Like Xasthur and Leviathan, The Botanist is a one-man outfit that relies heavily on atmosphere, blast beats and demonic vocals. But that’s where the adherence to black metal formula ends: The Botanist combines multifaceted beats with distorted hammer dulcimers that imbue his music with harrowing, unearthly intensity and shatters all preconceptions in the process. His fourth album, IV Mandragora, is his heaviest and most musically developed. Where past releases tended toward the kitschy and clangy, IV Mandragora finds a way to make his dulcimer strings sound otherworldly. The vocals still resemble those of whiskey-drinking frog, the closest comparison being Inquisition’s Dagon, but the music is more fiercely metallic than ever. “To Amass an Army (Mandragora III)” is ominous and nightmarish, relying on layered minor-key passages and tumbling drums to express existential despair. “Mandrake Legion (Mandragora IV)” is faster and more surreal, overlapping repetitive chimes with battering double-bass beats.
The lyrics of the anonymous Botanist are even stranger than his music. IV Mandragora is a concept album about a scientist (the Botanist) who cultivates an army of mandrakes to wage war against mankind. Throughout, The Botanist seems several seeds short of a full garden: A textbook misanthrope, he dwells in his private sanctuary, The Verdant Realm, in the land of Veltheimia and talks to his plants about the day when greenery will again conquer the earth. In keeping with the dark green theme, five of the songs are named after actual flowers, giving The Botanist extra credibility for those who thrall to the work of Carl Linnaeus and Norman Borlaugh. For open-minded black metal fans, IV Mandragora isn’t just different, it’s just about essentially, expressing old themes in an entirely new way.