Album Review: Botanist – VIII: Selenotrope

5/5

Hailing from San Francisco, California, conceptual post-black metal band Botanist is the mostly solo and sometimes full line-up project of eco-warrior Roberto Martinelli, known here as Otrebor. Botanist uses mother nature’s stunning breadth as an eternity of inspiration and revolves around the character of ‘The Botanist’, a misanthrope who not only fantasises about the end of humanity but will do anything to bring about its demise. The Botanist rises from Otrebor’s soul with an almost romantic view on the world’s end and the devourment of our earth by nature’s unending growth.

You could view Botanist as a tree and Otrebor’s solo iteration of the band are the branches or roots stretching from the trunk. New album VIII: Selenotrope marks Botanist’s 6th sequential solo album and 10th in total. Each roman numeral labelled release marks an Otrebor solo album… and here’s where it gets complicated as their discography can confound some. Otrebor released his first five albums under Botanist, I: The Suicide Tree, II: A Rose from the Dead, III: Doom in Bloom, IV: Mandragora and VI: Flora between 2011 and 2014. Notice that there is no ‘V’ as yet. Then Botanist released five more full-lengths between 2017 and 2020, this time with a full band, with the much-praised Photosynthesis being the most recent. Now, Otrebor returns with his first completely solo branch of Botanist since 2014’s VI: Flora, once again skipping a number. Otrebor has assured fans that both ‘V’ and ‘VII’ exist and will be unleashed in due course.

“Against the Selenic Light” opens this nocturnal adventure with a veritable aural kaleidoscope of avant-garde dissonance. The warts and all blastbeats clatter frenetically, with every pitter bring a nuanced pattern creating a jarring and jagged canvas of unconventional metal, with many prog and post elements clashing together to paint upon it to reveal Otrebor’s distinctive and unorthodox vision. “Risen From the Rain” embraces the beautiful, sending soaring tremolos skywards through vibrant hues and rainbows of sparkling keys. Its gleeful post-black shimmer and regal vibe shines through each note, with an outpouring of optimism cascading over you. It must be noted that Otrebor eschews traditional guitars and instead the Hammered Dulcimer is used in their place on all of Botanist’s music, giving the sound a bouncy timbre that vibrates through your head with so much tremolo resonance you’ll forget these aren’t really guitars.

“Epidendrum Nocturnum” treads a darker path with its sound hinting on the forlorn and desolate as well as featuring the albums most malign part. The dynamic dulcimer/keyboard combo works in unison, churning out a dizzying tremolo ‘riff’ that if it were played on a guitar would blaze by with all the seething venom of blackened metal, yet Otrebor turns this into something other. The pendulous titular flower “Angels Trumpet” is a poisonous and deceptively beautiful plant. Its leaves, flowers, seeds and roots are all toxic and if ingestion, in some severe cases, can cause death, delirium and hallucinations. Even touching or inhaling its perfume close-up can be detrimental. The flower is a complete contrast to the track, which exudes nothing but light, washing sensory serenity over you with its gorgeous layered-voice choirs and sublime musical delicacy. Selenotrope ends on a grand finale with 14 minute epic “The Flowering Dragon”, which leads in with a vigorous dance of instruments, speedy kicks and an almost post-polka energy. The midsection pulls you through a doomy mire of emotion until it emerges for the final jubilant flourish.

VIII: Selenotrope is yet another triumph with more than enough hooks and catchy moments of sheer beauty to enchant most of us. There’s a distinctiveness to Botanist’s music already and being a solo release Selenotrope feels like it has an accentuation of Otrebor’s personal touch, where The Botanist character is more fully realised. The album is also bereft of any harsh vocals and Otrebor replaces these with gentle whispers and mesmeric choral voices, giving Selenotrope a fragile and graceful aura.

Botonist seeks to nourish and cherish life, drawing pain from the visceral aspects of black metal and unleashing them in a nuanced explosion of petals. Botanist have gradually distanced from the total harshness of black metal and have bloomed into the fragile beauty of post-black and expanding genres, but importantly, Botanist aren’t just a band for those who only prefer a plant-based diet.

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