Review of Album: BOTANIST Paleobotany

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Botanist is a dark metal group that opts for hammered dulcimers rather than guitars. This approach might have caused a stir back in 2009. However, over the past 15 years and 11 album releases, the brainchild of Otrebor has needed to evolve beyond its unusual musical choices.

Having transitioned from a solo project to a complete band, the songwriting of Botanist has noticeably matured. The soundscapes themselves have become particularly captivating in recent works. For instance, consider last year’s Selenotrope, where the harsh vocals adopted a whisper-like quality. With Paleobotany, the vocals undergo a significant transformation. Otrebor‘s clear vocals assert a robust, emotional presence on this record. Though more accessible, the outcomes show Botanist striving to transcend mere experimentation and establish itself as a more universal entity in modern music.

The bold decision to make such a change pays off immediately by underlining the fact that nothing in “Aristolochia” should surprise those familiar with any of Botanist‘s music. The tinny, echoing tones of the dulcimer blend seamlessly within the context of black metal, with the drums and bass providing the necessary drive and substance to fill out the compositions. Yet, Otrebor‘s vocals steal the spotlight, balancing between the ethereal melodies of Neige (Alcest) and the dramatic seriousness of Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver). To emphasize this new direction, the opening track features almost no growls, and even when they appear, they remain noticeably subdued in the mix. The dynamics and harmonic tension of the clear vocals take center stage.

There’s an undeniable allure in combining singing with blast beats instead of screams, which is why the chorus of “When Forests Turned to Coal” resonates deeply. The dulcimers weave through layers of harmony and discord alongside a genuinely captivating vocal performance, enriched by deep throat singing. This melodious approach broadens Botanist‘s horizons, such as the funky bassline that kicks off “Magnolis.” Nonetheless, the rhythmic section never strays too far from the atmospheric black metal roots, ensuring the dulcimers retain their characteristic Burzum-esque quality in terms of chords, melodic lines, and modulations.

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What makes Paleobotany truly compelling is how firmly Botanist establishes itself as more than an experiment with unconventional instruments. A track like “Archaeamphora” stands as a noteworthy addition to the realm of progressive music. Despite utilizing contrasting vocal styles, the sheer beauty and ambiance of the track intensify throughout its six-minute duration. At times, the bass takes precedence over the dulcimers, which speaks volumes. Even in a piece like “The Impact That Built the Amazon,” centered solely on the dulcimer, it emerges as an acoustic ballad with heartfelt lyricism. The focus is clear – Otrebor and the band are increasingly dedicated to honing their songwriting skills, and the effort pays dividends.

As the album unfolds, it becomes evident that Botanist embraces its chosen style more confidently, as “Sigillaria” resembles a Pink Floyd composition rather than black metal fare. It’s akin to Katatonia or Opeth, utilizing their unique musicality to create something less harsh. This direction feels natural, especially when juxtaposed with the growl-centric “Strychnos Electri.” Consequently, deeper tracks like this veer closer to the classic Botanist sound than the initial songs.

For long-time followers of Paleobotany, there’s still an abundance of the dulcimer black metal goodness they cherish. The main challenge arises when the lower, more death-metal-esque vocal delivery contrasts with the high-pitched trills of the instrumentation. It’s not poorly executed, but some of those mournful black metal shrieks would have been a nice counterpoint to the beastly snarls on “Wollemia Nobilis.” Thankfully, any deficiencies are aptly compensated by “Dioon,” featuring enthusiastic drum solos, multi-layered vocal harmonies (akin to Viking-era Bathory), and almost djent-like drum patterns.

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Closing the album with the burst of melodic joy in “Royal Protea” showcases how vastly Botanist maneuvers through various emotional landscapes. Overpowering yet soothing, Botanist continuously devises new avenues to explore with their music, rather than treating their “dulcimer metal” as a gimmick, they’ve cleverly utilized it to carve a deeper niche in the contemporary underground scene.

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