Botanist is a black metal band promoted by The Flenser, a well known label that have released some truly amazing records this year, including bands like Have a Nice Life, White Suns, Wreck and Reference, and Planning For Burial . Botanist takes a slightly different approach than the rest of that group by making a less dark brand of music and deciding to move into a more hopeful direction. The biggest question is always when The Flenser will release something that is disappointing, and Botanist will not end their streak of greatness and argument for label of the year with their sixth full length album, Flora.
Botanist take one of the strangest approaches of any band this year. Instead of utilizing heavy guitars that parade all over the tracks, a dulcimer really takes control throughout the album. This can be a jarring shift for most metal fans, including myself., but the result is surprisingly fantastic and creates one of my favorite examples of instrumentation all year. The drums are also truly amazing throughout the record, never taking a back seat or disappointing during the eleven tracks. The contrast between blazing fast tempos and slow but powerful drum kicks are palpable. Bass is not a massive element of the mixing, but when it shows up, listeners will notice the pretty rhythms. Vocals are thrown to the back of the mixing, barely registering over the dulcimer and drums on most tracks. This is a not a distracting idea though, which allows the excellent musicianship to command the album.
Flora is packed with solid songs from beginning to end but four tracks highlight the experience as a whole. The opening track, “Stargazer,” is a stunning achievement. The massive drum and cymbal melody that kicks off the track is a sign for the quality to come, while vocals and a dulcimer line enter the mix soon after. The mixing almost gives off an ’80s synth-rock feel with a minor sense of drone building in the background, and it also gives way to slow picking near the end which is utilized well throughout the whole album. “Dianthus” leads off the second half in a slightly darker direction. The dulcimer and drums create a beautiful melody as a lead-in, while the vocals are seemingly heavier and more angry than anything before it. The second half is punctuated by a great middle breakdown that gives off a punk-vibe.
The next track, “Leucadendron Argenteum,” is the best song on the album. The fuzzy string instruments to open up the song are disorienting, while the drums drive that feeling even further. The vocals are mixed to sound their most sinister, almost coming off as angry spoken-word. The middle presents bass drum kicks and sped-up guitars that create a heavenly rhythm, while the ending is slow and longing, like a horror film soundtrack. The second to last track, “Erythronium” is Botanist performing at their most accessible. The track is marked up with powerful bass work, punchy dulcimer and guitars, and lightning fast drums. This is easily the most upbeat attack on the whole album and is much needed after the first nine songs that precede it.
There are some problems throughout Flora to note though. Despite creating a truly original sound with the odd instrumentation, many of the songs sound similar in tone. Flora feels longer than it’s 38 minute running time for this precise reason, which is a shame because the walls of sound created are really fun to dive into. Luckily the best songs are spread throughout the record to keep the ride with enough momentum to drive the ideas forward. The one other main issue is the closing track to the album. “…Gazing…” is not only a seemingly non-existent track, but to end a glorious album on such a whimper is a tough pill to swallow. Flora could have easily ended on “Erythronium” and the ride would have ended on a beautiful note instead of a disappointing one.
Botanist are back with their best foot forward. The aggressive, yet hopeful, walls of sound that Botanist put out are truly mesmerizing. The idea to prominently feature a dulcimer on a metal record is a risky gamble, but it plays off handsomely for their truly unique sound. Despite the large grouping of tracks lacking a roller coaster effect that is desperately needed and a weak closing track, Flora is a solid release from a truly unique band.
3. Cinnamomum Parthenoxylon
7. Leucadendron Argenteum
Here is a link to a stream of the album: