Reviews of Photosynthesis




Apathy & Exhaustion


Echoes and Dust

Kulturnews (German)

Meat Mead Metal

Merchants of Air

Metal Injection

mp3s and NPCs

New Noise Magazine

Plattentests (German)

Pop Matters

Quietus, The (Greek)

Sleeping Shaman, The

Sludgelord, The

Thrashocore (French)

Two Guys Metal Reviews






"Now, I’ve never really listened to Botanist before. I’d heard of black metal’s favourite plant botherers back when they first appeared on The Flenser’s roster, but I’d only just got into the genre and ignored them for the bigger names. I’m regretting that now, as this is some of the most exciting modern black metal that I’ve heard in ages. They also raise some interesting questions, like what the fuck is an electric hammered dulcimer?

Turns out, it’s a modern version of a traditional Celtic instrument that kinda sounds like a harpsichord. It’s quite jarring on the first listen, to the point that I nearly gave up after my first listen of opener “Light”, as the its uniqueness initially stops the listener from focussing on anything else. However, the more you listen to it, the more it works. It complements the thunderous drums and buzzing guitars by adding an eerie delicateness to an otherwise furious racket. Further building upon the band’s avant-garde take on black metal is the addition of the proggy basslines of new member Tony Thomas (of death metallers Dawn of Oroboros), which are a departure from previous releases.

As the title suggests, the album is thematically focussed on the biological process of photosynthesis and the theme of forests acting as the lungs of the planet. Lyrics focus on the individual processes, organs and cells involved in photosynthesis, while still sounding metal as hell. To an extent, this ties in with some of the themes explored by Cascadian black metal bands, like Wolves In The Throne Room, but Botanist step away from the more traditional style of black metal those bands play. Instead, we get a sound that veers between wintry, almost Eastern-European, sounding segments (courtesy of the dulcimer), semi-choral singing and the proggier side of black metal. As a result, the band cultivates a sound that is equal parts terrifying, haunting and uplifting. If you’re expecting wall-to-wall blast beats and guttural screaming, you will be disappointed, though they do make a number of appearances across the record.

Photosynthesis is a challenging record that will be like marmite to a lot of people. Some black metal purists will be turned off by the clean vocals and use of non-traditional instruments, but those who are a bit more open to the more left-field corners of the genre will dig the hell out of it. It’s a record that requires a few listens to truly appreciate, but is worth that extra bit of effort.

FFO: Altar of Plagues, Deafheaven, Deathspell Omega

Top Cuts: Water; Dehydration; Palisade (7.75/10)" -- Andrew Carr, Apathy & Exhaustion, December 8, 2020

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"It seems significant that Botanist’s new LP Photosynthesis reaches an early apotheosis with its third track, “Chlorophyll.” The first two songs, “Light” and “Water,” are strong compositions, full of compelling sounds. But light and water are elements important for lots of life forms, human beings included. Chlorophyll is a more specific substance, crucial to the vitality of what Otrebor, founding member and key creative presence of Botanist, calls “the Verdant Realm.” Plantlife. Forests and jungle. The uncountable multitude of greeny beings that let us all breathe. And on “Chlorophyll,” the idiosyncratic black metal that Botanist has made over the past decade achieves its requisite aggressive resonance. Otrebor’s voice is a harsh shriek; his hammered dulcimer glitters and shimmers and also deafens; blast beats pulse under the song’s quickening pace. As with all plantlife, when chlorophyll combines with those other essential elements, the energy becomes a palpably livid thing.

If you’re not familiar with Botanist’s music, yes, you read that right: “hammered dulcimer” and “black metal.” It’s a strange and high-concept pairing. Pretty much everything about Botanist is high concept. Since the project’s inception in 2009, Otrebor has released music exclusively concerned with the mythos of the Verdant Realm. Plants are spirit beings, leafy mannikins that gambol and rage against the ecological depredations of the Anthropocene. Record titles are instructive: Doom in Bloom, The Suicide Tree, Green Metal. Despite the suggestions of that last, much of Botanist’s work accords with the sonic traditions of black metal, and while his choice of principal axe is idiosyncratic, it works. The hammered dulcimer has a sharply metallic ring, and its stringed intricacies adapt well to black metal’s customary tremolo lines and its enthusiasm for speed. There’s also a sort of thematic connection, given orthodox black metal’s romantic embrace of dark forests and atavistic spaces in which some primal, pagan Volk can gather and sing. 

For numerous black metal bands, that veneration of a Volk leads in unpleasant political directions, or the interest in hostile natural environments produces outright nihilism (perhaps those bands have mislaid the fact that veneration and interest are characteristically human acts and experiences, shared by all kinds of humans). If Botanist has a politics, it’s not concerned with lunatic insistence on pure bloodlines or contests among clanking war machines. And many of the songs on Photosynthesisconsist of sounds and atmospheres that feel antithetical to violence of those sorts. Even at the music’s most forceful — the opening strains of “Bacteria,” the scorching pace of “Palisade” — Otrebor incorporates a brightening measure, something that lifts the song toward the sun. 

That’s an unusual impulse to encounter in black metal, and Otrebor finds equally unusual musical means to express it. The most persistent of those means is the hammered dulcimer, which often glistens and gleams even as it mimics black-metal guitar techniques often described as “cold.” The mix of textures is sonically and thematically rich. An icy glacier can gleam, but Otrebor’s playing gives the lightness a sort of warmth. Used with less frequency, but to strong effect, on Photosynthesis are clean vocals that Otrebor overdubs into a chorale. They sweeten some of the songs—but they’re weirdly monotone, even as they rise and fall harmonically. They sound not-quite-human, perhaps the voice of the Verdant Realm’s plant-consciousness. You’ll hear them in a sort of duet with Otrebor’s harsh scream during the final track, “Oxygen,” on which they build a sense of hopeful collaboration with the rest of the music. Given the earthball’s collective need for breath (the stink of pollution, the smothering horror of COVID-19, the poisonous hot air of institutional political discourse), it’s especially significant that the record closes with photosynthesis’s most precious product. Not for the plants, mind you. For the rest of us." -- Jonathan Shaw, Dusted Magazine, October 29, 2020

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"The outer reaches of a genre are always, in my experience, the most exciting to explore. For every failed experiment, every inexplicable project, there are artists doing something strange and yet inherently wonderful. Hailing from San Francisco, California, Botanist are one such act in an adjacent verdant realm to black metal.

The band have been active for well over a decade now, first as a solo-project of multi-instrumentalist Otrebor and later as a fully bloomed band, with this album seeing a new members in the form of Tony Thomas on bass, who plays with drummer Daturas in Bay Area death metal bands Dawns of Ouroboros and Sentient Ignition. Botanist have never felt so complete as they do on the new album – and fourth collectively composed record – Photosynthesis.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet – there’s a theme going on here. Botanist is a conceptual post-black metal band; Photosynthesis being a concept album about how plants convert sunlight into energy, how they transform carbon dioxide into the oxygen that all fauna requires to breathe. Each of the album’s eight tracks deal with an aspect of photosynthesis – the core visual theme of the album – depicting the world’s forests as the functioning lung system of the world, each tree an individual cell in the global process, scattered across the Earth. Furthermore, we have the character of ‘The Botanist’, a scientist in love with the natural world, who despairs about the present day, and who dreams, nay longs for, the crumbling of humanity so that the wild can reclaim and reconstruct its magisterial kingdom.

Before entering into a review of the songs themselves, it is worth reflecting on the recording quality of the album. The sound of this thing is captivating, with a clarity and a depth and warmth of instrumentation not previously found on a Botanist LP. Production was handled by Dan Swanö, a musician of great import in the Swedish melodic and progressive death metal scenes, especially during the years either side of the millennium, and now very much known for his excellent output from his own Unisound studio. Well, we can easily add Photosynthesis to that growing list. The injection of Swanö’s inherent style and artistic creativity in the more avant-garde areas of the metal spectrum is a perfect match for the diverse, off-kilter sound and vision of Botanist.

Botanist are atypical not only for their concept, but for the eschewing of traditional guitar as the basis of their black metal, as well as the growing predominance of glowing clean vocals beyond the more instantly recognisable genre shriek. Otrebor performs on an electrified hammered dulcimer rather than guitar, able to produce a similar tremolo effect, but unmistakably different in timbre and the strange, obtuse riffs he is able to conjure from the instrument. It produces a truly different listening experience and one that any adventurous fan of black metal eager for different flavour will surely delight in.

Photosynthesis opens with the macro of nature’s alchemical process of turning the Sun’s rays into enduring life, providing extreme metal’s answer to the proggy experimental ambience of Mort Garson’sMother Earth’s Plantasia. ‘Light’ beams its way into black metal’s typical night, a heavenly, almost spiritual track of the dulcimer drenching everything it touches as Otrebor’s clean (almost choral) vocal work swells and the dream of this album ensnares…

‘Water’ stays with the macro elements of the concept but if the first true ‘song’ on the album. It features some utterly stunning dulcimer work once again already, with one riff in particular reminiscent of Eastern mysticism, hammering home the idea of a global outlook from the band. The drumming is also extremely impressive on this and throughout the album, consistently giving Botanist a solid structure – its roots as it were – allowing the other members to create ever more fanciful and elaborate works upon its intricate yet thundering foundation. With ‘Chlorophyll’ Botanist oddly create both one of the heaviest and most beautiful tracks on the record. The simple chord progressions and delightful added synths create a delightful backdrop to the impassioned screaming, reminiscent of Flenser stablemates Bosse-de-Nage in complex choice of rhythm and lyric, if slightly higher pitched in tone.

‘Dehydration’ brings the pace back down, with contemplative string work, before launching one again into a heavier passage, with some vocals here trespassing into a more death metal style. These are coupled with menacing gets gorgeously delivered melodic tones. It’s a furious track of malcontent, clearly raging against the times when light and water are in short supply and there is a threat to the plant, the tree, the forest’s very survival. ‘Bacteria’ opens with a mysterious, uneasy build, featuring some inventive, delicious bass as the dulcimer extravagance takes over once again for a bridge of decadent wrath before the song transitions into one of the most tortured, drawn out passages, changing the dynamic of the LP into something once again plaintive and warning…

Photosynthesis is a strong album, but it is in its second half where the band prove themselves and the LP strongest. ‘Stroma’ is a spacious track, allowing the band and the album to breathe, and for yet another time the bass is the star, with a delightful tone, that instantly brings to mind 60s and 70s prog of the highest order. With the semi-religious sounding vocals peeling over this and the complex drumming, one feels as if one has trespassed upon a cult. In many ways we have – ‘The Botanist’ delivering his sermon to the modern world to recant, welcome doom, and allow the fauna of the planet to swallow us.

‘Palisade’ follows and feels like a natural bedfellow of ‘Chlorophyll’ – creating something both heavy and vengeful with something transcendent and glorious in tone and vision. We then transition into album closer ‘Oxygen’, the culmination of Photosynthesis, easily the best track on the record (and its longest, too). In this track the trio come together at their very tightest compositionally, instrumentally and vocally, almost embodying the metaphor process they have just covered for roughly half an hour. It is a triumphant end to a deeply intriguing and very rewarding atypical black metal listen.

Botanist have produced another fantastic album and with its brevity never lose the listener, despite the complexity of the music and dynamic shifts. This is down to some wonderfully creative songcraft and musicianship, as well as the aforementioned ‘levelling up’ of production on Photosynthesis. A fine record, verdant with energy and growth, and truly – forgive me – a breath of fresh air in a scene that can prove itself stale or frozen of life." -- Chris Keith-Wright, Echoes and Dust, November 2, 2020

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"Botanist machen Öko-Metal mit Hackbrett statt Gitarren. Jenseits aller Gimmicks ist diese Musik allerdings zart, abgründig und unendlich schön.

Botanist ist das Projekt des Musikers Otrebor aus San Francisco, und sein Name macht schon hinreichend deutlich, dass Otrebor ein Metalnerd der Güteklasse A ist. Und jetzt bitte nicht lachen: Wenn er Musik als Botanist aufnimmt, sagt er, kanalisiere er ein Kunstfigur names Botanist sowie dessen romantisierte Vorstellung einer Zukunft, in der die Menschheit sich selbst zugrunde gerichtet hat und die Pflanzen die Welt zurückerobern. Natürlich äußert sich das in Black Metal, wo der Waldfetischismus immer schon seltsame Knospen getrieben hat: also „Light“, „Water“, „Chlorophyll“, „Oxygen“.

Doch als ob das hardcore alberne Konzept nicht genug wäre, spielen Botanist ihren Black Metal nicht mit der Gitarre, sondern mit dem Hackbrett. Und da liegt der Clou: Das ist wirklich richtig schön. Es ist wohl das beste Kompliment für Otrebors Projekt, dass seine Musik nicht das latent ökofaschistische, menschenverachtende Gekeife ist, das man angesichts dieser Beschreibung erwarten würde. Stattdessen ist „Photosynthesis“ verletzlicher, dynamischer und zarter noch als etwa die Postmetal-Posterboys Deafheaven es je gewesen sind." -- Jonah Lara, Kulturnews, October 28, 2020

(English translation)

"Botanist do eco-metal with dulcimer instead of guitars. Beyond all the gimmicks, however, this music is delicate, deep and infinitely beautiful.

Botanist is the project of the musician Otrebor from San Francisco, and his name makes it sufficiently clear that Otrebor is a grade A metal nerd. And now please don't laugh: when he records music as a botanist, he says, he channels a fictional character called the botanist and his romanticized idea of ​​a future in which humanity has ruined itself and plants are taking back the world. Of course this is expressed in Black Metal, where the forest fetishism has always grown strange: that is, “Light”, “Water”, “Chlorophyll”, “Oxygen”.

But as if the hardcore silly concept wasn't enough, Botanist don't play their Black Metal with the guitar, but with the dulcimer. And that's where the kicker lies: It's really really nice. It is probably the best compliment for Otrebor's project that his music is not the latently eco-fascist, inhuman nagging that one would expect given this description. Instead, “Photosynthesis” is more vulnerable, dynamic and delicate than the post-metal poster boys Deafheaven have ever been." -- Jonah Lara, Kulturnews, October 28, 2020

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In the dark annals of metal and heavy music in general, there have been myriad concept pieces that encompass entire albums and drive you into story mode. We’ve had government conspiracies and murderous nuns, chosen beings who cannot handle their powers and head down a path toward self-destruction, the plight of coal workers in the Midwest, aliens, you name it.  

Bay Area force Botanist have been creating conceptual pieces ever since they got started more than a decade ago, based on happenings in the fictional (we think!) Verdant Realm, and along the way we’ve had plant life battle back to wrest control of the earth from humans. But this time around, Botanist bring an album focus unlike any other we’ve heard before in that it’s simple on the surface but looks at a process that sustains life all over the world. “Photosynthesis” is literally about that very process. It focuses on plant life breaking down sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen, basically keeping animal life afloat in the process. Typically Otrebor is the sole person performing the music, but this is one of the project’s collaborative efforts where they expand the band as Daturus handles drums, Tony Thomas plays bass, Chelsea Rocha Murphy contributes vocals to a track, and the legendary Dan Swano is responsible for audio production. It’s a more full-bodied effort, and it bursts with life.

“Light” starts the record on a bright note as propulsive melodies stir, and the clean singing adds a hypnotic edge. The dulcimer rains down while the playing turns rustic and prog-fueled as the track ends in spacious wonder. “Water” slowly comes in as the melody chimes away, and the singing floats like a cloud. A dreamy haze hovers as whispers poke through the shadows before the playing turns spirited, and things charge and bubble as wild howls rip out into the night. “Chlorophyll” feels both ominous and grandiose as it stretches its wings while shrieks hammer, and an abrasive feel scrapes at the earth. Shadows wash in as the song bursts with energy, anguished wails leave bruising, and the power finally subsides. “Dehydration” stings with dulcimer notes before the drums kick in, and things are speedier than what preceded it. Harsh growls blister as the melodies begin to spread, setting off chemical impulses that rush the song into panicked gusts.

“Bacteria” hangs in the air and as the drums begin to unravel, and the track slowly builds its intensity. The drums then crush wills as Otrebor cries, “Regeneration!” while the music blends into dreamier terrain, adding clean calls before the track bleeds out. “Stroma” packs dulcimer, hearty growls, and even some atmospheric singing that melts your psyche. The pace is daring and pushy, adding a psychological edge as the fogs begin to collect, with things coming to a smothering finish. “Palisade” enters with the drums driving forcefully and manic vocals adding extra layers of anxiety. The playing feels like it wrenches your guts while synth creates a disorienting pall, while a pillowy haze settles as gentle strums take us away. “Oxygen” closes the album by launching in an urgent pace, rushing through and crashing into storms. Spirited singing mixes with shrieks, while the playing takes on the vibe of a black musical, pushing into chilling winds and murky synth. The dulcimer drips as the singing rises again, a choral gust warms chests, while Otrebor calls, “To the flora and the fauna,” as the track disappears into clouds.

There likely isn’t another heavy music record anywhere that uses photosynthesis as a conceptual center, but that’s fitting as there really is no other band quite like Botanist. “Photosynthesis” is a fascinating record, another great version of this collective form of the band that helps to fully flush out every corner. This album will live in your psyche both as a raging storm and a calming spirit as you consider the very process that helps us unworthy humans remain alive." -- Brian Krasman, Meat Mead Metal, October 21, 2020

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"Photosynthesis – without it we would not be alive, for it is the key element for oxygen production. It is a very complicated process to explain, although as a teacher of mine once said “It’s not complicated, it’s just natural!” (Yeah, thanks, I still never got anything better than a C-). And there comes a avantgarde-metal band and explains it in its own way, as an analogy to human life, with regeneration as one of the major motifs. 

Otrebor, the mastermind behind and only constant member of Botanist, has divided his new record into the eight “steps” of photosynthesis - “Light”, “Water”, “Chlorophyll”, “Dehydration”, “Bacteria”, “Stroma”, “Palisade” and “Oxygen” (even by looking at this list one can understand the biological process more easily!). Of course, this seems like an analogy to other bands, who have a huge background concept behind their records like The Ocean. However, there is nothing too logical about this record, it flows nicely and, yes, naturally. 

To say that of a record of such harsh melodies, such raw moments (we are still talking about a black metal band, basically) speaks volumes about the quality of the music. That can also be connected to the collective he gathered to help him with the recording. Otrebor himself mainly plays the hammered dulcimer, a medieval instrument which he plays like a guitar, his constant companion Daturus once again contributed on drums and new on this record is Tony Thomas on bass. Thomas and Daturus also brought in Chelsea Rocha-Murphy who is their bandmate in Oakland-based progressive extreme metal-outfit Dawn of Ouroboros and who sings on “Dehydration”. 

That is also a very exemplary song: opening with an acoustic intro whose single note at the end is a bit high in pitch than the ones before, the song then turns into a near-classic black metal track where only in reflection you feel the lack of a guitar, as the dulcimer tones are always a bit more steely, a bit less distorted. The interesting bit about “Dehydration” is its middle part, where the band easily slows down and then also effortlessly kicks in again with some fear-inducing blastbeats. Chelsea herself provides some background lyrics and also joins Otrebor in his melody, so that their voices very nicely compliment each other. 

The “Verdant Realm” (the world of the plants) is Otrebor’s “safe haven” which he never leaves for the outside world, even on pictures you can see him wearing a mask over his face which resembles an assembly of twigs. Being anonymous and stepping back from a human personality to give as much space to his Verdant Realm philosophy is one of his major interests. That also shows a deep understanding of his on nature itself, as there is no tree or plant that tries to overshadow the other, there is no main role – each plant contributes to the ecosystem and to the process of giving life through photosynthesis. 

Looking at the record it is obvious that its artwork is one of the most beautiful of 2020. Listening to the music it becomes clear that this is one of the most intriguing and versatile black metal releases this year. For reasons unclear, Botanist is still one of those underrated bands – this must change with this beautiful record!" -- Thorsten, Merchants of Air, November 12, 2020

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"The Botanist would have a field day in my neighbourhood! Head tree hugger, Roberto “Otrebor” Martinelli has previously stated that when the time comes to expel melodic, avant-garde, post-black metal from his creative well, he “channels an entity within that’s been named ‘The Botanist,’ a character whose perspective dictates the content of the music and lyrics. The Botanist holds a romantic view in which plants reclaim the Earth after humanity has killed itself. He’s trying his damnedest to bring about the end of humanity because humanity is destroying the natural world.

Were I to chaperone Martinelli around streets, boulevards, courts, and cul-de-sacs in proximity to the House That Metal Built And Pays For, it’s easy to picture the rapid emergence of a wide and sheepish “I told you so” grin on his mug. ‘Round these parts he would witness microcosmic evidence of Earth’s reclamation process in action as local coronavirus restrictions have presumably stemmed the ability of many of my neighbours to access paving companies with any promptness. That, and/or a blip in the driveway sealant manufacturing/supply chain, has transformed many of their ridiculously elaborate driveways into miniature jungles as weeds, grass, and other foliage have broken through cracks in the concrete, extending beyond the surface and stretching out towards life-giving sunshine. 'Take that, humanity,' laughs Mother Nature, with Otrebor at her side. Anyone else have “Ruined Suburban Driveways” on their 2020 Apocalypse Bingo cards?

For those outside the loop, Botanist is Otrebor’s decade-old project in which he uses an electrified hammered dulcimer as the main instrument in lieu of traditional guitars. In addition, each of the previous ten or eleven releases has thematically focussed in some fashion on plants, flowers, trees, verdancy, and the like. Admittedly, even after this many albums in, it’s still a trip to hear someone using the banshee black metal style to passionately screech out terminology more appropriate to a phytology textbook. But if you can’t generate enthusiasm about the high-speed gutting of the vegetation on our only home—despite what Total Recall tells you, life on Mars isn’t going to be that cool—then what else is there to get passionate about? Black metal has already symbolically killed religion, Jesus, his minions, and houses of worship a million times over.

Joining Otrebor and drummer Ron “Daturus” Bertrand on Photosynthesis is bassist Tony Thomas who provides a warm, progressive rock-rooted rumble that spends as much time cracking out lines that strut in homage to Geddy Lee and Rush (“Water”) as ripping away like many of their west coast influences and brethren like LudicraWeaklingBosse-de-Nage and Hammers of Misfortune (“Chlorophyll”). There are a couple of moments in “Light” where the skittish and busy bass work does an Olympic medal-worthy balance beam routine between sublime tech-fusion and a near-collapse into off-kilter clutter that are bound to be best appreciated by musicians. On the opposite end, “Oxygen” has a Baptist church-like quality to the choral voices and up-tempo verses before it tapers off with shimmering post-metal and an epic, concluding dirge. And if you ever wondered what a collision of melodi-punk, power metal, and arpeggio-heavy post-black metal would sound like underpinned with an atonal drone then “Palisade” has the answer.

What’s most striking about this latest album is its full and fleshed out overall sound. In large part, this is the result of Thomas’ low-end embrace and the sharp, yet elastic, drum sound Daturus is afforded. The rhythm section works in seamless accord with the dulcimer’s baroque plinking, itself projecting with powerful sustain as it cranks out riffs, melodies and peals of dissonance underscored by keyboards and layers of vocal tracks. Not the least, credit should be given to Dan Swanö who, from the producer’s chair, managed healthy doses of instrumental separation and clarity and weaved it together with punchy tones and a cinematic air that results in something undeniably massive. Sure, the whole concept and execution is still something seemingly designed to flip orthodoxy on to its noggin’. Indeed there are brief moments in which instrumental limitations are glaring and impact songwriting decisions, like in “Dehydration” where parts appear to empty out and seem lost. Still, not only is it good to see Botanist upending extreme music norms, but continuing to move forward despite their own self-imposed, if not isolating, head start. (8.5/10)" -- Kevin Stewart-Panko, Metal Injection, November 5, 2020

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"If you expected black metal group Botanist to suddenly sing about cruising down the street with their friends or outlandish hangovers on Photosynthesis, you were probably disappointed. For years, the outfit has delivered massive bodies of work about the environment, and Photosynthesis is no different. The eight-track album embodies the natural process through haunting vocals from Otrebor and some assistance from their hammered dulcimer." -- Terrance Pryor, mp3s and NPCs

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"San Francisco’s intense avant-garde metal project Botanist dedicate their work to the natural world.

On their new album Photosynthesis, project founder Otrebor and his latest co-creators have crafted an eight-track journey that lyrically explores the title process. The album came out on Oct. 30 via The Flenser, a San Francisco-area label where Botanist has released music in the past. There’s a sense of awe-inspiring majesty that runs through the album’s melody-centered yet magnificently intense tracks – which seems fitting, considering the utterly essential nature of photosynthesis itself.

The music of Photosynthesis runs on intricately propulsive drum rhythms, grounding basslines, and the simultaneously wistful and richly immersive contributions from the hammered dulcimer, an instrument which consists of a series of strings that are struck when performed.

The album, which like all other Botanist music does not include a guitar, feels both staggeringly intense and invitingly breathable, thanks to the elements like the earthy dulcimer tones and the album’s sometimes ethereal vocals. In a way, the music feels like it captures an experience of stepping out into a scene of richly vibrant nature – the sound’s thickness and propulsion relate to the magnanimity of the natural world, but there’s also a space for life itself. Photosynthesis seems beautifully melody-driven, not chaotic." -- Caleb Newton, New Noise Magazine, November 19, 2020

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(original German)


Eine kurze, ausdrücklich nicht auf Vollständigkeit pochende Auswahl an Motiven und Leitfragen, die in der jüngeren Geschichte der Rock- und Populärmusik in Form von Konzeptalben behandelt worden sind: die Vierelementelehreinterstellare Zukunftssklaverei, das schwierige Verhältnis zwischen Herzschmerz und der Roland-TR-808-Drummachine, die Abenteuer während eines durch Rattengift verursachten, einwöchigen Komas und ein kaputter Fernseher. Der jüngste Eintrag in diese illustre Liste alltäglicher bis weniger alltäglicher Observationen: die Photosynthese.

Dabei handelt es sich nicht um die erste thematisch wie künstlerisch stringente Auseinandersetzung mit Teilbereichen der Botanik, die Mastermind Otrebor in ausdrücklich unakademischer Ausführung veröffentlicht. Für seine Band Botanist war die farbenprächtige und facettenreiche Flora seit Beginn des Projekts die vorderste Inspirationsquelle. Durch die Augen eines leidenschaftlichen Botanikers, der die Zerstörung der Natur durch den Menschen betrachtet und dadurch den Verstand verliert, vertont "Photosynthesis" das Prinzip der "Verdant Alveolus Diaspora", nach dem die Wälder als individuelle Teile eines komplexen Lungensystems erachtet werden, das das Leben auf unserem Planeten erst ermöglicht. Puh!

So nischig und avantgardistisch das Konzept auf Anhieb erscheinen mag, eine ausgesprochene Naturverbundenheit ist in Metal-Kreisen nichts Neues. Schon Black-Metal-Veteranen wie Ulver und Darkthrone wussten um die geheimnisvolle und bedrohliche Energie ihrer norwegischen Wälder und unterstrichen diesen Kontext in Lyrik und Artwork. Auch heute pflegen prominente Vertreter dieser primitivsten und atavistischsten Spielart des Metal das Erbe der nordischen Urväter, wie etwa die Autarkie aspirierenden Waldbewohner von Wolves In The Throne Room.

Diesen Einflüssen Rechenschaft tragend, pflügen Botanist mit dem frühen Highlight "Water" direkt einmal den Boden um und geben damit die Marschrichtung für die folgende Biologiestunde vor. Eine Leichtigkeit und Ruhe versprühende, leise fließende Melodie mündet in einen reißenden Fluss aus Blastbeats und Tremolo-Picking, über dem engelsgleich schwebend unheilvoll lamentierende Choralgesänge das bittere Zerwürfnis zwischen Mensch und Natur betrauern. Das melodiöse Zentrum dieser Kompositionen bildet ein elektrisch verstärktes Hackbrett, das überraschend spielerisch die vielseitigen Kompetenzen der elektrischen Gitarre übernimmt. Dabei stehen zwei emotionale Facetten im Vordergrund, die im faszinierenden Kontrast zum Grollen und Tosen der Musik stehen: die Schönheit des ganzen Wahnsinns und, gänzlich unbeeindruckt vom zerstörerischen Zerwürfnis drumherum, die Hoffnung.

So geht vom zum Himmel schreienden "Chlorophyll" eine berstende Anmut und Zuversicht aus, die wie vom tobenden Wind getrieben Zuflucht im Auge des Sturms findet. Der melodische Grundtenor macht nur selten Platz für ausschließlich gewaltsame Attacken, so wie das Barbarische, Destruktive hinter jeder harmonisch anmutenden Ruhepause lauert. Auf diese Weise findet die thematisch zentrale Reziprozität zwischen Mensch und Natur, die Abholzung und die Flutwellen, das Ozonloch und die schmelzenden Polkappen, stets Einzug in die Dynamik der Kompositionen. Wie Du mir, so ich dir, als Endgegner.

Natürlich ist das viel Stoff zum Draufherumkauen und mit seiner beinahe notwendigerweise klaren politischen Positionierung ein Statement, das so manche Hörer von der eigentlichen musikalischen Kompetenz des Ganzen ablenken könnte. Umso erfreulicher also, dass diese vierzig Minuten grandios produzierten, hochspannenden Black Metals auch gänzlich losgelöst vom alles umspannenden Konzept bestens funktioniert. Zum Beispiel beim nächsten Waldspaziergang. Aber bitte auf den gekennzeichneten Wegen bleiben! (7/10)" -- Lars-Thoge Oje, Plattentests, November 4, 2020


(English translation)


A short, expressly not exhaustive selection of motifs and key questions that have been dealt with in the recent history of rock and popular music in the form of concept albums: the four-element theory , interstellar future slavery , the difficult relationship between heartbreak and the Roland TR-808 -Drum machines , the adventures in a week-long coma caused by rat poison, and a broken television . The latest entry in this illustrious list of everyday to less everyday observations: photosynthesis.

This is not the first thematically and artistically stringent examination of sub-areas of botany that mastermind Otrebor publishes in an expressly unacademic version. For his band Botanist, the colorful and multifaceted flora has been the foremost source of inspiration since the beginning of the project. Through the eyes of a passionate botanist, who looks at the destruction of nature by humans and thereby loses his mind, "Photosynthesis" sets the principle of the "Verdant Alveolus Diaspora", according to which the forests are regarded as individual parts of a complex lung system that the Life on our planet is only possible. Phew!

As niche and avant-garde as the concept may seem at first glance, a pronounced closeness to nature is nothing new in metal circles. Even black metal veterans such as Ulver and Darkthrone knew about the mysterious and threatening energy of their Norwegian forests and underlined this context in lyrics and artwork. Even today, prominent representatives of this most primitive and atavistic variety of metal maintain the legacy of the Nordic forefathers, such as the self-sufficient forest dwellers of Wolves In The Throne Room.

Taking account of these influences, botanists plow the ground once with the early highlight "Water", thus setting the direction for the next biology lesson. A gently flowing melody that radiates lightness and tranquility flows into a raging river of blastbeats and tremolo picking, above which ominously lamenting chanting chants, floating like an angel, mourn the bitter rift between man and nature. The melodic center of these compositions is an electrically amplified dulcimer, which surprisingly playfully takes over the versatile skills of the electric guitar. Two emotional facets stand in the foreground, which stand in fascinating contrast to the rumble and roar of the music: the beauty of the whole madness and, completely unaffected by the destructive rift around it, the hope.

"Chlorophyll", screaming towards the sky, emanates a bursting grace and confidence that finds refuge in the eye of the storm as if driven by the raging wind. The melodic basic tenor rarely makes room for exclusively violent attacks, just as the barbaric, destructive lurks behind every seemingly harmonious pause. In this way, the thematically central reciprocity between man and nature, the deforestation and the tidal waves, the ozone hole and the melting polar ice caps, always find their way into the dynamics of the compositions. Like you to me, like you to me, as the boss.

Of course, that's a lot of stuff to chew on and, with its almost necessarily clear political positioning, a statement that could distract some listeners from the actual musical competence of the whole thing. So it is all the more gratifying that these forty minutes of superbly produced, high-tension Black Metals works perfectly well, completely detached from the all-encompassing concept. For example, on the next walk in the forest. But please stay on the marked paths! (7/10)" -- Lars-Thoge Oje, Plattentests, November 4, 2020

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"Conceptually and instrumentally a unique black metal project, Otrebor's Botanist not only thrived through their, albeit peculiar, description of flora but pioneered in swapping electric guitars for the hammered dulcimer. Carrying the tradition of folk-influenced black metal, Botanist's initial releases reveled in a dissonant and extravagant facade. Cacophony was at a high, their progression always aggressive and overwhelming; it was a methodology that led to stunning works in the likes of IV: Mandragora and especially VI: Flora. In recent years, Otrabor opened up the project to become a collective, inviting musicians to collaborate and expand Botanist's vision. This move breathed in a new life into the project, allowing novel ideas to appear and swapping the loose avant-gardisms for a more defined progressive affluence.

Photosynthesis is the latest entry in the collective era of Botanist, and in many ways, it redefines much of the project's concept. The hammered dulcimer is still at the center of it all, naturally fitting within the brutal black metal methodology, particularly poignant in the more bitter moments of "Dehydration" and "Bacteria". The flipside of the instrument's piercing quality is that it can lend more presence and brightness to Botanist's melodic leanings, which seemingly has been expanded as the melancholic lead work of "Light" and the pensive themes of "Chlorophyll" unfold.

And while Botanist puts on multiple black metal masks, indulging in both the brutal and the melodic, it's an underlying progressive attitude that drives much of Photosynthesis. Working with Dan Swano on the production, a master in putting a progressive twist on extreme metal, these ideas appear more natural. The overwhelming outbreaks of "Palisade" finally wash over a progressive break, while the amalgamation of clean vocals with a hazy, psychedelic background in "Stroma" and "Oxygen" stand in stark contradiction with Botanist's extreme core. This evolution continues to bear fruits." – Spyros Stasis, Pop Matters, November 6, 2020

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"In the natural world, photosynthesis is a process begun when plants take in carbon dioxide and water. The water is then oxidized, and the carbon dioxide is reduced. This turns the water in oxygen and the carbon dioxide into glucose, which creates the energy the plant needs to grow. The oxygen is released into the air and the energy is stored in glucose molecules. Or so I can remember from GCSE science (thanks Mrs Bailey). It’s through this process that plants can be considered the lungs of the planet. Much like their previous releases, avant-garde metal outfit Botanist have taken this idea and created a concept album around it. As usual the protagonist of the album is a botanist who has gone insane from witnessing the destruction of the natural world at the hand of man. Botanist take hammered dulcimers – water – and a tight rhythm section – carbon dioxide – and create music that is full of propulsive energy.

Photosynthesis is an album that opens with a sombre hammered dulcimer over blast beats. It feels like a metal album but also not at the same time. The use of the hammered dulcimer is a master stroke. They have a set sound that really lends itself to the music Botanist make, but when you can hear the string actually being hammered if adds an extra layer to the song.

When the vocals come in the album starts to feel expansive. ‘Water’ is the track that really tricks you the most. It starts slow, then searing riffs explode from the speakers. There is a delightful drone just below the surface that really grounds the song and allows the pummelling beats to shine. Then, there is a change in pace and tone. The music starts to swell and the vocals appear. From this point the music becomes catchier. Botanist have some killer hooks in store for us. The music doesn’t become poppy or less brutalist, but there is a subtle change. As the vocals swell with the keyboards the album starts to skew from a metal affair into a post-rock/shoegaze one. There is a giddy delight from witnessing the metamorphosis. You can also hear the delight in the voice of lead singer Otrebor (né Roberto Martinelli). However, this isn’t the best part of ‘Water’. Oh no. That is reserved for around two thirds of the way through.

After an instrumental section Otrebor starts to sing again. The backing track feels like two pieces of music have been stitched together. One precise and hard hitting. The second wonky and gleeful. There are moments during this final third where the second part feels like it will untether itself and run amok. Luckily, this doesn’t happen. Instead we listen to the final throes of the song, unsure what will happen. Will it make it to the finish line as planned or will it all collapse in a deliriously writhing heap? ‘Stroma’ takes this blueprint but prolongs the melodic moments. Here Botanist really seem to have fun here shifting between tone and pace.

Photosynthesis plays with the conventions of metal, using them to create something fresh and exciting. The switch between metal and dark shoegazing is a masterstroke and stops the album from being a one trick pony. Instead it has a diversity of sound that really lends itself to repeat listens. Yes, there are a few moments when the hammered dulcimer sounds a tad too twee and you just want a massive searing guitar solo – as we’ve been conditioned to want – but the fact it doesn’t come is what makes the album to delightful. We are given everything we expect from a metal album but without a guitar being used.

There are sections here that remind me of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s interplays, Spectre’s wall of dank noise, The Beta Band and Of Arrowe Hill’s use of harmonies. Liturgy, Leprous and a host of other experimental/avant-garde metal bands also come to mind due to their ability to shift from one sound to another with such visceral power. Photosynthesis is a rewarding album that will delight metal heads as well as fans of experimental music. It treads a fine line between being incredible and preachy. Luckily, the music makes up for any lyrical inconstancies. Play loud, play often, plant trees is the overriding message here." -- Nick Roseblade, The Quietus, November 2, 2020

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(original Greek)

Ένα από τα πιο ενδιαφέροντα πειραματικά black metal γκρουπ που συνεχίζει να διεγείρει τη φαντασία

Είναι ενδιαφέρον ότι όλο και περισσότερα σχήματα στρέφονται στον μακρόκοσμο και τον μικρόκοσμο του φυσικού κόσμου για τις concept-ικές τους εξερευνήσεις. Η επιλογή αυτή ίσως στηρίζεται στην απουσία του ανθρώπινου στοιχείου, η υποκειμενικότητα και το περιορισμένο lifespan του οποίου, απομακρύνει τον ίδιο τον άνθρωπο από τη μεγάλη εικόνα της ζωής και των μυστηρίων της. Εξίσου ενδιαφέρον είναι ότι οι Botanist, ένα από τα πιο ιδιαίτερα projects που στηρίζονται σε αυτήν τη λογική, επιλέγουν να αφιερώσουν το νέο τους άλμπουμ στην απόλυτα αλχημιστική διαδικασία του φυσικού κόσμου: τη φωτοσύνθεση.

Η ίδια η μουσική της μπάντας έχει εξάλλου έναν χαρακτήρα αλχημείας, με την έννοια ότι ένα αρχικό στοιχείο (το hammered dulcimer ως βασικό συνθετικό κι εκφραστικό όργανο) περνάει μέσα από μια ετερόκλητη επεξεργασία (black metal) για να δημιουργηθεί ένα καινούριο στοιχείο. Ας ονομάσουμε αυτό το τελευταίο avant metal, έτσι απλώς για να συνεννοηθούμε. Αν και έχουν συνολικά μια ντουζίνα κυκλοφορίες, το "Photosynthesis" είναι το τέταρτο full length άλμπουμ όπου ο mastermind Otrebor συνεργάζεται με άλλους μουσικούς. Το παρόν line up - και με τη σημαντικότατη προσθήκη του Dan Swanö στην παραγωγή - κάνει το παραπάνω avant metal τελικό στοιχείο ίσως πιο διακριτό από ποτέ.

Χωρίς καθόλου κιθάρες, το dulcimer ακούγεται αρκούντως "metal" - προφανώς και με τη χρήση του κατάλληλου distortion. Δεν εκτελεί τόσο πολλά "riff", ούτε αναλώνεται σε πολλές μελωδίες. Περισσότερο παίζει παράξενα ακόρντα, στριφνές αρμονίες, έως και κάποια καθαρά dissonant μέρη. Αν ήθελαν να γίνουν πραγματικά ατμοσφαιρικοί θα τα κατάφερναν σπουδαία, τα "Water" και "Chlorophyll" δεν αφήνουν αμφιβολίες γι αυτό. Από την άλλη, τα τύμπανα του Daturus είναι πιο ευθέως μαυρομεταλλικά, έως και thrashy θα έλεγε κανείς (στα "Palisade" και "Oxygen", κυρίως) και το μπάσο του νεοφερμένου Tony Thomas φέρνει μια νότα από prog death.

Όλα τα παραπάνω εξασφαλίζουν ότι ο ήχος των Botanist είναι πραγματικά αναγνωρίσιμος και μοναδικός. Δεν κρύβω ότι σε ένα προσωπικό νοητικό επίπεδο, αυτός ο ήχος μου αρέσει πάρα πολύ. Κρατάει το μυαλό απασχολημένο, συχνά γοητευμένο με τα ηχοχρώματα, τη σύνθεση των αντιθέτων, τον μοναδικό κόσμο που δημιουργείται. Επιπλέον, θεωρώ ότι η πνευματική διαχείριση του "Photosynthesis", από την πλευρά του ακροατή, θωρακίζεται αλλά και πλήττεται ταυτόχρονα από την ανθρώπινη απουσία που αναφέρθηκε παραπάνω. Κι εξηγούμαι αμέσως.

Το όλο concept των Botanist - το οποίο εξάλλου το έχει αναλύσει τέλεια και ο Αποστόληςκαι σε διαφορετική περίσταση - εκφράζεται από την οπτική ενός τρελού βοτανολόγου που παρατηρεί την καταστροφή της φύσης. Αν σκεφτούμε λίγο αυτή την οπτική, μπορούμε να την εκλάβουμε στην καλύτερη περίπτωση ως κοινωνική αποστασιοποίηση και στη χειρότερη ως αγνή μισανθρωπία. Είναι λοιπόν εντυπωσιακό ότι η μουσική, όντως, δεν μοιάζει να απευθύνεται σε γνωστό συναίσθημα: δεν είναι ακριβώς ούτε σκοτεινή, ούτε φωτεινή. Συχνά μοιάζει ουδέτερη, επιστημονική ή και αδιάφορη, όπως και τα σχεδόν αφηρημένα καθαρά φωνητικά. Ο νους λοιπόν μπορεί να είναι απασχολημένος/γοητευμένος, η καρδιά όμως (τουλάχιστον η δική μου) δεν νιώθει και κάτι. Σε κάνει να αναρωτιέσαι αν αυτή είναι ακριβώς η πρόθεση τους.

Έχοντας αυτές τις σκέψεις κατά νου, καταλήγω ότι (όσο κι αν υπάρχουν ακροατές που δεν το αποδέχονται) οι Botanist και το "Photosynthesis" είναι πεντακάθαρο black metal, όσον αφορά τη φύση και τους σκοπούς του. Ένα black metal διαφορετικό, εσωστρεφές και μοναχικό, με εκκεντρικό ηχητικά τρόπο. Διέπεται από έναν νιχιλισμό διαφορετικού είδους που αρνείται ολοκληρωτικά την ανθρώπινη παρουσία και θαυμάζει το μεγαλείο της φύσης, ως το μόνο πράγμα άξιο λόγου. Με την αλλόκοτη μουσική του, γίνεται ένα με τη Φωτοσύνθεση και βουτάει μαζί της σε ένα αθέατο ταξίδι που, αν μη τι άλλο θρέφει κι εξάπτει τη φαντασία.

Κι αν με όλα αυτά δεν έγινε ξεκάθαρο το πόσο ενδιαφέρων δίσκος είναι το "Photosynthesis", να πω ότι είναι ένα άλμπουμ που αναπνέει νιχιλισμό και, με κάποιον ακατανόητο τρόπο, απελευθερώνει οξυγόνο." -- Αντώνη Καλαμούτσο,, November 27, 2020

(translation to English)


"One of the most interesting experimental black metal bands that continues to stimulate the imagination

It is interesting that more and more shapes are turning to the macrocosm and the microcosm of the natural world for their conceptual explorations. This choice may be based on the absence of the human element, whose subjectivity and limited lifespan take man away from the big picture of life and its mysteries. Equally interesting is that Botanist, one of the most particular projects based on this logic, chooses to dedicate their new album to the completely alchemical process of the natural world: photosynthesis.

The music of the band itself has an alchemical character, in the sense that an original element (the hammered dulcimer as a basic synthetic and expressive instrument) goes through a diverse processing (black metal) to create a new element. Let's call this the latest avant metal, just to get along. Although they have a dozen releases in total, "Photosynthesis" is the fourth full length album where mastermind Otrebor collaborates with other musicians. The present line up - and with the significant addition of Dan Swanö to the production - makes the above avant metal final element perhaps more distinctive than ever.

Without any guitars, the dulcimer sounds "metal" enough - obviously with the use of proper distortion. It does not perform as many "riffs", nor is it consumed in many melodies. More plays strange chords, twisted harmonies, even some purely dissonant parts. If they wanted to be truly atmospheric they would do well, "Water" and "Chlorophyll" leave no doubt about that. On the other hand, the Daturus drums are more straight black, even thrashy one would say (in "Palisade" and "Oxygen" , mainly) and the bass of the newcomer Tony Thomas brings a note of prog death.

All of the above ensures that the sound of Botanists is truly recognizable and unique. I do not hide that on a personal mental level, I like this sound very much. It keeps the mind busy, often fascinated by the colors, the composition of the opposites, the unique world that is created. In addition, I believe that the intellectual management of "Photosynthesis", on the part of the listener, is shielded and at the same time affected by the human absence mentioned above. And I explain immediately.

The whole concept of Botanists - which, after all, has been perfectly analyzed by Apostolison a different occasion - is expressed from the point of view of a crazy botanist who observes the destruction of nature. If we think a little about this view, we can at best perceive it as social distancing and at worst as pure misanthropy. It is striking, then, that music does not seem to address a well-known emotion: it is neither dark nor light. It often seems neutral, scientific or even indifferent, like the almost abstract pure vocals. So the mind can be busy / fascinated, but the heart (at least mine) does not feel anything. It makes you wonder if this is exactly their intention.

With these thoughts in mind, I conclude that (although there are listeners who do not accept it) Botanist and "Photosynthesis" are crystal clear black metal, in terms of nature and purpose. A different black metal, introverted and lonely, with an eccentric sound. It is governed by a nihilism of a different kind that completely denies human presence and admires the greatness of nature, as the only thing worth mentioning. With his bizarre music, he becomes one with Photosynthesis and dives with her on an invisible journey that, if nothing else, nourishes and excites the imagination.

And if all this did not make it clear how interesting the album "Photosynthesis" is, let me say that it is an album that breathes nihilism and, in an incomprehensible way, releases oxygen." -- Antonis Kalamoutsos,, November 27, 2020

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"Did you know that an independently released compilation of native Irish metal bands surfaced in the mid 80s called ‘Green Metal’? While probably a coincidence rather than a homage, US avant gardeners Botanist‘s use of that same title for a 2016 EP always felt like the better use of the phrase and here on this new album, their mastery of this, one band sub-genre, reaches a logical apex. Though still saddled with the black metal tag, green metal really is the only accurate description. While the genres share a velocity and interest in the natural world, Botanist‘s musical aura is a far brighter one than the average corpse painted bunch of cross inverters. Black metal rejects life, and Botanist‘s green metal seeks to nourish and create it.

In the act of photosynthesis, plants convert oxygen into energy, and the album works as a concept about the process. But rather than dig into the lyrics, it’s fitting to note that Photosynthesis as a musical collection is also a fantastic microcosm of how Botanist‘s sound works, how their use of shading and instrumentation creates a very special energy of its own.  

The combination of electrified hammered dulcimer (yes, if you’re somehow unaware of the project, you didn’t misread that), bass and drums, topped with a hint of keyboard for colour, offers as full and vibrant a musical equivalent to their envisioned rewilded world. The weight in the music comes from the bass and drums but the hammered dulcimer and vocals – alternating between Tomas Lindberg rasps and a sort of mini choir of clean tenor – add an enormous range of timbres, atmospheres and dynamics. It feels at times like there’s some kind of distorted orchestra playing, this rather than just three dudes.

Listen to the spreading chimes over the mid paced double bass drum driven Dehydration, and it feels like the musical equivalent of buds suddenly blooming in unison in accelerated time. The opening riffs (for want of a better word) of Bacteria illustratse how that dulcimer really is a unique instrument offering such a full sound. It glides, it can move from a lullaby to a panicked state, a timeless melody to a dissonant cluster. It sounds like a pianist and a guitarist battling with each other. Actually it feels like it would take multiple guitarists to replicate its expansiveness.

Is it really metal though if it doesn’t have guitars? If you can listen to Palisades and tell me it isn’t, you’re lying. Closer Oxygen even has hints of Voivod – another band whose work has grown from crude origins into a musical universe of its own. The aforementioned Oxygen ends the album on a high, and you realise there’s a subtle ecstatic undercurrent to the music. It’s in constant ascension, reaching upwards and out in all directions. Indifferent to the limits of any imposed horizon.

A lot of heavy music feels like an assault, a train coming directly towards you head on. Botanist, in their wisdom, have perfected the trick of making music that feels like it surrounds you instead, coming at you from all sides and in all hues at once. Though ever moving, there’s a sort of tranquillity and steadiness at the heart of it all, their placement of sounds feeling very much like some sort of musical Feng Shui. As an album,Photosynthesis somehow distils their attempts to capture their verdant obsessions perfectly, and the resultant music is as colourful, invigorating and wild as a stroll around the kind of botanical garden that no doubt inspired it." -- Jamie Grimes, The Sleeping Shaman, November 20, 2020

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"A degree of antihumanism, both philosophically and literally, has flown through the veins of black metal since its founding. As the shock-value aspects (ie anti-Christendom, actual murder) withered away over time due to oversaturation, more bands sought to position their interests beyond the anthropocentrism of certain reactionary artists and more aligned with environmentalist romanticism. This has been especially true within the American/Cascadian scene. References to landscapes and preservation grow in prominence over more traditional and human ideas such as mythology.

Botanist lies at the end of this polarity. All remnants of human experience are removed in favor of our chlorophyll-filled friends. Biosphere over anthrosphere. As silly as this may appear on paper it makes sense as a reaction to black metal culture, taking the ideas from bands like Wolves in the Throne Room to their radical end points. We all know the rumor about Ulver recording in a forest. Well, Botanist is the forest. And of course ideology is meaningless without praxis. Botanist’s push beyond black metal (while staying within the subgenre’s core elements) features the replacement of guitars with hammered dulcimers, a stringed instrument that is struck with mallets. Again, this may sound silly at first mention but it creates a feeling of melodicism and atmosphere not too distant from other experimentalist extreme metal artists such those already mentioned. This is achieved while also giving the project a unique quality.

“Photosynthesis” is the culmination of Botanist’s journey after a decade. While Botanist has sought to become-plant it has also been slowly becoming-Botanist through a series of releases, usually throughFlenser, one of the prime exporters of challenging and experimental artists today. Botanist has made a name for itself as such a project but past outputs, while generally great, have differed in both musical quality and production value. “Photosynthesis”is the first time tracks bring me pure pleasantness without the occasional distraction of “wow this is really weird.” This album achieves Botanist at a high point, a coalescence of uniqueness and togetherness within the post-black metal world. Botanist is still weird, yes, but it no longer sounds as if that has been a goal in itself.

It is really amazing how great the often-piano-like dirges of hammer dulcimers flow over the more familiar sounds of aggressive drums and distorted bass. The singing vocals carry weight and sensitivity, like a mysterious choir heard underneath the canopy during a nightly hike, while the shrill screaming is more like a forceful declaration of both a desire and a right to life. It is the language and refrain of the vegetation around you, the human outsider, simply existing because it can.

We are brought beyond civilization, beyond human. We explore that which is often cast aside by our anthropocentric attitudes, especially in Western culture. There is more to life than 46 chromosomes and skin. To better understand ourselves we must occasionally cast aside our humanity.  Botanist holds its hands out to invite us to higher thinking, to connectivity with that which we have segregated ourselves from." -- Josh McIntyre, The Sludgelord, January 1, 2021

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(original French)

Il y a les groupes que l’on suit depuis longtemps et dont on vit les hauts et les bas, leurs albums décevants et les coups de cœur qu’ils nous donnent, comme une histoire où l’attachement nous fait rester : on peut être temporairement déçu, on trouve toujours – dans les meilleurs cas – de quoi renouveler notre fidélité envers eux.

Et il y a un groupe comme Botanist qui, dans les années passées à le suivre (soit sept albums en presque dix ans !), donne une impression plus difficile à évaluer : celle d’un projet qui a rapidement trouvé le fond de son discours, changeant par touches ce qui l’habille. Celui-là donne à chaque nouvelle œuvre une réflexion plus complexe, faite de plaisir devant son originalité et de questionnement sur sa pertinence. Après tant de créations explorant les possibilités d’un black metal où le dulcimer remplace la guitare, après tant d’exemples d’atmosphère végétale jouées avec fureur – les débuts I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose from the Dead –, ferveur – l’indépassable Collective: The Shape of He to Come –, rêverie – les vaporeux IV: Mandragora et VI: Flora – pour enfin s’attarder sur une beauté naturaliste avecEcosystem, que peut-on encore trouver à découvrir dans cette formation si atypique et qui, étrangement, fait craindre plus d’une fois de transmettre le sentiment de tourner en rond ?

C’est dire s’il m’a fallu du temps pour me forger un avis au sujet de Photosynthesis. Botanist poursuit sa recherche mélodique mise au premier plan lors de Ecosystem, laissant croire au départ qu’il est un décalque aussi formellement beau que peu intéressant de son prédécesseur. Certes, les trois premiers titres mettent une jolie rouste comme Otrebor ne l’avait plus fait depuis The Shape of He to Come : « Light », « Water » et la lourdeur magnifique de « Chlorophyll » épatent d’entrée, prenant avec elles dans ce nouveau disque. Pour autant, l’hermétisme ressenti auparavant empêche de s’impliquer totalement, les mélodies nous parcourant sans nous heurter, dans une sensation étrange d’être mis dans un état statique malgré les soubresauts (bien présents, cf. « Palisade » et sa hargne étonnamment black metal), un état de contemplation extérieure, « végétatif ».

Et voilà bien la réussite de Photosynthesis. Apaisant et torturé en même temps, l’album résonne comme un labyrinthe de feuilles et de branches s’élevant au fur et à mesure, un disque où les notes forment un environnement. Difficile de le voir au départ, tant Botanist met l’accent sur une mélodicité exacerbée, parfaitement mise en valeur par la production de Dan Swanö et son studio Unisound. Un son ample et clair, le meilleur qui a pu servir le style du projet, faisant au départ que l’esprit s’accroche à des passages sans chercher à se laisser porter par un ensemble. Un ensemble qui finit par s’aborder une fois acceptée l’idée de se décentrer de soi et de cette quête de la jolie ligne, l’homme et sa vision de la beauté n’étant pas tant présents ici qu’une peinture d’une vitalité sereine, faisant sienne les remous de la terre et l’air. Si la pureté formelle qu’aiment travailler Otrebor et sa bande depuis quelque temps est là – toujours plus affûtée, vitrifiée –, l’intensité tranquille qui la guide désormais pousse à approfondir et répéter chaque écoute, cette musique difficile car ne parlant pas de soi, de nous, maîtrisant de bout en bout son envie de peinture organique, se nourrissant des éléments.

Malgré son charme lumineux opérant au fur et à mesure, Photosynthesis possède tout de même quelques défauts qui restent en tête, à commencer par une brièveté et une densité le rendant difficile d’accès, là où des respirations auraient permis de laisser apparaître davantage des velléités progressives un peu coincées sur ces trente-quatre minutes (« Oxygen » et sa base rythmique raffinée laissent à espérer plus). Mais après tant de temps passé à écouter Botanist, je reste étonné d’avoir été autant questionné, déboussolé puis de nouveau conquis par une œuvre qui, en surface, ne contient que peu de choses particulières par rapport à ses aînées. Il m’aura fallu quelques semaines pour voir chez Photosynthesis cet aboutissement d’une logique à figurer le végétal qu’il est en réalité. (8/10)" -- Ikea, Thrashocore, December 7, 2020


(English translation)

"There are groups that we have followed for a long time and whose ups and downs we live, their disappointing albums and the favorites they give us, like a story where attachment makes us stay: we can be temporarily disappointed, we always find - in the best cases - something to renew our loyalty to them. 

And there is a group like Botanist which, in the years spent following it (that is to say seven albums in almost ten years!), Gives an impression more difficult to evaluate: that of a project which quickly found the bottom of its speech. , changing by keys what dresses it. This gives each new work a more complex reflection, made of pleasure in front of its originality and questioning of its relevance. After so many creations exploring the possibilities of a black metal where the dulcimer replaces the guitar, after so many examples of a plant atmosphere played with fury - the beginnings I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose from the Dead -, fervor - the indomitable Collective: The Shape of He to Come -, reverie - the vaporous IV: Mandragora and VI: Flora - to finally linger on a naturalistic beauty with Ecosystem , what can we still find to discover in this formation if atypical and which, strangely, makes you fear more than once to convey the feeling of going in circles? 

This is to say if it took me a long time to form my opinion about Photosynthesis . Botanist continues his melodic research brought to the fore during Ecosystem , initially suggesting that it is a transfer as formally beautiful as it is unattractive from its predecessor. Admittedly, the first three titles put a pretty rouste as Otrebor had not done since The Shape of He to Come : "Light", "Water" and the magnificent heaviness of "Chlorophyll" amaze from the start, taking with them in this new disc. However, the hermeticism felt previously prevents one from becoming fully involved, the melodies running through us without colliding with us, in a strange sensation of being put in a static state despite the jolts (very present, see “Palisade” and his resentment surprisingly black metal), a state of exterior, “vegetative” contemplation. 

And here is the success of Photosynthesis . Soothing and tortured at the same time, the album resonates like a labyrinth of leaves and branches rising gradually, a record where the notes form an environment. Difficult to see at first, so much Botanist emphasizes an exacerbated melodicity, perfectly highlighted by the production of Dan Swanö and his studio Unisound. A wide and clear sound, the best that could have served the style of the project, initially making the mind cling to passages without trying to let itself be carried by an ensemble. A set that ends up approaching once accepted the idea of ​​decentering yourself and this quest for the pretty line, the man and his vision of beauty not being so present here as a painting of a serene vitality, embracing the eddies of the earth and the air. If the formal purity that Otrebor and his band have been working on for some time is there - always sharper, vitrified -, the quiet intensity which now guides her pushes to deepen and repeat each listening, this difficult music because it does not speak of itself , of us, mastering from start to finish his desire for organic painting, feeding on the elements. 

Despite its luminous charm operating as it goes, Photosynthesis still has a few flaws that remain in mind, starting with a brevity and density making it difficult to access, where breathing would have allowed more inclinations to appear. progressives a little stuck on these thirty-four minutes ("Oxygen" and its refined rhythmic base leave much to hope for). But after so much time spent listening to Botanist, I remain astonished to have been so questioned, confused and then again conquered by a work which, on the surface, contains only a few special things compared to its predecessors. It took me a few weeks to see in Photosynthesis this result of a logic to represent the plant that it really is. (8/10)" -- Ikea, Thrashocore, December 7, 2020

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"Botanist have long been one of the more interesting bands to emerge from the West Coast black metal underground. Featuring dulcimers, heavy emphasis on bass guitar and some truly unique songwriting, they have always fascinated listeners. Their new album, Photosynthesis delves deep into the process of well... photosynthesis. They approach the topic from a variety of angles, both stylistically and lyrically. This is the fourth of the bands so called, "Collective" albums, where a group of individuals composed the tracks, and while mainman Otrebor crafted the basis of many tracks the wealth of other influences brought in is exciting. 

There are moments of more second wave black metal flavored stuff here as on the track 'Chlorophyll' but also of course a willingness to lean into the more weird elements. The big focus on the bass guitar is especially interesting to me as it drives the band increasingly into unexplored territory. It makes for a lot of interesting arrangements and compositions that eagerly zig when one might normally expect them to zag. There is a sublime energy to the band, andPhotosynthesis sees Botanist at their finest, defying expectations and adding unique layers to black metal. Never have beings fed by the sun been so dark and grim!

Photosynthesis is a masterful offering, a fitting step forward for the band and a record that eagerly borrows from a wide variety of elements. There ability to lean into the avant garde and then dial it back with something much more classically oriented is of course inspiring. Photosynthesis is a potent offering and one that USBM fans will be sure to treasure. Thoughtful, focused and deeply interesting, this album sees the band at their finest, building on the old magic and bringing us something exciting and new. Why not immerse yourself?" -- Matt Bacon, Two Guys Metal Reviews, October 28, 2020

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