ReviewCan music be black metal without actually being metal? That's one question posed by I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From the Dead, the debut album of Botanist. Otrebor, the band's only member, contacted me with a review copy of the album. He handles drums, vocals, and hammered dulcimer.
The hammered dulcimer is an ancient stringed instrument played with mallets. Your only point of reference may be a xylophone, thanks to its popularity in children's alphabet books. Dulcimer completely takes the place of guitar and bass in this record, so it sounds entirely like no other band out there.
It was intended as two separate albums, but weirdo-friendly label Tumult decided to release it as a double album. When I first put on I: The Suicide Tree, I expected this to be gimmicky. But I was immediately drawn in. High-pitched melodies, dissonance, and rasped vocals, accompanied by weird, halting drum rhythms. It's hard to know what to make of it at first. Sure, it could be dismissed as merely an interesting experiment, but it's mesmerizing.
So intrigued was I at the first disc that I immediately played II: A Rose from the Dead. And it gets even better. Instantly I was met with a new sound: buzzing. The second album is more mature and engaging than the first. A wider range of techniques and more dynamic songwriting bring the second album to transcendental highs and eerie lows, pretty at times but evil at others. This is fully worthwhile even absent the gimmick appeal. I've played the full double album back-to-back more than a half-dozen times in the last few weeks.
The packaging only adds to the overall experience. The pictures could have been taken from old botanical illustrations, melding well with the story of a mad environmentalist "man of science" who lives in seclusion among his plants, waiting for the demise of mankind. My only complaint, in fact, is that the song titles tend to be on the cheesy side--many are puns on the names of plants, like "Sparaxis of Perdition" or "Gorechid".
The Verdict: I: The Suicide Tree earns a 4 out of 5 star rating from me, being as it is a superbly interesting and entrancing experiment that keeps me coming back. II: A Rose from the Dead earns a 4.5 out of 5 star rating as a full-fledged engaging experience. In answer to the question posed: yes, black metal has now outgrown metal and can stand on its own.
You have to go to the band's web site to hear the music, or go here to buy it.