It would seem then that the experiment worked. Botanist started as a curious one-man black metal band, feeling psychically at home with groups like Cloak of Altering, Jute Gyte and Mastery if not sonically. The throughline that linked each of these groups was intense dematerialization of the black metal sound and aesthetic, burning it away to reveal small motes that could be embedded in other sonic spaces. In the case specifically of Botanist, the implication was within folk and European liturgical music, themselves common enough black metal spaces, but here led exclusively with distorted hammered dulcimer, giving a woody and bright sonic texture that helped combat the mental image of some of black metal exclusively as the domain of dark music. It was curious from a critical listening standpoint how much that single instrumentation choice changed the internal feeling of the music so much when, looking at charts of the pieces, the music of Botanist differs very little from quite traditional black metal. It was a sign of the power of small but fundamental shifts as means of refreshing sonic spaces that can grow tiresome. Six good-to-great albums and three EPs came from this format, exploring a kind of ecological extremism that feels all the more prescient and powerful in the waning days of the ecosystems of planet earth; tales of plant supremacy and the death of mammalian life on earth feel properly Satanic, dangerous, revolutionary, all the things good black metal should feel like, in a world where rote anti-Christian lyrics and blasé misanthropy doesn't seem to cut it anymore.

But then the person behind Botanist decided to spice things up and, on 2017's Collective: The Shape Of He To Come, decided to employ his full live band both in the writing and recording of new material. The rules were simple; the instrumentation could not change from dulcimer, electric bass, drums, and occasional keys, but aside from this anything could go. The music on that album seemed to leap past itself, offering to Botanist as a project something similar to what Botanist as a project offered to black metal as a whole. The addition of other players and other voices, both literally and metaphorical, expanded the scope of the music not just in terms of length of tracks but also in terms of compositional complexity and richness. Suddenly, the sensation of Botanist's music not merely being anti-human but brightly and enthusiastically pro-plantlife came to bear, imbuing the music with a sense of broad near-gospel ecstasy that had been hinted at before but struggled to make itself fully present. Thankfully the main figure of Botanist felt this experimental record worked and Ecosystem, the current one from the group, holds the same model, employing the full live lineup in both a writing and recording capacity.

The music on Ecosystem sees fit not to radically rock the boat. The interplay of multiple hammered dulcimer players gives the music a sense of width and span, dappling the sonic field with hard panned bright bell-like notes that roll in turns like black metal tremolo riffs and like gospel or even New Age recordings. The melodic vocals are stronger here than on the previous record where they made their debut, wielding occasional crooked and half-croaked melodies that are delightfully weak and withered, like the similarly pained clean vocal style of Bell Witch. Ecosystem feels like the record most under the sway of progressive music influence, featuring tight and compact songs that nonetheless offer a wide variety of moods and textures, choosing neither to be fully hypnotic nor fully bestial, no full commitment to blast beats or tightly choreographed figures or moody architectural drumming. The record title feels like a half-pun, referring as much to the overarching ecological thematics of the group as much as the deliberate growth of the musical ambitions the group explores. It results in a record that is perhaps less immediately eruptive than their earlier work, especially IV: Mandragora, which still feels like their most fiery and successfully black metal release.

But Ecosystem gestures to something different, something more Arvo Part than Darkthrone. It feels like the group is settling into a new sonic space as equally driven by progressive music, post-metal, post-rock and at times even dream pop as it had been by liturgical music, black metal, and folk. The extra sense of sonic body granted by the additional players, the clarity and warmth of the bass, the power and suppleness of the drums and the layers of multiple clean and harsh vocalists feels like the group coming brightly and powerfully to life. What Ecosystem lacks in pure and primal power as an extreme metal record it more than makes up for as a beautiful and immensely rich art music record, one that finally seems to accept that black metal and even extreme metal as a whole has only ever been a part of the equation for the band. This sense of sureness gained from the previous collective album and the growing distance from more straightforward approaches to metal has strengthened the music; Botanist has never sounded better than they have this far from the shores that birthed them.

Botanist's Ecosystem is out today -- October 25 -- via Aural Music. Listen at Bandcamp.


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