There’s an old episode of the “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” cartoon that introduced the heel character Evil Seed, who is hellbent on making Eternia a home for his plant life to survive and who will suffocate all living things. Of course, his methods were of the purely selfish variety, and after the obligatory struggle in order to fill out a 22-minute episode, He-Man prevailed. The good guys won.
The world of The Botanist is much like that of Evil Seed’s, just without the self-serving rhetoric. He sees humankind as having a hand in the destruction of the green parts of our world, and many people would be hard-pressed to disagree with that assertion. The ones who do disagree are called Republicans, at least for the most part. The Botanist, who is both the name of the musician responsible for this project and the name of the main character in the story, isn’t afraid to bandy about a term such as eco-terrorism, and while that action has negative connotations to it, his protagonist sees it as the only way to battle against the very people who are trampling the green life he holds dear. In his eyes, this is self-defense.
While the philosophies of the Botanist’s music are very real and ever so timely (especially with the next presidential election potentially having a giant impact on environmental protection going forward), there are some fantastical elements as well. Our main character hails in exile in a place called the Verdant Realm (the musician hails from San Francisco), and while on his throne of Veltheimia, he awaits the day that plant life rises up and chokes out those human forces that seek to destroy it who, along the way, do irreparable harm to their own fellow man and woman. You have two Armageddons playing out at once, and in the end the Botanist hopes to be the one who survives, along with his beloved greenery. It’s bizarre, thought-provoking, and even a little psychotic, and just flipping through the booklet that accompanies this effort helps the listener see the leaves and vines rise up and prepare to rule their kingdom. They’re intertwined with the Botanist’s words, that speak for the foliage. It’s fascinating stuff. On the Botanist’s web site (the link is below), you also can find all of the elements that make up this entire realm, which will help flesh out the concepts and philosophies even more. Some of the plants have voices, too, and they help the Botanist create his vision of destruction.
This doesn’t even begin to dig into the music. Last week, I told you we’d visit an album that may be the weirdest metal record you’ll hear all year long, and this is the one. It’s black metal. But think about what you come to expect, sonically, from black metal. The only one you get here are the monstrous, creaky faucet growls and warbles the Botanist uses to tell his tale and explain his future, but other than that, it’s nothing you’ve heard before. The primary instruments are rattling drums and hammer dulcimer, an instrument that hardly has an expectant seat at the genre’s table. But the Botanist makes it work like the most sinister of guitar lines, the most guttural of all riffs, and it becomes a creepy, terrifying weapon. Typically the strange-looking instrument, that often sounds like one is strumming piano chords, typically is used for folk music, but not much here sounds that like form of music. It does, however, suit the deep forestal heart of this project and sounds more fitted for this music than any electric guitar ever could.
If you need a crash course on the instrument, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammered_dulcimer
The Botanist not only is ambitious in his message and goals, but also in his music. The double album “I. The Suicide Tree/II. A Rose From the Dead” is comprised of 40 tracks and are spread over two CDs. That may sound like a lot of material to absorb at once, but it really isn’t. It’s more like two separate movements of music, where the tracks seamless are attached, so you’re more inclined to want to take this thing on as a whole in order to fully understand it. Most of the songs are pretty short, with the longest coming at the tail end of the entire production, with “Abrus Precatorius” and “A Rose From the Dead,” so usually, if you’re not paying attention to the track listing, you’ll be deep into this thing before you even know it. The songs are buzzsaw raw and typically throbbing, but there’s also a rich, hearty melody in these cuts, too. They’re catchy and theatrical. There’s a sense of showmanship. It sort of reminds me if The Dresden Dolls tried to do a black metal album. They’re stripped-down songs that drip with life but conversely include the premonition of death. The album opens with a warning – “The beast rises” – on “Dracocephalum” as it sets the stage for what follows. “Helleborus Niger” has a classical feel and is oddly playful in spots; “Dionaea Muscipula” is dissonant and sorrowful; “Bromeliad” sounds Shakespearian yet also quite ominous; “Convolvulus Althaeoides” actually has some savagery built in, with the dulcimer struck as violently as ever; and “In the Hall of Chamaerops” even has a gothic pop melody line to it, making it damn-near approachable. I could go on and on, but there’s a lot of ground to cover, so hopefully you have some kind of idea of what is in store for you if you enter the realm of the Botanist. Yet how could the picture be complete with hearing these strange passages?
Admittedly, it took me a few listens to get with the Botanist, but I never was turned off from what’s on the double effort. It just took a little adjustment from what I’m used to hearing, but that was a refreshing transformation for me. It was getting out of my comfort zone and accepting something dressed in a way I don’t expect. But, as odd as this record sounds, make no mistake it’s metal through and through. It’s threatening, dangerous and passionate, sort of like the Nordic musicians of the early ’90s, only more mature, and scary enough, based more in reality. As crazy and abstract at this story is, everyone can understand the Botanist’s plight, and even if you don’t agree with his methods or are shaken by his psychosis, you should heed his word. Despite what some may insist is a myth (because of special interests, natch) we are in a dangerous time, surrounded by deniers and naysayers who are armed with nothing more than a political affiliation. Maybe we need more people like the Botanist to wake us up before he ends up our ruler. Evil Seed would end up seeming like the wacky cartoon character he is in comparison.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.botanist.nu/reviews_I_II
To buy “I. The Suicide Tree/II. A Rose From the Dead,” go here: http://aquariusrecords.org/bin/search.cgi
For more on the label, go here: http://www.tumult.net/