Revive the Ecosystem with Botanist

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It’s been a good ride, folks. But it’s time to get off. The tracks are half-busted and the gears are almost out of grease and the circuits are well nigh blown. What little fun there is left to be sucked out of this shitbox can no longer come at any expense less dire than our very own. So. We can either (A) get off kicking and screaming like the rotten children of woebegone single parents, or (B) conduct our dismount like adults.

Option (B) is a tall order, I know. It begins with acceptance and ends, strangely enough, with forgiveness. First we must accept the fact that we, Homo sapiens, have already crossed the biosphere’s threshold capacity to sustain our current population: there are already too many of us, and we’re all cashing checks that are going to bounce sooner or later. Then we must forgive ourselves this trespass, as the selective vicissitudes of Nature have never yet produced a creature capable of living beneath its means. Our means, to understate it, are considerable.

A soft extinction is what we need. Nothing grandiose; nothing excessively violent. Rather, a calm and measured descent into crepuscularity; a mass acquiescence to the intermediary nature of all living things. Botanist can help. Botanist knows the way. All you have to do to be shown is to press Play.

If you have indoor plants in your domicile, no sooner will the first dulcet (yeah) tones of Ecosystem‘s opening track “Biomass” come wafting out of your speakers than anything green nearby will perk up and begin to waver almost imperceptibly. (You thought your pet vegetation wasn’t listening; you thought it didn’t feel.) The longer you allow the song to play (and the louder you crank the volume), the more you’ll see the improvements to the general health and vitality of your floral friends: their colors will flare, their greens will burn greener, they’ll smell sweeter, stronger, you will find yourself helplessly stroking them as you would the small furry fauna that destroys your carpet and sucks your pension dry one veterinary bill at a time.* Do not resist the seduction. Do not be ashamed to stroke your indoor flora. (If anyone should happen to call, confess to them that you are stroking your indoor flora.)

Round about the time the sour tones of “Harvestman” begin, the pheromones released by your plants should have you feeling sleepy. You should not resist the urge to lie down. Nor should you be alarmed when you emerge from a light doze to find that you are paralyzed, that your green friends have grown, that they’ve wrapped you lovingly in a soft cocoon of their tendrils (and they’ve done the same to your other pets). By the time the harsh and wrathful vibes of “Disturbance” hit, panic will be futile. The tendrils will have entered your body to feed. Worry not, they’re not vampires; they’ll feed you in turn, that is until your consciousness leaves its desiccated husk behind, dissolving into the One Verdant Mind. You are now one with the Shape of He to Come. You will share in the glory of the Red Crown.

[Cue awkward transition into actual review.] All of which is to say that Ecosystem, the 8th full-length album by Botanist, is another set of hymns to Mankind’s submission to some kind of floral holocaust. The term “hymns” here is operative. On previous album The Shape of He to Come, Botanist exploded from its one-man-black-metal peapod to shower the world with glorious choral bombast that I described as sounding “holy.” The secret to that explosion was mastermind Otrebor’s inclusion of other members in the writing and recording process. The explosion continues on Ecosystem more or less where The Shape… left off. The membership this time is slightly different (Bezaelith’s ethereal vocals will be sorely missed, leaving Otrebor to chant alone), with new drummer Daturus bringing power and technicality that were always lacking, and new (I think) vocalist Cynoxylon shredding his throat with rare intensity.

For the first time in Botanist’s dense history, the production is clean across the board, and all of the instruments (except for the bass, as usual) are right up front in the mix. While maybe the whole package is not quite as atmospheric and exultant as The Shape of He to Come, each individual performance on Ecosystem has space to shine, space to thrive. The magnificent drum performance by Daturus—the most flat-out metallic aspect of the whole album—very nearly upstages Otrebor’s signature hammered dulcimer arrangements. Anyone who heard “Collective: Setlist 2017,” where Botanist re-recorded their live setlist with the new collective lineup, will not be any more surprised by this than by Cynoxylon’s inhumanly harsh vocal performance, which I must say is far superior to Otrebor’s emphysemic croaks of old.

Before Botanist came around, I never thought it would be possible for the hammered dulcimer to mimic the miserable discordance that defined classic black metal. And yet, as often as Ecosystem showcases the instrument’s intrinsic capacity for beauty, it reveals a hidden affinity for menace, ugliness, disgust. The hammered dulcimer is not just a gimmick, folks: it is a revelation. This is perhaps not the first time I’ve felt that the term “green metal” made a holistic kind of sense (The Shape of He to Come popped that cherry for me), but Ecosystem seals it. This is not mimicry, not mere eccentricity: green metal is potentially a whole new sonic world, and although Botanist is to my knowledge the only act exploring it right now, there’s got to be more terrain out there.

Without indulging a full track-breakdown, I have to address the headbangable—even moshable—closing track “Red Crown.” As the kids like to say these days, this one “slaps,” with its double-time beats and heart-ripping choirs and the untrustworthy lilt of major-key hope. It makes me want to open up a circle pit—which you are not welcome to join unless you’re wearing flowers in your hair. This single song could very well be Botanist’s crowning achievement, the orgasm they’ve been teasing for longer than the lifespan of your average extreme metal band.

And so, eight albums into their interesting-yet-uneven history, Botanist is undeniably gaining steam. Usually, the opposite is the case. What does this mean for our biome—yours and mine?

The end is not necessarily nighest of the nigh. We’ve been mangling the planet’s rich and diverse ecosystems since stepping off the Savannah, sometimes on purpose and sometimes because none of us knows what the fuck we’re doing. There’s still much left to mangle, and short of thermonuclear war or some other sci-fi nightmare, there’s no reason to believe that our children and our children’s children will not lead lives more or less comparable, in metrics of comfort and leisure, to our own.

That said, relative to the time that has passed since we speciated from our nearest distinct ancestor, we don’t have much left. May the chimes of hammered dulcimers lead us to our graves.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Ecosystem will be out on October 25th through Aural Music.


*My cat threw up on the carpet while I was penning this “review.” No joke.

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