Saturday, March 30, 2013

Botanist - IV: Mandragora

IV: Mandragora, the fourth album by one man drum and dulcimer act Botanist, might be the entity's most fleshed out and realized effort. Elements of black metal shine through a bit more obvious as it sounds like the hammered dulcimer is distorted this time around and the tempo strays from the dirge that seemed to accompany most of III: Doom in Bloom, Botanist's most recent work before this.

By now, you should all be familiar with this US act. Botanist is a nature, more specifically, plant, themed black metal band without anything but drums and a hammered dulcimer. This makes Botanist an easy target for skeptics and purists, but thankfully, the quality of music quashes those notions with excellent and unique music that's engrossing and still carries a touch of aggression and violence.

Previous efforts were polarizing. The first two albums, married together, were frenzied, unsure and dissonant blasts whereas the third album, one of my favorites from last year, was more attentive to melody and was quite meditative in its slower progressions and stronger use of sustained melody. Where those felt a bit lacking, IV: Mandragora feels complete.

Those unfamiliar with Botanist might have trouble imagining a hammered dulcimer replacing guitars for the entirety of a black metal record, but it simply works. Unlike with previous efforts, the dulcimer is distorted (just a bit) so those uncomfortable with it's clarity and the seemingly "unmetal" aspect of it can rest a bit easier now. 

Thankfully, the dulcimer isn't just a guitar fill in, something to grab attention but not warrant it. Instead, the percussive nature of the dulcimer offers a nice interplay with the drums which share an equal part of IV: Mandragora's spotlight and combine for a very vibrant and pulsing feel throughout the album. Sometimes it's got this mournful harmonizing effect like in "Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)" whereas other times it's a jagged and dissonant stab like in "Sophora Tetraptera" where it's ugly and spiteful. The variety of tones and textures produced matches so well with the croaking rasps and tactile drums. Each note hangs in the air like the sounds of insects in a quiet woodland. Everything is so organic and warm, even the more malice ridden approaches within IV: Mandragora lack the cold austerity of modern technology.

Botanist continues to improve and develop one of the most unique sounds in extreme music today. The sparseness of IV: Mandragora works to highlight the rich textures and great atmosphere created. I find myself uninterested in the lyrics and aesthetic of Botanist (although it all seems to fit incredibly well). It's not that I find it stupid, or offensive to the music, I just don't particularly care for  story telling aspect, or rather the assumed identity;  all I really care about is how great the music is.

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