Last year’s double-disc opus from Botanist was this LURKER’s favourite outsider metal release of the year. Following on from our review, Otrebor and his vehicle of expression has gained a slew of excellent reviews and fans in underground circles. This interview originally appeared on the Italian zine Heavy Impact,conducted by Andrea Minucci. Thanks to Otrebor of Botanist for his lucid and detailed answers.
Your work is not an easy and commercial one, I know that the critics are very intrigued by it. I also know that there are people that didn’t like it. Why do you think there is this polarization of attitudes to your music?
Otrebor/Botanist: No matter how bad something is, someone will like it. No matter how good something is, someone will hate it. This duality is a fundamental force that encourages my work… and it sums up the response to the initial Botanist album. “The vocals are great.” “The vocals are terrible.” “It’s a new species of extreme music.” “It’s not metal.” “It’s black metal, but not metal.” “It’s genius.” “It’s more interesting than good.” “Otrebor’s quite a drummer.” “The drums are terrible.” Every one of these statements are valid and I agree with all of them.
It has been a very long time since I have listened to an album so astonishing, weird, strong. Can you explain the concept behind it? What is Botanist? Is he just a tool in the “hands” of the Verdant Realm or is he like the promoter of this upcoming revolution?
The songs of Botanist are told from the perspective of The Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from Humanity and its crimes against Nature as possible. In his sanctuary of fantasy and wonder, which he calls the Verdant Realm, he surrounds himself with plants and flowers, finding solace in the company of the Natural world, and envisioning the destruction of man. There, seated upon his throne of Veltheimia, The Botanist awaits the day when humans will either die or kill each other off, which will allow plants to make the Earth green once again.
The next Botanist release, “III: Doom in Bloom,” will further develop Azalea, the entity introduced in Botanist “I: The Suicide Tree,” as the dominant voice that directs The Botanist’s actions to bring about the floral apocalypse.
I’ve read that at first Botanist was built to be a grindcore project and not a black metal one-man band. The very short tracks, the Grind attitude of your way of playing, the role of the dulcimer in your music: did all these features come from your first ideas? Why the change in direction?
The initial idea was to try to make Botanist a minimalist grindcore band, with just two live members doing guitars, vocals and drums. That no one appeared to complete the band seemed like a sign to finally let go of much frustration at not being able to create music at a pace that is natural for me, and Botanist suddenly seemed like the creative savior to that problem. Suddenly, the limitation of heavy, aggressive music obligatorily being guitar-driven was no longer a prerequisite. Anything could be done, as there was no one else to answer to — only the norms that were of interest would be respected. When Botanist became a one-man project, the attachment to making grind was no longer of particular note, but the plan to record short, intense songs in a semi-stream-of-consciousness way, using only drums and hammer dulcimer, was a theme that I wanted to stick to, not really knowing how the end result would be, nor expecting that end result to be one way or another.
Your music is definitely new, but not avant-garde. What are the feelings about your creation? Do you feel like a renovator of the black metal aesthetic (perhaps changing the old Man/Nature relationship that we find in black metal)?
I think it would be more interesting to hear your thoughts on how you see Botanist renovating black metal’s Man/Nature relationship, or the renovation of the black metal aesthetic. I have no profound statement on this topic. While much spiritual inspiration was derived from the notion of Nature worship and the channeling of music that I am impassioned with through instruments whose voices feel as if they are a conduit from something deep inside me, Botanist “I / II” is more like the closest representation possible (at the time) of what it’s like being inside my head, not a concerted effort to be avant-garde.
The creation of the albums, and all Botanist work since recording began, is partially a conscious effort, but it is also a partial result of something like summoning. I get this sense because it’s often that I don’t know where Botanist’s music really came from when I listen to it after it’s been recorded… That there’s something simultaneously familiar and foreign about it. The process is something like the musical equivalent of automatic writing, and that subconscious force is “The Botanist.”
In a similar way, I am channeling whatever elements that draw me to black metal, and that I hear in the black metal that I enjoy, through the music of Botanist. Your question appears to be asking for an answer from a conscious, mental, analytical, calculated frame of mind, but the narrative of the albums’ creation is more of a visceral one. While I did feel that in some way what I was doing had never been done before, that wasn’t the driving reason to do it. It was done simply because there was an inner need to do it.
With that said, I do recognize that in its own way, Botanist is a polarizing act within the black metal scene, something that is apparent a mere half-year since the debut album’s release. It will be interesting to see if a similar polarization occurs after the doom-minded second release is made public.
You said that you would like to know more about my vision of the black metal aesthetic and the Man/Nature relationship in Botanist. When i talk about aesthetics in black metal, I refer to something in sound that is referring directly to Nature, without any kind of mediation. It’s just a single little element in music, not a big and immediately intelligible one, the key to understand the work. That’s connected to the relationship of submission of Man to the primordial beauty of Nature, an entity so beautiful to appear violent in this being too. The feeling of loss facing her phenomena. Despite some kinds of metal genres’ worshipping the deconstruction of life, black metal aims to solve and to have an experience of something that can be called true life.
Yes, some do, but I think you’re being selective. However, I also connect more with the ones who, as you describe, seek to “submit man to the primordial beauty of Nature.” However, although I recognize how Nature can be categorized as “violent” (I recently read a quote by Jacques Cousteau who said something like how civilized society abhors cruelty and violence, but Nature favors the most violent, the most cruel.) There is truth in that, but I would argue that cruelty has nothing to do in Nature, but rather is a human trait, a human moralistic judgement and therefore, if that quote was in fact accurate, Cousteau was measuring Nature’s actions by human standards, which I am not so quick to agree with.
Back to Botanist, the notion on Nature’s violence is not the focus. Rather, it is a concept of The Botanist who seeks complete peace and harmony, the perfect harmony of Nature, which he envisions with a world absent of the human presence. He is open to this goal by any means possible, which includes true violence (the human kind of violence… which isn’t even necessary for him to act out, as he sees humans dying or killing each other off without his help anyway), and extends to his perception that Nature is fighting back against its oppressor.
There is Man on one side, and Nature on the other. Through her manifestations, phenomena and merciless cycle of life, Nature appears incomprehensible to Man. And this feature causes Man to feel inferior and not part of the world, searching for its primordial status as a human being just to feel again the right embodiment of “Human Being.” Nature is perfect, is inspiration, something that men imitate to create art in all its forms (architecture, painting and so on), and men is searching for this perfection. So in black metal there is the man that talks about Nature as something superior, something to respect and to worship as a primordial “god.”
In your case you show Nature’s point of view, it’s Nature that denies life to Man. Your clinical and feelingless (not in a bad sense) musical approach shows that Nature is something that has no feeling. You cut away conventional beauty to create something so concrete that is very hard to judge and to discuss upon. “That’s Nature, nothing more nothing less.”
Thank you. I think there is indeed some parallelism between the concepts you describe here and the concepts in Botanist. Part of the reason the lyrics deal largely with scientific botanical terms is in an effort to somehow separate Nature with mankind’s perception of Nature. This one is a little harder to explain, because botanical terminology is of course just an invention of man to qualify and quantify what you were talking about before, about how Nature is not comprehensible to Man. However, the way these words are used in Botanist’s context is rather as an adulation of what The Botanist identifies as the divine, the unknowable through comprehensible terms, the paradoxical effort to quantify the infinite — all of which is presented in a way that removes the human presence in Nature as much as possible. Perhaps it is this area where those who qualify Botanist’s music as “emotionless” comes from?
What do you think of black metal? Why is there so much creativity in the scene? Why black metal in particular?A genre always considered conservative. It is crazy to think how the genre has evolved since the founding fathers first laid down the blueprints.
Black metal indeed seemed highly enamored with being “ancient” for quite some time. Of course, “ancient” to this relatively new style of music meant that if a band in 2001’s music went back to 1988, it was “ancient” and therefore by default more legitimate than any newer band’s work. It was thanks to this illusion of “ancient”ness that greatly contributed to a band like Nargaroth’s ability to rise to cult stardom. If your stuff purportedly dated back to Celtic Frost’s heyday, then you were somehow as legitimate, regardless of what your music actually sounded like.
Black metal as a whole seemed to lose some creative steam shortly past the turn of the millennium. It seemed like generic, rehashed material by “me too” bands with unfocused, unoriginal, half-assed recorded ideas was becoming more of the norm. In that sense, black metal had become the new DIY punk. Maybe it was how the sense of apocalypse that the turn of the millennium would bring never happened, and the black metal collective consciousness had lost a sense of urgency to drive it to create music in the way that had been evolving through the ‘90s. There was a need for a new creative direction, and the scene hadn’t found it yet.
While in some circles, the rules of the definition of black metal are still highly conservative and strict, this seems to be more of a thing of the past. Since the lull described above, something occurred in which black metal embraced artistic, creative values in composition, sound and philosophy in a more widespread group of musicians who saw what the expanding realm of possibility that the genre had to offer as an excellent medium to express higher, yet still outsider, art. While there are still black metal albums that are all about Satan, safely channel Darkthrone, or are still hung up with Hellhammer (and such efforts still have their place), the genre has moved past only that and into new territories. The result is that now the word “art” is applied by those talking about black metal in general in a more serious, literal definition of creative thought and work in association with the genre, as opposed to before, when the word “art” would soon be followed by the word “exclusively” in a trite, rehashed sentence that “me too” bands would use to attempt to seem as elite and uncompromising (read: unoriginal and uncreative) as the bands they were mimicking. In case you don’t know what I mean, consider all the bands that recycled the sentence “(insert band name) plays (insert goofy, contrived descriptor) art exclusively!”
The result of this creative shift in consciousness and opinion on black metal can be measured in terms of the coverage it gets in press, and the scope of people that are interested or even aware of black metal’s existence. Public interest in black metal is becoming more and more distanced from being enamored by a bunch of Scandinavian kids committing arson and murder, and more with what is actually being made artistically… although the sideshow still persists.
So who do you see as representing the pinnacle of the black metal movement today?
The Ruins of Beverast is currently making the best black metal I can think of, and it’s all the product of one person, Meilenwald, whose every band that he’s been involved in (Nagelfar, Truppensturm, Kermania, and others I haven’t heard yet) has been genius in its own way. Meilenwald is probably my favorite single metal musician. I very much appreciate how he radically changes the sound of his project from album to album, yet ties it together with his strong, unique signatures. Following up the debut Beverast with the ultra lo-fi “Rain Upon the Impure,” making you dig through the sonic and visual fields that make up the album, to behold incredible compositions and oceans of sound was a masterful move. Just the variety of vocal deliveries on the latest, third Ruins of Beverast album alone is far beyond anything I could dream of doing. I just got the collection album “Enchanted by Gravemould,” and it’s not surprsingly one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.
Alcest popularized the post-black metal style. With good reason. The sensitivity and emotional beauty is unsurpassed in metal. Getting new material by this band is to such a degree of yearning that it borders on desperation.
Drudkh made some of the most amazing Pagan-themed albums for years. They managed to be the metal soundtrack of Autumn turning into Winter. Although they slipped big time with their “Handful of Stars” album, records like “Autumn Aurora” and “Blood in Our Wells” establish a genre. Thankfully, Drudkh spin-offs, particularly Ygg, is picking up where Drudkh has gone astray. The “Ygg” CD is one of the best of 2011.
You don’t have to be pushing the envelope to make excellent music, and Inquisition is a great example of that. All their songs are still about Satan, and that’s what’s right for them. Their albums are getting better and better, and that’s not to say they weren’t good to begin with.
Also not re-inventing the wheel to wonderful result is Belenos, the French one-man band who reminds me so much of what was so great about Aeturnus’ first few recordings: It’s charging, melodic, Pagan pride and engaging songwriting. I should maybe include Arckanum in that world, although Arckanum’s best albums were made in the ‘90s.
Blut Aus Nord has always been amazing in how it’s re-invented itself with each album, hitting a rut for a few albums some years ago, then re-emerging in a more melodic direction with “Memoria Vetusta II.” Blut Aus Nord has since been mixing and matching its various personas (I count at least four) on the twin companion albums from 2011. Unlike melodic singing-fronted bands’ ability to have that much more that makes you immediately recognize them, it’s extra remarkable when you can hear a black metal band and know pretty much immediately whom you’re listening to. Blut Aus Nord has developed that sound.
People make a big deal about Wolves in the Throne Room and the Cascadian metal scene. However, look a little more north, to Canada. The last black metal album that utterly blew me away was Skagos’ debut, “Ast.” It’s got what Cascadia is doing, but does it in a far more articulate manner. The split with Panopticon is also amazing, and the clean singing is a major highlight (on the split).
I made some criticism of Nargaroth before, but I should also say the band has made some excellent records, not the least of which was “Jahreszeiten,” one of my most listened to and enjoyed black metal albums of the past couple years.
Finally, one of my favorite dark horse black metal projects, Vhernen. Tyr is the Faroe Islands’ most famous metal band (and with good reason), but one-man project Vhernen does the atmospheric black metal thing, like Botanist, with no guitars or bass. In Vhernen’s case, it’s all electric cello and electric harp, which in itself is something that I get really excited about. The music is gorgeous. I hope Vhernen makes more music soon. The project was on the Eerie Art label, which seems to have quit, which is a major loss, as just about everything I’d heard on that label has been amazing, like Lorn, Enmerkar, and Nordheim.
Darkspace, Marduk, Akercocke, Wrath of the Weak, so many more…
I know that “I: The Suicide Tree” and “II: A Rose From The Dead” are the first two albums of a series. Can you talk about the entire project? How do you want to link the albums together (if there will be a link), and how do you think the history of the Botanist will evolve?
Certainly the basis for all Botanist material will be nature worship. This may be with a misanthropic or mythological angle, or it may be just about the plantae world.
The setting of restrictions and limitations are beneficial to my work. At the same time, Botanist albums are allowed to evolve and become what they will on their own, without expectation — only a general but clear basis is set.
For example, the first release (two albums) were made, as we discussed, with short-format, semi-stream-of-consciousness structures in mind, and using only hammer dulcimer, drums, and voice. From the third album on, the choice of instrumentation has been expanded on, to allow for exploration of new layers and dynamics. The third release was written as Botanist’s version of doom. The fourth album is the “fuzzy” album, in itself, like “III,” marking a new direction for the project. The fifth album has come to be known as the “romantic” album amongst the core group of those closest to the project. It, too, has basic elements that are new for Botanist.
Why did you decide to publish the first two releases together? This is your plan also for some of the upcoming albums?
“I” and “II” were completed within a couple months of each other in late 2009 / early 2010. As Andee Connors (owner of the tUMULt label) put it, being on his label is like “the tortoise and the hare, except it’s more like the tortoise and the tortoise.” (But it was worth the wait) So it seemed worthwhile to put the two albums together, because although there is some progression in the music, the two first records were made with the same basic approach and mindset, and so go well together. Pairing them was the right move (and not putting them on one disk, which would have been possible), as it allows for more of an appreciable progression to the third album (and a more accurate representation of that creative development).
The next release is also going to be a double disk, but in a different sense. Disk one will be the Botanist “III: Doom in Bloom” album. Disk two will be the so-called “Allies” disk, which consists of friends of Botanist making music of their choosing to drums from the “Doom in Bloom” session. The only stipulation is that the songs be somehow about plants or Nature. Each disk will feature seven tracks for a two-hour total running length.
There is a plan to make a drone/ambient record, perhaps as Botanist VII or VIII. No work has started on that, but that could easily be a double disk effort. There are already some strong thematic and stylistic ideas in place.
In addition to the intriguing and logically sound concept, you do put a lot of work into the lyrics and titles of tracks. For example “Rhododendoom, “Gorechid”. Why did you choose these titles and characters?
That was simply a process of finding plants whose names alone inspired me to write songs about them, then being inspired by other plants when reading about the first ones, and so on and so forth. The names that were most inspirational are ones that would seem to just as easily be the name of a black metal band (Glycyrrhiza) as they are the source of children’s candy (Glycyrrhiza again), and of course plants with much mythological / magical lore (Helleborus Niger) or were just very, very dangerous (Abrus Precatorius, Cerbera Odollam).
And what about lyrics? Each song is a character — are they indeed talking or is rather the insane description of them by the Botanist?
The general approach to lyric writing was conceived in part as some tribute to Carcass’ institution, except instead of using a medical dictionary as a source, it was a botanical dictionary. I love referencing other metal bands’ works in my own because I love metal and it’s my way of saying thank you. All scientific descriptions of plants whose songs they are about are factual and anatomically accurate. The fantastic and mythological elements are the representation of The Botanist’s twisted perception of reality and to appeal to my sense of the romantic.
Some of the representations in the lyrics are indeed characters who speak to The Botanist. The main one is Azalea, the demonic entity who speaks to The Botanist in voices in his head, directing him on how to bring about The Budding Dawn.
Which are you artistic idols (not only musicians)? Can they help us to understand your music?
A list of some favorite artists and bands (not including the ones discussed above): Stars of the Lid (and side projects), Edgar Allan Poe, Pagan’s Mind, Bolt Thrower (Whale era), Vader, Zdzislaw Beksinski, Antonio Vivaldi, JS Bach, HR Giger, Douglas Adams, Death, Martyr (Canada), Immortal, Iron Maiden (‘80s), Angra, Arvo Part, Caïna, Gustave Doré, Tenhi, Taake’s “Nattestid,” Helloween, M.S. Waldron, Weakling, Bohren Und Der Club of Gore, David Darling, Velvet Cacoon, William Blake, Alain Ayroles and Jean-Luc Masbou, Acid Bath, Opeth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, dozens and dozens more…
Have you planned any live shows?
By “plan,” let’s say it’s being worked on. The demand is definitely there. What is needed are people to play dulcimer. Two are necessary (at least), as well as a bass player and someone to play harmonium, but the real key are the two dulcimers. I would play drums and do vocals. It would be welcome to have a live line-up for Botanist to tour with. The only thing that would help is to spread the word of this request. Maybe some day…
Famous last words?
The next Botanist album, “III: Doom in Bloom,” is scheduled to be released by TotalRust Music in April of 2012. Before that, the Ophidian Forest / Heresiarchs of Dis split CD will be released by UW Records in January of 2012 (since writing this interview, this has since been delayed). I am also completing session drum work for an album and an EP for the Bay Area black metal band Ordo Obsidium, which features Balan from Palace of Worms, whom Botanist has a plan to make a split with this year as well.