Review Summary: Blossoming
Black metal isn't without its quirky characters and Otrebor is surely one of them. He records music under the title, Botanist and has put out four LPs and one split so far. What makes Otrebor and thus Botanist more intriguing than your average black metal band is that he trades out the typical guitars for a hammered dulcimer, oh and there's his whole backstory about living and recording in the Verdant Realm where he laments what has happened to the precious earth and hopes for the one day when mankind obliterates themselves and allows for the plant world to take over. Once you're past the artifice of his approach your left with the music and on VI: Flora, Botanist has finally embraced the spring.
Like those deciduous trees whose leaves fall off by winter and then reemerge in springtime, Botanist here is entering into a new growth cycle for his music. The album from beginning to end is filled with energy, melody and radiant light--full of movement and promise. Effectively using the dulcimer, Otrebor creates lush landscapes of affirming black metal. Gone are the song structures where the dulcimer stood out like a sore thumb and instead we are left with tracks that cascade harmoniously throughout the runtime. In fact, it is quite astonishing how pop like, or should I say poppy, the melodies have become. Even the cover, aptly chosen with brilliant colors and textures sees the Botanist move away from the grief and sorrow of his other covers and soundscapes and perhaps move towards an acceptance of sorts. That yes, eventually the plant kingdom will take over but that there isn't a pressing need, at least not on this album, to mourn the epoch we live in now and instead to bask in the warm, tender feelings of spring and the new life that is blossoming all around.
Tracks like "Stargazer", "Gleditsia" and "Dianthus" display Otrebor's direction as the progressions used are bouncy, uplifting and full of vibrancy. In VI: Flora it is clear that Botanist focuses his attention on attempting to create something more affirming than previous efforts. Whereas in past albums, lingering traces of melody and hopefulness could be found, on the new LP they are elevated to the forefront and take center stage. There are moments of darker ominous tones on the album but they are usually an afterthought and quickly replaced with more cheerful, inspirational melodies. The vocals, which before were an area of complaint as Otrebor employed more of a croak than traditional black metal rasp, have been pushed down into the mix and don't come off so jarring or off-putting as his previous efforts. In tracks like, "Rhizophora" or "Pteridophyte" the vocals act like pacifiers to the music as they come in with a bit of processing, adding a sort of trill or reverberation to them. Of course, they lack any sort of burst but fit the music perfectly as they hover tranquilly over the compositions. The drumming provides a stable dose of fills and interesting time signatures to keep the listener intrigued and at times Otrebor even utilizes keyed piano lines to reaffirm this springtime reverie.
VI: Flora isn't the prefect album however, many listeners might get tired of the repetitive nature of the riffs and song compositions. While there are intricacies in each track that require an attentive ear, some might claim that the songs tend to sound all alike and that they just flow into each other without any differentiation. "Leucadendron Argenteum", the longest track on the album, displays more experimentation than other songs but doesn't really offer anything too different than most of the record. Another thing to note is that, yes while Botanist has cleaned things up in terms of production and ushered in a more upbeat sound he might have lost some of the items that made him such a character in black metal to begin with. Like mentioned before, the croaky frog-like vocals have been replaced, the doom elements of previous albums IV: Mandragora and III: Doom in Bloom have also been tossed to the wayside. Hell, even the dulcimer doesn't stand out quite like it used to but even with losing all those elements, VI: Flora is Botanist's most complete and unified album in terms of vision. Setting out to present the wondrous splendor that graces the earth every spring, Botanist manages to deliver a solid album and something worthy of a listen to any fan of black metal.