Review: Botanist ‘Photosynthesis’

Did you know that an independently released compilation of native Irish metal bands surfaced in the mid 80s called ‘Green Metal’? While probably a coincidence rather than a homage, US avant gardeners Botanist‘s use of that same title for a 2016 EP always felt like the better use of the phrase and here on this new album, their mastery of this, one band sub-genre, reaches a logical apex. Though still saddled with the black metal tag, green metal really is the only accurate description. While the genres share a velocity and interest in the natural world, Botanist‘s musical aura is a far brighter one than the average corpse painted bunch of cross inverters. Black metal rejects life, and Botanist‘s green metal seeks to nourish and create it.

Botanist 'Photosynthesis'

In the act of photosynthesis, plants convert oxygen into energy, and the album works as a concept about the process. But rather than dig into the lyrics, it’s fitting to note that Photosynthesis as a musical collection is also a fantastic microcosm of how Botanist‘s sound works, how their use of shading and instrumentation creates a very special energy of its own.  

The combination of electrified hammered dulcimer (yes, if you’re somehow unaware of the project, you didn’t misread that), bass and drums, topped with a hint of keyboard for colour, offers as full and vibrant a musical equivalent to their envisioned rewilded world. The weight in the music comes from the bass and drums but the hammered dulcimer and vocals – alternating between Tomas Lindberg rasps and a sort of mini choir of clean tenor – add an enormous range of timbres, atmospheres and dynamics. It feels at times like there’s some kind of distorted orchestra playing, this rather than just three dudes.

the resultant music is as colourful, invigorating and wild as a stroll around the kind of botanical garden that no doubt inspired it…

Listen to the spreading chimes over the mid paced double bass drum driven Dehydration, and it feels like the musical equivalent of buds suddenly blooming in unison in accelerated time. The opening riffs (for want of a better word) of Bacteria illustratse how that dulcimer really is a unique instrument offering such a full sound. It glides, it can move from a lullaby to a panicked state, a timeless melody to a dissonant cluster. It sounds like a pianist and a guitarist battling with each other. Actually it feels like it would take multiple guitarists to replicate its expansiveness.

Is it really metal though if it doesn’t have guitars? If you can listen to Palisades and tell me it isn’t, you’re lying. Closer Oxygen even has hints of Voivod – another band whose work has grown from crude origins into a musical universe of its own. The aforementioned Oxygen ends the album on a high, and you realise there’s a subtle ecstatic undercurrent to the music. It’s in constant ascension, reaching upwards and out in all directions. Indifferent to the limits of any imposed horizon.

A lot of heavy music feels like an assault, a train coming directly towards you head on. Botanist, in their wisdom, have perfected the trick of making music that feels like it surrounds you instead, coming at you from all sides and in all hues at once. Though ever moving, there’s a sort of tranquillity and steadiness at the heart of it all, their placement of sounds feeling very much like some sort of musical Feng Shui. As an album, Photosynthesis somehow distils their attempts to capture their verdant obsessions perfectly, and the resultant music is as colourful, invigorating and wild as a stroll around the kind of botanical garden that no doubt inspired it.

Label: The Flenser
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes