EDITOR’S INTRO: Thanks to rendezvous points such as Maryland Deathfest and Migration Fest, we’ve learned that our allies at Metal Bandcamp are not only great writers with dependably good taste in music, they are also very fine human beings. And so it’s with great pleasure that we’re able to bring you this guest review of a fantastic new split by the California one-man projects Botanist and Oskoreien written by Metal Bandcamp’s Justin Collins. We ardently hope this will not be the last time he graces our pages with his words.
A few days ago, Islander gave us a preview of an Oskoreien song from an upcoming split with Botanist. I’ve made no secret of my enthusiasm for Botanist (see here and here and here ad nauseum), so I’m going to delve into Botanist’s side first, with no disrespect meant to Oskoreien.
BOTANIST – GREEN METAL
Most people probably know about Botanist by now, but I always feel compelled to give a beginner’s course when I talk about new Botanist music, because there’s no easy summing up of this project. (If you know this spiel and want to go all “Choose Your Own Adventure,” skip ahead to paragraph 5 now.)
This isn’t your usual one-man black metal. Otrebor, the creator of the project, is a percussionist at heart, so when it came time to choose the instrument that would be his melodic voice, he went with a stringed/percussive hybrid called a hammered dulcimer. It’s an old instrument — first popularized in the Middle Ages — and it typically features strings stretched over a trapezoid-shaped sounding board. If you want a vast oversimplification, imagine removing the innards of a piano, throwing away all those silly ebonies and ivories, and striking the strings directly with mallets. Unsurprisingly, it can sound both piano-like and guitar-like, depending on how you go after it, and Otrebor has made good use of both of those modes, along with everything in between. As time has gone on, he’s expanded to a full band and even added distortion effects to what is essentially an ancient folk instrument, but that dulcimer remains his axe of choice.
But instrumentation is not where the uniqueness ends. Botanist the music entity is the story told by a character known only as The Botanist. To say the least, he is a bit displeased with humankind’s treatment of nature. The Botanist describes a host of plants, often in weaponized terms, that he imagines reasserting the dominance of nature over us destructive humans. IV: Mandragora saw perhaps the peak of this so far, describing the creation of an army of ambulatory mandrake plants, although Otrebor has said that album VII will be a much stronger conceptual story.
What does Otrebor have for us on his side of the split, Green Metal? Well, he starts out with stench. He’s been teasing us with some lyrics on Facebook, so we know the first track, “Amorphophallus Titanum,” introduces us to what is more commonly known as the corpse flower. It emits a truly horrifying combination of chemicals to mimic the stench of decomposing animals, drawing in “Carcass eating insects / Crawling necrophagists” to help spread its pollen. The second track gives us “Clathrus Columnatus,” more commonly known as stinkhorn, and although it’s a fungus, it also uses “its altar of slime” to attract insects to spread its spores. Even “Varkoor,” another name for the common lily, gets “arrow-shaped leaves aloft” in this green military.
Instrumentally speaking, this EP finds Otrebor going back to a slightly more spacious sound. If VI: Flora was his “dreamy” album, as he described it, and “majestic” and “melancholic” as I wrote about it, then this EP is a bit pared back. He’s not afraid to let single chords ring out or to follow a simple, alternating-note pattern. But even with a little extra breathing room for the melodies, there’s a sense of urgency. The vocals are varied between screams, croaks, and whispers, but “Amophpophallus” offers up some of the harshest and in-your-face shrieks he’s done. And of course sometimes you just gotta blast after a quiet spell, as he does in “Saprophyte.”
As I’ve said time and time again, the man’s a fantastic composer, which is why this project holds your attention beyond the initial “gimmick” of using unexpected instrumentation. I could pick out tons of moments, but listen for what I (lamely) refer to in my head as the “Botanist twists” — when he suddenly switches from dark to light. They’re always good for a pleasant shiver.
But it’s time to move on to Oskoreien.
OSKOREIEN – DETERMINISTIC CHAOS
Unlike Botanist’s prolific output, this project has been quiet for a while. I picked up his 2011 self-titled on a recommendation from the mighty Metalbandcamp (no shameless plugs here), and it’s never strayed far from my rotation. It mixed up black metal with a heavy bottom end, some classic-sounding heavy metal guitar, and vocals also ranging the gamut between growls, screams, and clean chants. To add even more to the mix, the third track, “River of Eternity,” was an acoustic ditty with a clear Baroque/Renaissance influence. (This is the kind of nerd talk you get when you let a classical guitarist review metal.) The closing track was a solo piano piece. It was an odd little gem that always left me wanting more. I’d find myself occasionally looking at his Bandcamp page wistfully, trying to will more music to appear. I assumed the worst — maybe he got a “real” job! — but when I found out he was contributing to this split, it was a very pleasant surprise.
I was also surprised by the music. As Islander mentioned, his two songs, under the title Deterministic Chaos, were recorded using only a Korg MS-20 Mini synthesizer. As a result, there’s definitely a heavy synth/electronic feel to both tracks, maybe with even a hint of industrial, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Where was my old black metal/acoustic/piano mélange? Well, that was 5 years ago, and time marches on. But it didn’t take me much time to warm up to this.
Islander did a fine job describing the second song, a cover of “Without You I’m Nothing” by Placebo, so I’ll focus on the title track. It’s the longer of the two, hitting the 13-minute mark, and it shares a lot of sonic similarities to “Without You.” The more or less standard black metal vocals from Oskoreien’s self-titled are replaced by pained, depressive black metal shrieks. My initial impression was that of someone having their spleen removed without anesthesia, but although I sometimes find that kind of depressive wail a bit tiring, it’s deployed here for maximum effect, piercing through any complacency you might feel about the deep, rumbling synths underneath.
The track’s foundation is a melodic bass line, smothered with fuzz, topped with guitar-like melody lines not unlike what you’d find on his self-titled, and those aforementioned shrieks. The song has a slow urgency to it and a slight ‘80s feel, which at first made me think this would have been right at home in the original Terminator soundtrack. That said, the pace and building tension are probably better matched to a soundtrack for being chased by an oozing lava flow than by an ultra-fast killing machine. The music as a whole sticks pretty closely to the palette of sounds I already described, which is risky for a song of this length, but I never felt bored by it. There’s also no sense of the song being “overly fussed with,” as you get from some electronic music. There aren’t any samples or “found sounds” stuffed in just for the sake of having another layer. It marches ahead with singular focus, and you can’t help but follow in step behind.
The fact that I’ve managed to spill so many words on this should give you a pretty good idea how I feel about this split — it’s fantastic. We get another puzzle piece in the Botanist saga, and a rumbling blast from a project I’d feared was lost. I’m anxious to hear how these two sides connect to the larger works of the individuals involved.
The Oskoreien/Botanist split is being released in variant forms on vinyl, with a full-color insert. All editions have the same artwork, with the separate covers for each band’s material (by Zdzisław Beksiński) displayed on opposite sides of the vinyl sleeve. In addition to black vinyl, each band is also offering its own limited-edition color variants for the vinyl; Oskoreien’s is a lavender vinyl limited to 100 copies, and Botanist’s is Saprophyte yellow vinyl with gold splatter
Both bands have set up their own Bandcamp pages for the album, which include digital as well as vinyl pre-orders (with discounts available for pre-orders). In addition, Avantgarde Music is accepting worldwide pre-orders for a digisleeves CD edition (these are also available from the bands). All the relevant links are below, along with the track list.
1. Deterministic Chaos (Oskoreien)
2. Without You I’m Nothing (Oskoreien)
3. Amorphophallus Titanum (Botanist)
4. Clathrus Columnatus (Botanist)
5. Varkoor (Botanist)
6. Saprophyte (Botanist)
7. Dracula Vampira (Botanist)