I’m always drawn to the rampant individualists in music, those brave souls who go out on a limb and plough their own furrow regardless of outside pressures or whether or not what they do is considered ‘cool’ by others. They’re in it simply in order to express their own singular vision, whatever it may be, and the icy realms of Black Metal has proven to be very fertile ground indeed.
From Snorre Ruch’s Thorns, the template for much BM to come, through the seriously odd Ved Buens Ende, to Ulver’s shift from primitive corpse-shrieks and wasps-in-a-biscuit-tin guitars to sophisticated minimalist electronica, the icy grimm wastes of Black Metal have thrown up quite the motley assortment of those with very much their own agenda – and thank de lawd, as meat ‘n’ potatoes BM is pretty fucking drear and unimaginative on the whole.
The latest in this line of mavericks is a one-man operation coming physically from the San Francisco area, but spiritually and philosophically from somewhere known as The Verdant Realm, and known simply as Botanist.
So, wait, hold the phone, ‘The Verdant Realm’?
Yes indeed, there is a weighty and all-consuming concept behind Botanist, best summed up in the words of the man himself –
‘The songs of Botanist are told from the perspective of The Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from Humanity and its crimes against Nature as possible. In his sanctuary of fantasy and wonder, which he calls the Verdant Realm, he surrounds himself with plants and flowers, finding solace in the company of the Natural world, and envisioning the destruction of man. There, seated upon his throne of Veltheimia, The Botanist awaits the day when humans will either die or kill each other off, which will allow plants to make the Earth green once again’.
…Oh, and just so as you know ‘Veltheimia’ is ‘a genus of perennial plants native to South Africa in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae’.
Now that we’re all more-or-less up-to-speed on the concept behind Botanist it’s probably time to discuss the music – although clearly, for The Botanist himself the two are forever intertwined – and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the music itself is just as individualistic as the philosophical framework behind the project.
As you may surmise from the title, Doom/Allies is split into two sections, with the first part – Doom – being the music of Botanist alone, and the second – Allies – being songs performed by six friends and associates of The Botanist, utilising drum tracks recorded by The Botanist during the sessions for Doom. This, in turn leads us to another revelation – the music of Botanist is almost entirely percussion-based.
Well…….to some extent. Y’see, the music of Botanist is driven by drums and the hammered dulcimer.
Yes, you read that correctly – the hammered dulcimer.
Not the most metal of instruments, I grant you, let alone BLACK Metal, but in The Verdant Realm the hammered dulcimer is king, and its silvery, sharp-toned baroque richness gives voice to The Chlorophyllic Continuum. Tonally, it sits comfortably in the piano range, but with a wonderfully metallic percussive edge. The dulcimer takes care of the melodic end of things and The Botanist’s precise yet powerful drumming takes care of the drive. Somewhere in there is the faintest pulse of bass, adding thickness to some of the sparser sections, but once ensconced within the sound-world of Botanist, you don’t miss ‘conventional’ instrumentation.
Now, although self-described as ‘Black Metal’, fans of, say, Immortal would be unlikely to find anything to their liking herein, as in all honesty the only overt traces of Black Metal in Botanist’s sound can be found in The Botanist’s rasping, croaking vocal style, and to a lesser extent in the very-infrequent, somewhat subdued ‘blast beats’ that crop up once in a blue moon. Tempo-wise, Botanist errs toward a slightly sluggish pace, hanging back slightly and allowing the edgy sound of the dulcimer and the shrieking of The Botanist to fully permeate the dead air.
As with most forward-thinking bands rooted in BM, the musical side of Botanist has evolved past the BM stylistic-straightjacket – musically, there are moments on Doom that could fleetingly pass for, say, Tortoise, at a push – leaving only really the ideology of BM behind, the sense of opposition, of being the cold outsider, bristling with hostility.
In the case of Botanist, the voice of hostility comes from Azalea, a voice in the ear of The Botanist that may or may not be either the demonic voice of nature or else the voice of schizophrenia. Azalea – pictured whispering into the ear of The Botanist on the cover of III and also the subject of opening track of Doom, ‘Quoth Azalea, The Demon (Rhododendoom II)’ – speaking through The Botanist puts me, personally, in mind of the deranged plant-man Jason ‘The Floronic Man’ Woodrue – as Wood-Rue – acting out the perceived will of the elemental force known as The Green in the initial run of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comic book series, rampaging through a small town, annihilating what he calls ‘screaming meat’. The whispering insinuation of Azalea is rendered quite chillingly throughout the opening number, sitting just on the edge of hearing amidst the chiming dulcimer, crashing and smashing drums and clusters of droning ambient vocalisation.
As stated earlier, the music of Botanist seeps out of the speakers and hangs in the negative space left by traditional distorted guitar and bass, contributing greatly to the entire soundworld carefully constructed by The Botanist. The seven tracks that make up Doom tend toward the lengthy, but this, again, aids the cumulative effect of being immersed in this aural emission from The Verdant Realm.
Over on the second disc of the set, Allies, as stated earlier six friends and associates of The Botanist have constructed songs of their own around drum-tracks provided by The Botanist himself. The interpretations vary wildly from one another – from the creepy and ethereal ambient minimalism of Matrushka, who opens and closes the disc, through the hefty blackened doom of Cult Of Linnaeus, the lo-fi yet symphonic epic Black Metal of Ophidian Forest, the deeply odd yet utterly entrancing Black Metal acoustic slide-blues that suddenly bursts into Neurosis-esque epic sludge of Arborist, the pounding double-bass drumming and psychedelic space-metal of Lotus Thief, and the brittle harmonies, chunky chugging and quasi-operatic female vocals of avant-doomsters Bestiary – but the tracks on offer cover enough (under)ground so as to make something for most discerning tastes.
So there you have it, a rather sprawling review that attempts to distil the vast area covered by III – Doom/Allies down into something readable and easy to digest, as this really is something that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. Sure, many of them either won’t like it and/or understand it, but it should be listened to, nevertheless, for the boldness and willingness to stick to his guns of its creator, and because I can guarantee that you’ve never heard anything like it before. That alone must surely make you prick up your ears and pay attention. Enter The Verdant Realm.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson