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.
Below, project mastermind Otrebor – who handles the dulcimer, keyboards, and some vocals on Photosynthesis – explains how he and his co-creators cultivated the album. Read on to find out how Otrebor composed the parts for the dulcimer, how Botanist brings together his love for all sorts of metal with reverence for the natural world, and how Otrebor is consistently re-inspired by his music’s listeners.
Thanks for your time! Photosynthesis is quite a compelling album. Are there guiding principles that you’d say led the music-writing process behind the album, specifically in terms of sound composition? In the sounds themselves, are there particular “vibes” that you (and collaborators) were trying to capture?
Thank you. Photosynthesis was composed in the same sessions as Ecosystem. We call the albums “Eco/Photo” within the band. We purposefully made twice as much material as we would need in order to better parse out the songs into two 30-35 minute albums that could each be played live in their entirety. I thought the “A-list” was Ecosystem, but I and the band kind of think Photosynthesis may be better. Any variety in mood on Photosynthesis vs. Ecosystem you asked about is a result of one, a different bass player, two, use of keyboards/synth instead of harmonium, and three, having a different engineer’s influence.
The hammered dulcimer’s presence on the album gives it somewhat of an earthy, folk-adjacent tone at times. In terms of aspects like melody construction, did you take any sort of inspiration from folk and/or folk-adjacent music? Are there other non-metal inspirations that you feel have weighed on the music-writing?
The dulcimers are composed by a system of visual pattern creation on the hammered dulcimer vis-a-vis the color markers that punctuate the instrument, application of scaled/ musical theory, and usage of traditional percussive elements. Sometimes a scale is chosen to write the song in; other times there’s a visual pattern that seems like something I haven’t done before that sparks the progression of the song. Then additional parts are created within the framework of what has been done in the song, with a particular focus on harmony, be it consonant or dissonant.
Musically speaking, Botanist definitely operates in a unique space. Within the context of the project, how do you tend to relate to metal in general? Whether or not there’s a one-to-one relationship to any aspects of your own music, do you lately tend to take inspiration within the context of Botanist from parts of fringe metal communities, for instance?
I’m a metal kid and have been obsessed with metal my entire life. Heavy metal, power metal, black metal, death metal, doom metal, grindcore – these have always interested me and I drew inspiration from them in wanting to pay tribute to the hundreds of artists I was inspired by. I wanted to make my own page in the book of heavy metal. In Botanist, I emotionally marry the aforementioned with my reverence for the classical in both art and music.
As for the lyrics/ themes, Photosynthesis definitely seems tied together by the concept contained in the title. What led you to the concept? There are a lot of corners of the natural world that feel ripe for exploration, so what felt essential about this particular theme?
“Eco/Photo” were both chosen for having simple, strong themes that could offer broad interpretations. The albums were conceptually created to allow a wide interpretation of lyrics for our then-singer, Cynoxylon, to write to. He moved on from the band to start a family, but not before writing out and performing his vision to the ecosystem theme on the “Ecosystem version B” variant that Favonian released on a limited run of cassettes, available on Botanist’s Bandcamp. I completed the lyrics and vocals of the duology set upon on the road during our 2017 Euro tour. “Ecosystem (version A)” is about aspects of an ecosystem of a redwood forest in the Pacific Northwest and California. Photosynthesis is about various aspects of the process in which plants convert light and water into energy.
Is there an element of Photosynthesis that you would like to especially shine through for listeners? Whether on a musical or thematic level or both, is there an element that you really hope comes across as especially on display on the record?
“Verdant alveolus diaspora” is the lyric that most singularly encapsulates the album’s romance. Forests are seen as being the lungs of the world. Lungs are made up of alveoli, and these floral incarnations are spread throughout the world, like an ethnic population that exists simultaneously over unconnected geographies.
The inaugural Botanist music I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From the Dead came out almost a decade ago at this point, it seems. Throughout your discography, you’ve stuck to a natural world-oriented theme. In the realm of environmental awareness, both inside and outside of heavy music communities, what sorts of things stick out to you that you’ve seen change over the years? Do you think there’s been a good increase in awareness? Maybe not quite?
I can’t control what others will be aware of or what they focus on. Botanist focuses on the beauty of the Natural world, and goes so far as treating it as divinity. I believe that the most tangible aspect of the divine we humans can be aware of is through what exists in the Natural world. The aesthetics of Botanist are equally inspired by classical botanical art and nomenclature, as well as art and literature produced during the Romantic period. These aspects are channeled with a strong desire to pay tribute to all the music that has moved me through my life, lovingly taking various aspects of that immense library to suit the needs of the project. I’m so humbled by how many people have been inspired or assuaged by Botanist — how many have connected or re-connected with plants either in appreciation or application. I in turn am re-inspired by these accounts. Thank you all.
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