Botanist - VI: Flora (2014)

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In the interest of full disclosure, I am by no means an expert on anything green or floral. I studied English, media, and communications. So, understand that when I say that an album, one that stretches far beyond a "concept" album, about plant life retaking the world from man, was intimidating to tackle. In this world, the Verdant Realm as it were, the character of the Botanist is witness to the ending of the world. But what is more difficult than allowing yourself to become a part of that world without a long study session, is trying not to be pulled into it at the hands of Otrebor. And by hands, we mean quite literally, as he uses a chorus of drums and the hammered dulcimer as his main source of sound and melody. In this, the next installment in a growing and impressive saga, the only rules are those of sound and fury. And yet still, VI: Flora breaks them all.

Within seconds of the opening, Stargazer has already given you so much to ponder and digest. The instrumentation, through use of drum and dulcimer, carries a very familiar weight, without stepping into any sort of normal routine. There are textures to each movement, with each lingering sound pausing, almost in mid air, to be dissected, all before a piano plays you out. You'll find more with each listen, particularly when following the complex and engrossing story the album portrays. Lyrical poetry, as you find in Callistemon, only enriches the barely audible anguish that lies just below the layers of distortion and fervent drumming. To that point, songs like Cinnamomum Parthenoxylon beg to be blasted at head splitting volumes, concussive in the cloudiness of the mix. This world that encapsulates the story, as created by Otrebor, is a vivid one, made so by the use of language few wold understand without a glossary of terms. Then again, when a hammered dulcimer is your prime vessel, that isn't a far fetched idea.

That dulcimer, as noted in his 2012 interview with The Quietus, "Beyond that basic premise, is it hard to play? Sure, especially if one's scope of hitting something with a stick goes from a surface area in which ten inches is an acceptable margin of error to one in which any more than three quarters of an inch is total disaster." It makes each distinct sound wave on Gleditsia and Rhizophora all the more profound. It touches on a fractured and eerie harmony that, in a way, isn't harmony at all. But the latter is a hazy ride through the night sky, and no, it would be nearly impossible for me to clarify that. It is a tumultuous journey, cloaked in darker imagery and negative, if not brightly disguised ideals. This is certainly not to say you can't find positive connections here, but tracks like Dianthus offer beauty at a cost; in exchange for the end of the human world. This character, The Botanist, is brought to life, not only lyrically but musically. You hear the words "From the flames of purification it rises anew, to shine on once again," over the critically accurate swing of a stick. And somehow, that goes beyond a musical composition.

Despite the crackle of speakers and overall rough nature of the mix, there is no lack of clarity. At a point, somewhere near a minute and forty seconds into Pteridophyte, you reach a moment and sound that is like the apex of a jump on a trampoline; one outside of time and space. It's a strange feeling, almost like that of being outside of yourself, if only for that fifteen second frame. Each strike of a drum is pin point in its precision, and it rings true here. But Wisteria stands above the rest, an intricate and swaying affair that has a way of silencing you in a wash of your own thoughts. The spaced out piano keys that take the track to an end, however sparse they may be, strike a moody chord. There is a fair bit of uptempo work on the album, with Erythronium occupying a significant space in the story. Once again, the language used here in the description of the floral world is intriguing, and unavoidably rich. And what better way, I ask you, to end the album buy with the soft, somber ...Gazing...?

You can walk away from any album under the false idea that you somehow "got it." We do it all the time; we know exactly what the artists was thinking, doing, eating, smoking, or what have you, when they wrote and recorded this piece. I almost feel proud in this case to readily admit that I simply can't wrap my mind around the world that Otrebor has created for his character. I don't have the knowledge, the understanding, or even the IQ to put myself into that space. However, a working knowledge of botany or floral life isn't required here; The scope of the album itself isn't rooted in your ability or desire to imagine the world lost to the plants. It's in your appreciation of something outside the realm of normal metal, or music as a whole.  I'll take my chances walking through the garden today, but VI: Flora has made me think twice about passing up a dulcimer lesson, should it present itself.


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