December 24, 2013

Botanist / Palace of Worms - The Hanging Gardens of Hell / Ode to Joy

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Roberto Høyem

The Flenser has released the fifth installment from the blackened eco-metal band Botanist, in the form of a split with another one-man black metal project, Palace of Worms. I wasn't familiar with Palace of Worms before this, so I wasn't sure how the split would work as a single album. Heck, who could share a record with Botanist and not sound out of place? But in spite of playing a (somewhat) more traditional black metal, the Palace of Worms songs work really well here. It probably doesn't hurt that Balan, the man behind Palace of Worms, has played in the live incarnation of Botanist, so they were already kindred spirits.

I've made no secret of my love for Botanist. Yes, this is a one-man black metal band by a percussionist who's chosen the hammered dulcimer as his primary melodic instrument, and his sole subject is a character called The Botanist, who would really prefer if plants retook this world from wasteful, destructive humans. It's a very singular project, but it works because of main-man Otrebor's sense of melody and songcraft. As with his previous releases, this one expands his sonic palette. The opening track of his side of the split, "Tillandsia," showcases a higher-pitched vocal rasp that contrasts with Otrebor's usual low croaks, and he takes it a step further with some clean singing in the second and third tracks. Botanist hasn't gone power metal, though. The cleans are chanted, and they're so low in the mix that they're more felt as atmosphere rather than heard. As with his previous releases, the delicate melodies remain at the forefront, and Otrebor makes great use of the hammered duclimer's ability to be both a percussion and a string instrument. The final track, "Tradescantia Pallida," starts with stately, piano-like chords under a single-note melody, then changing up to a descending line that sounds more like arpeggios played on a guitar. And of course, we get black metal biology in the lyrics, like "Cut to shreds, it rises again / Birthing three-petaled spawn."

The three Palace of Worms songs have a completely different sound, but I find it no less compelling. Balan's vocals are a more traditional black metal scream, but he largely forsakes tremolo-picked guitars and blast beats in favor of mid-paced, doomy riffs and rhythmically interesting percussion. There are a lot of great touches here: The are some creepy, spoken word vocals at the beginning of "Ode to Joy (Hurrah, the End Draws Nigh)," along with suitably ominous electronic touches. "King Leech" features some retro-sounding organ, and although "Twilight of the Idols (for R.B.)" starts as a straight ahead black metal stomper with a slithery bass guitar, but it travels through several more melodic ideas and rhythms through the course of the song, including more chanted vocals and an off-kilter, galloping beat. It's some unique-sounding stuff, and it's definitely inspired me to check out more of Balan's work.

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