August 8, 2014

Botanist - VI: Flora

Written by Justin C.

Way back when I was in high school, I saw a TV ad selling the promise of microtonal music**. Of course, they were selling that "promise" in the form of crap you could buy, like books, cassettes, and probably even vinyl. A bearded, professorial man explained that music based on the 12-tone scale was "dead" because everything that could be composed had already been done, and if you wanted to be cool and interesting, you needed to start using microtones ASAP. This was clearly an idiotic way of looking at things. Microtonal music is a fascinating and worthy endeavor, but judging the potential of all future music solely on the number of notes available to you is like deciding there's no reason to paint anymore because we've already seen all the possible color combinations a person can use.

For me, Botanist is a prime example of why Beardy McMicrotones was so off base. Botanist mastermind Otrebor has taken an instrument not well known outside of folk--the hammered dulcimer--and has created five full-lengths and a split of compelling music that falls in, around, and beyond black metal. For me, the genius in this remains that no matter how outside of the musical mainstream Otrebor is working, his songs are still held down by rock-solid composition and melody.

So has Otrebor run out of ideas on VI: Flora? Hardly. In an interesting twist, the vocals have been pushed very deep into the mix, but instrumentally, Flora finds Botanist sounding equal parts bombastic and melancholy. Album opener "Stargazer" has a majestic sweep to it, almost as if heralding the arrival of a hero king, before ending with a delicate, piano-like outro. Botanist continues to play the percussion/stringed instrument duality of his instrument in the next track, "Callistemon," making sounds that more closely mimic the chiming guitar of alt rock. "Cinnamomum Parthenoxylon" and "Gleditsia" both pit grinding, eerie dissonance against slow-moving melodies and furious drumming. After a whirlwind of an album, "...Gazing..." offers a barely-there reprise of the album opener's melody, full of both devastation and relief.

I could go on and on from my notes on these tracks--my descriptions are sprinkled with words like "jagged," "symphonic," and "gossamer," which give a pretty good idea of the range of musical ideas in this work. It's possible that I've become a hopeless Botanist fanboy at this point, but there aren't a lot of artists who have held my interest so thoroughly through six (and counting) releases. Maybe it's the music nerd in me that's hooked by this multi-album concept work, or the fact that a tale of a coming post apocalypse fits so well with the kinds of books and movies I enjoy, but maybe it all boils down to a unique musical vision that remains fascinating and completely uncompromised.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

**For those not familiar, microtonal music is based on any one of many scales that differ from the standard, 12-tone scale most Western music listeners are used to. Put very simply, you're using the notes between the notes. My first exposures to microtonal music provoked a visceral dislike, as it can sound very out-of-tune and chaotic, but microtonal music can range from the delicate and surprisingly accessible to the brain-bending, ear-drum-punching variety.

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