They don’t come more singular than Botanist, a one-man band deliberately shrouded in mystery. Ostensibly, Botanist is Otrebor, although more details of the man are few and far between, to the point that that’s the only name available. But Botanist is also a concept, The Botanist being an “eco-terrorist” living in the wilds of the USA, separate from Otrebor (who “channels” him) and waiting for the time when nature will destroy humanity and retake its rightful place in the world. A weird concept, for sure, but its one that infuses the project and music from start to finish, from the different images of flora and fungi in the artwork, to the track titles (‘Deathcap’, ‘Ganoderma Lucidum’) to the strange way Botanist performs his black metal using only drums and hammer dulcimer (!).
Compared to his 2011 debut, III Doom In Bloom / Allies actually quietly introduces hints of guitar and keyboard, but make no mistake: Botanist is first and foremost a drummer with a love for the hammer dulcimer, and the way he combines the two, building loping, insistent rhythm patterns around chiming, piano-like dulcimer notes, is rather astounding. Any other elements are just details. The album’s key long tracks, ‘Quoth Azalea, The Demon (Rhododendoom II)’, ‘Ocimum Sanctum’ and ‘Panax’ are grim and foreboding sonic behemoths on which Otrebor performs shifting percussive rolls and drives and the dulcimer’s monolithic chords are transmogrified into something approaching the darkest of doom metal guitar riffage. Anyone thinking the hammer dulcimer is too sweet or classical an instrument to fit into the sludgy tropes of metal need to give III: Doom In Bloom / Allies a listen. Like Spanish heathens Orthodox, Botanist rips at the frayed corners of the genre by bloody-mindedly refusing to be hemmed in by convention.
Black metal purists, of course, will scoff at the idea of an album purporting to be of the genre but bereft of guitars (or, for that matter, pace – this is a grindingly slow album). But Otrebor’s vocals should put paid to any such qualms. Mostly delivered in a raspy snarl, the vocals are buried deep in the mix, but represent the cherry on this sinister cake, intensifying the atmosphere of dread and disquiet. If, one day, someone decides to direct yet another remake of Day of the Triffids, he or she should look no further than this album for the soundtrack. It’s hard to make plants seem scary (see M. Night Shyamalan’s goofy stinkbomb The Happening), but Botanist pretty much manages it. The ‘Azalea’ mentioned in the title of the opening track is, according to the Botanist “lore”, a plant demon determined to wreck ruin on humanity. Surrounded by his oppressive drums and a dulcimer rendered into a weapon of war, one could almost believe such malevolent sprites exist. That their mission of vengeance might be justified is all the more troubling. Here’s hoping Botanist isn’t actually on to something (and let’s face it, logic suggests he isn’t).
The second segment of the album, Allies, is a series of collaborations with like-minded black metal artists such as Cult Of Linnaeus and Arborist, and the resultant tracks are all worth listening to, but are more anchored in traditional black metal. They don’t actually distract from the potency of Doom In Bloom, but that’s where the core of this peculiar, sinister and arresting album lies.