Botanist, VI: Flora

Robert Ham

By Robert Ham

on 08.11.14 in Reviews

The creative concept behind Botanist feels like it should have run its course five albums ago. Here was a reclusive gent from San Francisco (Roberto Martinelli, going by the stage name Otrebor) making black metal that featured the hammered dulcimer, a Celtic and folk instrument, as its primary melodic force. Add to that a loopy backstory — the songs are missives from an actual botanist who, frustrated with the environmental state of Earth, has retreated to his own personal greenhouse where he calmly awaits the end of humankind — and you’d be forgiven for laughing the whole thing off.

Both a scaling back and an expansion of his current sound

But listening to his work, it’s hard to dispute the music’s surprising power. The all-out assault of early Botanist work, a frenzy of pinging dulcimer lines and high-pitched blast beats, blows out the senses like a Neti pot full of vinegar. More recent efforts are strengthened by Martinelli’s expanding sonic palette, with a shoegaze influence synthesizing into the mix.

VI: Flora is both a scaling back and an expansion of his current sound. The dulcimer is used sparingly, with two-note chords ringing out and hovering over the songs. Occasionally, it’s sent through distortion pedals and made to sound like a blanket of vellum covering the tracks. There’s also a few new instruments added to the mix as well, primarily the steady drone of a harmonium, which anchors the whispering vocals and rhythmic clamor of “Dianthus” and “Gleditsia.”

The press notes talk up how the album focuses on the “reverie” of the plants in the Botanist’s kingdom. Knowing that, and hearing Martinelli reduce his voice to a rumble or croon, adds to the strange beauty of even the most bustling songs. But a familiarity with his music prior to Flora only leaves you wondering when the calm will subside and the nettle will sting or the flytrap will clamp down around you. That that moment never arrives only adds to the wonderfully unnerving quality of this unique and exceptional work.