimer beaten into radiant arrays, backed by tumults of drums and the genre's itinerantly withering vocals. But 'Mandrake Legion,' the tense tune on the Botanist's fourth LP, IV: Mandragora, out February 19 on the Flenser, should reinforce the battle-cry approach that's been here all along. An imaginational ecoterrorist, the Botanist uses these seven songs to envision an army of deep-rooted, broad-leaved mandrakes waging an end-times war against humans.
Try not to laugh: With dulcimer, ideology, and battle plan in tow, 'Mandrake Legion' directs the intensity of primal Mayhem against said foe and wins at least these three minutes. 'Each corpse give rise/ Wailing horror/ Mandrake legion,' the Botanist growls above the din, observing the ironic cycle of dying humans becoming fertilizer for the green army. More than most Botanist songs, 'Mandrake Legion' also employs the same sense of musical lift and triumph heard in bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room or Winterfylleth. For the Botanist, then, this is the final victory, not just another battle." -- Grayson Currin, Pitchfork, January 16, 2013
"Black metal is supposed to be bold, and Botanist sure shows there’s abundant fertility left in the genre’s soil. So much, in fact, that while Botanist’s roots have always resided in black metal, the (one-man) band’s fourth LP, IV: Mandragora, has spread even further away from the genre’s borders. The new album imagines our protagonist, Otrebor, in the role of eco-terrorist, leading an army of mandrakes from his Verdant Realms to wage war on humanity. That conceptual adventurism is matched by Botanist’s most musically imaginative album yet.
Botanist is famed for using hammered dulcimer and percussion as primary instrumentation, and on the new album those eccentric sonics are submerged in reverb washes. IV: Mandragora channels Blut Aus Nord as much as Slowdive and neo-psychedelia, with 'Nightshade (Mandragora II)' and 'Mandrake Legion (Mandragora V)' seeing Botanist’s blast-beaten past drenched in crepuscular shoegaze. If not for the delightfully crooked vocals and ill-omened undercurrents many parts of IV: Mandragora would almost be blissful. Certainly, 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca' and 'Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)' are both fragile and furious, but Otrebor taints their post-black metal beauty with glee.
It’s in that dichotomy between darkness and light that the album works best, where black metal’s buzz is smothered in dream-like surges, making IV: Mandragora simultaneously grotesque and gorgeous. It’s all a highly idiosyncratic journey that’s both trance-inducing and bewildering. IV: Mandragora is magnificently warped, and it is one of 2013’s very best albums so far." -- Craig Hayes, Popmatters, April 11, 2013
"Genre is a touchy subject. To some it’s meaningless – metal is metal, prog is prog, rock is rock, and dubstep is terrible. Others… well, we all know the person who’ll burst a vessel if you dare mislabel their favorite experimental post-baroque discogrind band. There are times when it’s appropriate to delve a little deeper; amongst metalheads, for example, clarifying that a band is progressive metal will let them know what they’re in for. Telling that to someone whose idea of metal is anything with distorted guitars, on the other hand, will accomplish little. There’s a happy medium, and most of us know when to elaborate and when to rein it in.
Botanist doesn’t quite work that way. Trying to pen an apt description of his music inevitably fails to do it justice. In a desperate attempt to findsomething, I looked at the Botanist last.fm page; this turned out to be a poor choice. There I found such descriptors as 'experimental black metal,' 'raw plant metal,' 'black grind salad,' and my favorite: 'avant-gardening metal.'
Well, I’ve come to terms with the fact that these are as apt as any description could be for such a project. As you might have guessed from both the name and labels, Botanist is all about nature. This one-man experimental metal project from San Francisco has created an entire mythos revolving around the titular Botanist – 'a crazed man of science who lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from Humanity and its crimes against Nature as possible. 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 envisioning 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.'
And damned if Botanist’s latest, IV: Mandragora, doesn’t conjure up the perfect soundtrack to such an apocalypse. For those unfamiliar with his music (I will assume that encompasses most of you), you won’t find any standard black metal fare here – instead, you’ll hear absolutely bizarre soundscapes created through the use of just two instruments: a drum kit and a dulcimer. The latter is distorted, providing for an absolutelyhaunting sound you won’t find anywhere else. It certainly defines the Botanist sound. When I recently introduced a friend to Mandragora, I warned him that it offers what I consider to be among the most abrasive sounds and timbres I’ve ever heard, and I still stand by that description. Within the first seconds of 'Arboreal Gallows,' however, one begins to understand what can only be described as the beauty of Botanist’s music. The melodies are haunting and often incredibly dissonant; yet, one can’t help but find allure and appeal in the journey we’re being taken on here. Both 'To Amass an Army' and 'Mandrake Legion' exemplify this incredibly strange and unique dichotomy.
That, it seems, is precisely what it’s all about. Nature is both beautiful and terrifying – nothing can quite compare to the natural world around us in its beauty, and nothing can quite compare to the awesome destructive forces it can summon. As Botanist himself puts it: 'The world is the most valuable thing in the world. The most essential thing. Nature offers the truest, most tangible vista into the face of the divine, whose unnamable, unknowable existence is reflected through our natural environment. If we want to enjoy this world, to venerate it, to thrive within it, we must respect it, we must protect it.'
So what’s the final word? Do I recommend Mandragora? Or does it fall by the wayside, just another one-man metal project that fails to impress? My answer depends on your willingness to explore. To those unwilling or unready to tackle difficult, often non-musical projects, you might be best off leaving Botanist alone for the time being. It is beautiful, and certainly worth experiencing once; but I can’t begrudge anyone for not making it through even a single song. On the other hand, you’ll find here an aural experience you are unlikely to ever find anywhere else. Black metal has finally started showing signs of climbing out of the rut of 1990s-worshiping wannabes and showing its modern teeth. Just as black metal defied and twisted metal boundaries when it crawled forth from its unholy Scandinavian womb, modern black metal is being reshaped and reformed with and by various influences: progressive, ambient, electronic, and even bluegrass can be found in recent releases (I’m not kidding – Taake’s Noregs vaapen has a banjo!). Botanist’s own brand of experimental metal occupies a lone position amongst this new wave, and is certainly worthy of attention. With IV: Mandragora, Botanist has defiantly cried an ultimatum to the world: love nature or be eradicated by it." -- Benjamin Holt, Progulator, April 9, 2013
QUIETUS ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2013 (#66/100)
"Botanist is a character channelled (and psychically inhabited) by anonymous San Franciscan musician Otrebor. The former is an eco-terrorist, living in the deserts of California, dwelling on how much better off the ecosystem would be without the rapacious ape known as mankind and is given voice in art by the latter via songs dedicated to flora played (almost entirely) on drums and hammered dulcimer and shrieked in the blood chilling necrotic howls of black metal. Like John Gray’s The Silence Of Animals or James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis being brought to sonic life by music that lies, improbably, somewhere between Lightning Bolt, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Leviathan." -- John Doran, The Quietus, December 3, 2013
"When something genuinely unique comes along, especially in the relatively aesthetically conservative context of something like heavy metal, it can be easy to view it as a curiosity, an outlier. This could have been the fate that befell Botanist, a (largely) solo project that constructed an extended ecological parable based on the downfall of humanity using little more than drums, vocals, and hammered dulcimer.Its link to black metal was established early on, but the music bore no real parallels to anything else within the genre and, had the vocals not been delivered in a croak-y shriek, may not have ever been associated with the style at all. This alone would be cause for attention to be paid, but not necessarily enough for sustained interest. While the project's first two releases set the template for the whole endeavor, however, the successive releases pull the sound outwards in different directions, each time demonstrating the malleability of the approach, reinforcing the idea that it's a fertile creative approach, one that's single-minded without monomania.
Similar to last year's III: Doom In Bloom, the most recent Botanist release slows down the blasting aggression of the first two albums, favoring an insistent, largely mid-tempo approach (though there are brief spurts of faster drumming) that both allows the clusters of dulcimer tones to shine through and emphasizes the songs' eerily melodic tendencies. However, IV offers a condensed vision of this particular facet of the Botanist approach - instead of the previous album's hour-plus running time, this barely inches past the thirty minute mark (where III was characterized primarily by extended compositions, only two songs on IV crack five minutes). Similarly, while IVpossesses many of the same tuneful qualities as its predecessor, it finds the dulcimer cloaked in a distorted haze that makes for a slightly harsher final product (though not as rough-hewn as the first two releases). The exact intention behind these aesthetic alterations isn't entirely clear, but it does help to demonstrate the extent to which Botanist seems an organic, ever-evolving endeavor, one that can alter its parameters without overstepping them.
Lyrically, IV is more in line with the larger body of Botanist releases. Juxtaposing some fairly wordy technical terminology with a continuation of the conceptual arc detailing the struggle between humanity and the environment, from which we've attempted to exclude ourselves (a struggle that the lyrics suggest will end in humanity's downfall), the thematic element is decidedly an extension of that present on the earlier albums. It's difficult to tell the extent to which the lyrics are working in support of some larger narrative, at least in any direct literal sense, as even the most straightforward passages are still fairly cryptic. But this lyrical opacity benefits the music, with its indistinct qualities helping the content to adhere to its core message without coming off as overly agenda-driven or didactic.
If it seems that IV can only be described in comparison with other Botanist albums, it's a testament to the music's continued refusal to sound like anything else. Though each successive album is more of an expansion and contraction of an overall mythos and worldview than a radical departure, these subtle shifts help illustrate the extent to which Botanist is no mere anomaly relying solely on its unfamiliarity, but rather a creative force that's unfortunately rare. It's genuinely strange and unsettling work that's harsh enough to alienate a lot of listeners. However, it will prove a rewarding experience, one beholden to no canon, for those who can push through the sheer weirdness of it and discover the fecund vein of creativity that permeates it to its core." -- Graham Scala, RVA Mag, April 2, 2013
"By all accounts this should be a dull listen; the music is often hard to get into. Botanist’s IV: Mandragora relies on a combination of drum patterns, a hammered dulcimer and the strange vocal styling of a strange undecipherable croaky, throaty snarl that every so often will turn into a typical black metal shriek. Once you get past the gimmicky combination there is something about this one man project that ensnares the listener, just like a metaphorical vine. Botanist’s albums are not without a purpose, with the overall message being that plants (and nature) will rise up and take back what was originally theirs. It’s this extreme thinking that makes IV: Mandragora such an interesting listen. Backed by a lo-fi production and a rather short run-time, Botanist’s fourth release in the series makes headway, building off the other chapters (including a forty tracked double album, I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose from the Dead) and some noticeable differences arise. IV: Mandragora is doomier, and in parts post metal like. The sound may not be fully unique, but there’s a fair chance that it would take a while to find something in a similar vein. At thirty-three minutes, IV: Mandragora is an album built on context, namely that the natural world will eventually take its place over mankind. In case it hasn’t been surmised so far,IV: Mandragora isn’t an ordinary black metal record. With track titles like ‘Arboreal Gallows (Mandagora I)’, ‘Nightshade (Mandragora II)’ and ‘Mandrake Legion (Mandragora V)’ it’s clear that this album has a rather one-sided, almost nerdy, unconventional feel to it.
The multi-instrumentalist behind the helm of Botanist prefers anonymity, and will often use the band’s moniker as a title. This works well, especially when this one man act has been tagged an 'eco-terrorist' and as laughable as that will seem, it adds to the overall mystique of his music. Instrumentally, the album becomes a highly successful listen as for the most part, the unconventional vocal styling can and will be a turn off for those listening. At a rudimentary level though, it should be expected, Botanist is a black metal band. Yes, the band has been twisted and shaped into this display of shrieking, not to mention the use of the dulcimer adding a whole new soundscape and excellently intertwines dank, sinister natural elements into the music. For what it is, it’s done really well. Take the track title and plant ‘Nightshade’ for example: The plant is edible, but in some cases poisonous. Where ‘Mandrakes’ often resemble the figure of a man or women and was often used as an anaesthetic and a key component in witchery. The message the Botanist portrays with, IV: Mandragora is a not so happy one.
Overall, IV: Mandragora is a record that’s short without cutting off abruptly. Chances are most are going to find the vocals grating. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Botanist uses imagery (despite the unintelligible lyrics) that works well with the artist’s overall theme of plants one day reclaiming the world. It’s not going to be a straight-forward listen, and that is for the most part what makes IV: Mandragora, so appealing. Unfortunately, this is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Most won’t have the patience to get past the not so usual vocals in order to appreciate the album as a whole. But, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, IV: Mandragora should definitely make a way onto your play list. For fans of Botanist’s previous work, the album is only going to make you love the concept even more." -- Robert Garland, Sputnik Music, February 22, 2013
(transcribed from the print magazine Terrorizer)
"An unconventional take on black metal, traditionalists may initially shun this. Botanist is a one-man project consisting of vocals, drums and hammered dulcimer instrumentation. The fourth installment from the San Francisco-based solo project is a concept album based on the alchemical creation of a mandrake army intended to wipe out humanity. A terrifying idea, but one that stems from an obviously creative mind. The vocals are hoarse and rasping, while the dulcimer provides a satisfyingly metallic richness to the melody. It is the precise and powerful drumming that is the genuine figurehead on this album, particularly on 'Nightshade.' Given an couple of listens, conventional instrumentation within black metal is no longer needed. 3/5" - Angela Davey, Terrorizer #232, January, 2013
THIS IS BOOK'S MUSIC
"The first thing that made me want to hear this was the illustration of a living and breathing being coming out of a plant. What would I be getting myself into if I listened? Botanist is a one-man band operation from San Francisco, and the concept of the album was so interesting, it convinced me to take a serious listen:
Combining lyrical creativity and musical ingenuity, IV: Mandragora is a concept record on the alchemical creation of a mandrake, and how The Botanist is instructed on raising an army of mandrakes to wipe out humanity. The songs of Botanist are told from the perspective of The Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from Humanity and its crimes against Nature as possible. 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 envisioning the destruction of man. There, seated upon his throne of Veltheimia, The Botanist awaits the day when humans will either die or kill each other off, which will allow plants to make the Earth green once again.
If anything, this takes Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Planets to a muck darker and sinister level, twisting the concept of what plants are or perhaps a look into what they were before they were used and abused by humans. It’s quite unique, and the fact that it is a concept album, a metal one at that, is even more interesting. There are moments of the production where the sound quality seems a bit thin, but it’s nothing that a bit of EQ can’t fix." -- This Is Book's Music, March 3, 2013
"Sans aller jusqu’à faire des métaphores graveleuses (« sur ta flore intestinale ? » me susurre à l’oreille Chris, notre chef de rédaction à humour douteux – loué soit-il), ça sentait mauvais entre Botanist et moi depuis un III: Doom In Bloom concrétisant mal les envies de lenteur d’Otrebor. J’y trouvais des ambitions trop grandes et beaucoup de superflu, aussi espérais-je rencontrer de nouveau les coups de sécateur si plaisants de I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From the Dead sur IV: Mandragora.
Et je devrais me graver dans la tête « Ne rien attendre de Botanist » car ce quatrième album se distingue de ses prédécesseurs malgré l’impression première d’écouter une version consensuelle de ses trois ainés. Contrairement à ces derniers, IV: Mandragorane martyrise pas, n'est que mélodies et rêves de végétaux gagnant leur règne au détriment d’une humanité éliminée depuis longtemps. Le one-man band, en allant vers un format plus classique avec un seul disque de trente-trois minutes, offre ici ce qu’il a de plus dynamique et raffiné sans temps morts, les excès ou baisses de tempo s’insérant au sein de compositions variées et accrocheuses (oui, ce dernier mot peut paraître étrange concernant un projet aussi atypique mais un titre comme « Nourishing the Fetus » joue de structures simples pour devenir rapidement entêtant par exemple). Entre moments rappelant la lourdeur de III: Doom In Bloom, clins d’œil aux matraquages noisy de ses deux premiers essais (servis par une production volontairement lo-fi) et passages glorieux pouvant évoquer les scènes post-black – en particulier Wolves In The Throne Room (« To Amass an Army ») – ou le black expérimental avec rythmiques trip hop de Blut Aus Nord (« Nightshade »), le Ricain paraît créer à la fois un guide de lecture de sa discographie ainsi qu’une synthèse possédant sa propre identité, l’ensemble étant marqué par une lumière, non plus coupante comme du verre, mais d’une douce froideur presqu’accueillante.
« Presque » car IV: Mandragora est autrement imperméable que ses grand-frères. Tout est plus travaillé et tout marque moins. Ses variations font qu’une ligne directrice manque à cette œuvre qui, au-delà de l’attachement à la mandragore qu’elle présente dans ses textes, n’a pas cette homogénéité qui sauvait parfois III: Doom In Bloom. Certes, les sept titres constituant l’ensemble sont liés par une atmosphère de victoire du végétal sur l’animal, celle-ci n’évolue pas plus loin qu’un sentiment agréable (ce qui dessert les quelques attaques composant « Arboreal Gallows » et « Sophora Tetraptera », peu douloureuses en comparaison de celles présentes sur I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From the Dead). Quand on a connu et adoré le Botanist des débuts, difficile de faire son deuil de cette ambivalence entre pureté et souffrance qui l’estampillait jusque-là.
IV: Mandragora n’en reste pas moins une réussite, en partie grâce à des parties vocales à classer parmi les plus mémorables qu’a offert Otrebor (à l’image des chœurs de « Rhyncholaelia Glauca »). Sa beauté et son accessibilité (relative) invitent ceux intrigués par la formation mais rebutés par son hermétisme à retenter l’expérience à travers lui, ses plus gros défauts n’apparaissant qu’une fois placé au sein de la discographie du Californien. III: Doom In Bloom m’a déçu. IV: Mandragora me laisse croire que je n’ai pas fini de tourner autour de Botanist pour chercher à le comprendre." -- Ikea, Thrashocore, April 5, 2013
"I realised the hammered dulcimer was the hipster instrument du jour when in town recently one afternoon, passing through the Grafton St / Wicklow St axis, I walked by not one but two different buskers playing the feckers. And not very well, I might add. Someone who does play the hammered dulcimer very well, however - and completely destroying that hipster tag in the process - is Otrebor, the shadowy figure behind the one-man arboreal black metal project Botanist. Upon the simultaneous release of its first two albums - I: The Suicide Tree and II: A Rose From the Dead - on Andee Connors' eclectic tUMULt label in 2011, Botanist emerged not a sapling but a fully formed growth, exhibiting a confidently idiosyncratic sound comprising just vocals, drums and, yes, dulcimer.
When Otrebor plays the hammered dulcimer on those first records, the emphasis is most definitely on the 'hammered' part - he whacks the bejaysus out of those strings, all the while howling and cackling plant-obsessed lyrics like a mad witch casting spells over a bubbling cauldron. And then there's that hollow tree-stump snare sound, as if he's ignoring the skins entirely and just playing the rims. Tap-tappity-tap. It reads ridiculous I'm sure, but those elements really do entwine into a captivating blend of off-kilter melodies and decaying drones, hopping from one idea to the next like a medieval Robert Pollard, most songs barely breaking the two-minute mark if that. And it's all wrapped up in a narrative 'lore' concerning the titular Botanist, a crazed man of science retreated to his 'Verdant Realm', and the spirits that dwell there awaiting the extinction of humanity. The most succinct description for the Botanist experience, at least on those first records, is 'weird'. But that weirdness is what makes it so special.
Last year's III: Doom in Bloom took a different tack, featuring slower, drawn-out arrangements with intricately layered melodies, owing far greater to doom than black metal in essence. At the same time, Otrebor channels the voice of the Botanist in a more human register for much of the record, and hides his vocals lower in the mix. And while the percussion is bigger in density and volume, it's also more anonymous, and grounded in this ordinary realm - which makes sense upon learning that the drums were recorded for an abandoned doom record even before the conception of the Botanist project. The end result, however, is the Botanist sound loses some of its character and personality, even if I can see what Otrebor was trying to achieve with it. (The accompanying disc of full-band collaborations and reinterpretations, Allies, is an interesting digression but a digression nonetheless.)
So now we come to the fourth chapter in the Botanist's grim fairy tale, IV: Mandragora, which finds a home on San Francisco 'dark music' label The Flenser. Thematically, it heralds the coming of an army of mandrakes to destroy humanity and reclaim the earth for its plantlife; musically it sits somewhere between the restlessness of the first records and the determined slowness of Doom in Bloom. From the first strains of 'Arboreal Gallows (Mandragora I)' it's pleasing to hear the return of that forest-hewn drum sound and a more forceful vocal mix, yet this time in a cloudier atmosphere conjured by that dreamlike, almost shoegaze dulcimer riff. The focused 'Nightshade (Mandragora II)'is similarly swathed in a low-fi haze of string vibrations and feedback. This addition of noise to the Botanist arsenal is welcome in theory, but while it works in places - the brooding 'To Amass An Army (Mandragora III)' and 'Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)', and the epic closer 'Rhyncholaelia Glauca', mostly benefit from the added crackle and buzz - the results elsewhere are too intrusive. The overwhelming miasma of rigging dulcimer vibrations on 'Mandrake Legion (Mandragora V)' bleeds over the rumbling bass drums and woodpecker blastbeats till they're virtually drowned out. And there's a barely detectable ghost of the overlapping melodic lines of 'Sophira Tetraptera' that are flattened by the lack of sonic fidelity.
That production choice could be an attempt to evoke the mindbending chaos of a marching plant army, or just a mistaken regression; I'm in two minds about it. When such things take your head out of the music, maybe the battle's already lost. But the strength of the compositions here shouldn't be ignored; they feel like a natural progression, and show Otrebor's willingness to learn from himself. IfIV: Mandragora makes anything clear it's that Botanist is an evolving thing, for better and for worse. It's an organism growing in self-awareness. And it'll be interesting to see what it mutates into next." -- MacDara Conroy, Thumped, February 19, 2013
YOU AREN'T COOL
"The fourth instalment in Botanist's rich black metal mythology finds the crazed misanthrope raising an army of mandrakes to wreak Triffid-style horror upon an unsuspecting and unrepentant mankind. Flesh is scorched, spleens split and necks snapped as the violent vegetation marauds across the earth initiating the 'apocalypse of man'; it's the angriest Botanist record to date in terms of both narrative and sound. Still an insular listen, dominated by Otrebor's strangled gurgling and enduring use of the hammered-dulcimer, faster tempos and shorter song lengths help make Mandragora both the most enjoyable, and palatable chapter yet." -- C. Barker, You Aren't Cool, February24, 2013
"IV: Mandragora is another chapter in Botanist's continuing chronicle of man's downfall at the justifiably violent hands of Mother Nature. Any initial 'huh?' or 'eh?' at the concepts found on Botanist's records are always wiped away when the music gets underway. IV: Mandragora is no different.
For those concerned with genre-tags or kvlt ratings, IV: Mandragora is balanced on the three-way knife edge among discordant black metal, post-rock and avant-garde rock. The fact that IV: Mandragora is such a melodic record and yet feels untouched by the hand of external influence, editor, or pacifier to smooth it out is a testament to Otrebor's singular vision: it's undeniably the sound of the Botanist.
A good part of the album falls in the mid-tempo range, but it beautifully ratles and rolls between rhythms. The crescendos and furrows of pounded trademark dulcimer sends feedback-like vibrations across the songs; it's only some of the blastier rhythm work and the shriek-from-the-guts vocals that are explicitly textbook black metal direction.
At what point does experimental black metal just become something else? Who knows? Botanist continues to evolve. (5/6)" -- Scott McKeating, Zero Tolerance #52, April/May, 2013
"Bagger. Daar is ongeveer alles mee gezegd. Helaas is een review van slechts één woord onvoldoende. Ik ga hier zo kort mogelijk over zijn, want het is haast interessanter om uit te leggen wat een ‘botanist’ eigenlijk is en wat een ‘mandragora’ moet voorstellen.
Ik denk dat we hier met de verloren bastaardbroer, verwekt door de melkboer, van Gruweldood te maken hebben. Misschien is dit nog wel slechter ook. Nu valt dit niet onder depressieve black, maar experimentele. Ik zou zeggen, hou er mee op!
Ten eerste moest ik verdomd goed luisteren of de zang nu al wel of niet begonnen was, want die is echt heel ver weg pas te bekennen en slaat als een kut op een sluisdeur. Het klinkt als een baby die zich druk maakt over het krijgen van onvoldoende borstvoeding en niet heel erg als black metal. De drums klinken als een hardstyle-bass in een getunede auto die voorbijrijdt en zo je ruiten laat trillen, veel meer is het niet. Irritant gitaargepingel wat ik nog met mijn tenen zou kunnen spelen. Dat er überhaupt een label is gevonden om dit uit te geven is nog wel het ergste van alles. ‘Botanist, the unconventional one-man black metal band featuring vocals, drums, and hammered dulcimer instrumentation...’. M’n reet. (15/100)" -- Martijn Korremans, Zware Metalen, March 8, 2013