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Botanist is a weird project, you can understand it by listening to "I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From The Dead". The guy behind this project is Otrebor, we know him as drummer in Ophidian Forest, so now we'll talk with him.
Welcome on Aristocrazia Webzine, 2011 has been an intense year for you, the split between Pyrifleyethon and Ophidian Forest (we reviewed it too), you prepared the debut album with the first two chapters of Botanist and you're already working on the third one that, if i read correctly, will be called "III – Doom In Bloom". How can you do so many things and give life to your compositions?
Otrebor: Thank you. Part of your perception is due to the illusion of when the music is officially released to the public and when it was actually recorded. In the case of "III: Doom In Bloom" consider that the drums were recorded in March of 2008, and the music from March-Summer 2010. So it’ll be nearly four years from the time the drums were recorded to their actual release on an album. The Ophidian Forest split you mentioned’s drums were also recorded in 2008, in the Summer. The songs on “Summoning of the Igneous” are in fact our "b-sides" from our third album, "Susurrus" which was completed in late 2009, and has yet to be released. We have no concrete plans concerning this (is anyone reading interested in releasing it?) In January, another Ophidian Forest split will be released, this time on UW Records. The label tells us we will be splitting with a demo of the US one-man project Heresiarchs Of Dis. In this case, too, it has been up to two+ years in the case of some of the instruments that the Ophidian Forest material has been recorded. Botanist albums "IV: Mandragora" and "V: Whorl" have also been completed, and by the time they are released, at least a year and a half will have passed since they were finished. So, yes, part of your perception that I am busy with music is also because I am truly busy with it. I am busy with it because I am inspired to make it, and will continue to make music at the pace that I can while the inspiration is there, because I do not take inspiration for granted, as one day it may no longer be present.
Why did you create Botanist? And why this monicker?
Botanist was created as an outlet to make records at the pace that I wanted to make them. I like working with other artists, but generally I find that I work much faster and more passionately than others. Instead of being frustrated at others, I decided to take control and do it myself. This allows me to continue to work with other artists and makes it easy to allow for cases when a record takes two years to complete, for example, because in the meantime I can satisfy my need to create by making Botanist. The discovery that making music all by myself yields some of the greatest sense of creative emotional expression is a further impetus to continue the Botanist project. The name Botanist was chosen because of the decision to make a project with the over-arcing theme of plant worship. The continuation of the lore of this project (i.e. the character of The Botanist, The Verdant Realm, The Budding Dawn, and others) can be read in detail on the www.botanist.nu home page.
What do you mean when you define your project as "Eco-Terrorist Black Metal"?
That descriptor is not necessarily defined by its popular perception, namely that of people acting as the agents of terror for naturalistic causes by sabotaging trees and machinery to purposely harm those who the saboteurs see as detrimental to the existence of Nature. Rather, the term "eco-terrorist" in Botanist's case sees Nature itself as the agent of terror against the human oppressor, and more specifically a representation of how The Botanist, in his particular world view, sees Nature as playing this role.
In the last work that i listened by Ophidian Forest, the split "Summoning Of The Igneous", the band plays a not so standard black metal, but this project is even more experimental, how did you put together the songs? I'm talking about the music, the lyrics and also the titles, how did you choose the plant for every track? It's strange but interesting since it's the same thing that Děsa made in "Herbarium" by Turdus Merula.
The songs for "I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From the Dead" were written primarily on drums. I went in to the recording sessions wanting to make albums of many, short songs, as at first my idea was to make music that was somehow grind-oriented. I had been in a grind band years before and we had made some songs that I found very interesting as a result of my playing short, intense bursts of semi-constructed, semi-improvised drums, to which the guitarist wrote riffs to. The result of that experimentation can be heard on the Gesewa / Utter Bastard split "Rising Sun Fuckers / Kusottare Yankee" released in 2007 on Bloodbath Records, and to a lesser extent, the second Ophidian Forest album, "Plains". The 39 drum tracks over two sessions were recorded with some notion of arrangement, but allowing for spontaneity as well. I then took the drum recordings home, re-learned what I had played, and wrote music to the limitations of the drum structures. Lyrics were written with no particular song in mind, with a few exceptions, like "A Rose From The Dead" and "Dracocephalum". Each set of lyrics was then applied to whichever track seemed to be the best fit. In this case, each successive step of the recording was more limited by the space offered, which in fact made the experience more focused with each stage of the creation and recording. The selection of plants came from reading botanical books, learning about other plants from those books, then learning about even more plants, etc… kind of like what happens when you get into a band or a style of music. As far as lyrics go, there will be no end to Botanist’s inspiration as it would be impossible to write as many songs as there are kinds of plants. I did not know about the existence of Turdus Merula until the release of the "Herbarium" album was announced by the label Le Crépuscule Du Soir (who coincidentally released the Ophidian Forest split "Summoning Of The Igneous"). Both the Turdus Merula and Botanist were recorded around the same time, and I can assure you that neither project was even aware of the other. For sure the similarity of the approach to song names will make people draw comparisons… and why not? Certainly the concept of Nature, particularly in a black metal context, is obviously compelling, and definitely not anything new. Certainly the music of each project sounds different. I can't say for sure what the content of Turdus Merula's album "Herbarium" is about, as it's in Swedish, but I believe I've read that the content is largely about psychedelic plants (the cover depicts mandrakes, which are mythological creatures that rise from the Mandragora flower). Of course I cannot speak for Dísa, but it appears to my biased view that Turdus Merula has a broader, looser thematic scope (for example, a Turdus Merula is a kind of bird), whereas Botanist's is an increasingly specific, detailed world, setting, and indeed tale in which plants, and specifically how the character of The Botanist exists within this Plantae World. I enjoyed "Herbarium" support Turdus Merula, and would welcome doing a split release in the future, as I think the thematic similarities of the two projects would make for a compelling album.
You chose to use only the dulcimer and not guitars or bass, it gave to your music an ancestral flavour. Retro avantgarde? When did you understand that this instrument was perfect for your music?
A hammered dulcimer makes a lot of sense to someone who is primarily a drummer. I'm good at hitting things in time, and while the balance and dynamics of a drum stick and a dulcimer's hammer are different, the fundamental idea and implementation of hand-based rhythms is the same. In addition, the sound of a hammered dulcimer, and its inherent harmonic element in particular, is of great interest to me.
The two chapters of the album show many different faces, sometimes in "II: A Rose From The Dead" i felt something like happiness. Since your way of playing black metal is strictly connected to nature, did you want to represent its two faces?
Music is a vehicle for emotional expression. Like with other kinds of dynamics, I intend Botanist to have a range of emotions as well. If you heard happiness somewhere on "II" that's probably because it was in fact there at some point, perhaps because of the release of triumph and joy of being able to channel emotions in such a satisfying and unique way. I intend to further develop this range of emotions over the course of Botanist's career.
What is Black Metal for Otrebor?
That's an awfully broad question, but I can say that what attracts me to black metal is its unique aspects of extremism, exclusion, and obscurity. I recognize an aspect of sublime beauty that is apparent only when one can look past the more obvious characteristics of harshness and ugliness. Sonically, I like the fuzzy, buzzing, amorphous sound that black metal so often has. For my taste, good black metal will generally have a certain harmonic sense that connects very well with me, and that inspires me to make my own music, as do other forms of music.
The USA scene has two reference points: Illinois with bands like Nachtmystium and Washington with Wolves In The Throne Room, but there are so many bands that i should mention with these ones. Do you consider yourself a part of this scene? Do you think that Botanist is in some way similar to them? I mean, it's a personal and free way of playing.
If Botanist is truly a personal and free way of playing, then by definition it cannot be similar to any other group. While the bands you mentioned are in fact two reference points, they are two of many. I feel the best black metal coming out of the United States is/was either from the Bay Area or from the growing group of bands that are linked to the Black Circle scene in Southern California. To get back to your question if I feel a part of that scene, I want to say not really, as few people, if anyone, really knows who I am personally. I am interested in having some connection with the output of other bands, and the Bay Area groups in general, as I see the greatest art as generally coming out of a situation in which artists work while being in contact with, and being inspired by the work of other gifted artists.
Which are the bands that introduced you to this genre and the bands that you like the most now? And are there any recent bands that brought some innovation to Black Metal?
Without a doubt, Immortal was the band that got me into black metal. (My first try to like black metal was with Marduk's "Nightwing" and at the time, I thought it was absurd. Looking back, it was too much of a stretch from what I had been used to up till then. Now, I love those albums) Immortal saved black metal for me. The specific album was "At The Heart Of Winter" perhaps because it was an excellent way to bridge my long-standing enjoyment of heavy metal with black metal. To this day, Immortal probably remains my favorite black metal band. I'm not ashamed to say that my vocal attempts on Botanist "I/II" are Immortal-inspired, as at the time it seemed like the only thing I could do with any sense of self-satisfaction. I'd like to think that since then, and into the future, that Botanist's vocals will continue to improve, or at least evolve, into more of a signature sound. Other bands that engaged me early on that I continue to love are Aeternus (particularly the early albums), Thy Primordial, Ulver (first three albums), Weakling, Taake "Nattestid" and Nagelfar to name a few. Since then, bands like The Ruins Of Beverast, Alcest, Drudkh (maybe not so much the "Handful Of Stars" album), Ygg, Pestilential Shadows, Belenos, Velvet Cacoon, Akercocke, Inquisition, and Nokturnal Mortem’s "Triumph Of Steel" are but a few of bands that are more recent faves of mine. There are so many more, and more to come.
The package of "I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From The Dead" is a little work of art that perfectly fits the name of the band and the naturalistic essence of the album, who made it?
The albums' sleeves and booklets were printed by a company called Stoughton, who is the exclusive maker of those particular LP-styled sleeves. I am pleased with their work, and although there was a disagreement initially, I feel that in the end they were honest and worked hard. I chose the art, font, and general look and feel (with a little help from tUMULt boss Andee Connors). The layout was put together by Nathan Berlinguette of ENBE design. The CDs were printed by a Bay Area company called New Cyberian. They are nice people and their prices and service are recommended.
Are you completely satisfied of this album? How was it received by the critics (webzines and magazines) and by the people who followed the project from the beginning?
How often are artists completely satisfied with their work? Perhaps the best answer is to say that even though Botanist's sound has progressed a great deal since the first couple albums, I still embrace them as part of the overall work, and I suspect I will even if I make dozens more till then end of my life. Above all, I make Botanist to satisfy an inner need. If no one else liked it, I would still make it. That aside, I had suspected that Botanist could have cult appeal, as it is a niche in the musical genre of black metal that is already a niche in itself. This seemed more likely when tUMULt wanted to release it, as tUMULt is one of the most cult labels I can think of. Despite that, the response that has been received in the not even four months since the album, and, really, the project was released (there are no fans who followed it from the beginning, as no one knew about it. All existing fans are new fans) has been way beyond even what I had thought would be the best possible response. That major music press wants to talk to me, and that good indie labels are actually approaching me to release future albums is something that I've not experienced. It's inspirational. With that said, while there have been some negative comments in a couple articles, I am awaiting the first outright negative review from an established press source. For sure it will happen, and when it does, I will post it and others alongside all the positive ones.
Which are your non-musical passions? Did some of them influence your way of seeing and writing music?
It might not be the biggest surprise that I love plants and animals. I like walking amongst nature and taking the time to stop and look at it. I enjoy staying in shape and riding my bicycle. Good health interests me. I could never be in one of these stereotypical metal bands whose members always seem to have a beer in hand. I’d quit really fast. I love learning about other countries and languages. I enjoy video games. They're a definite time waster, but in the role of allowing for temporary disconnection of the brain and escape into plastic fantasy, they have their place. I've recently been engrossed by the "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" series of "lawyer" video games for the Nintendo DS. This series in particular was an unlikely inspiration musically: although the music in the games is crappy MIDI stuff, there’s something I found excellent about the way the compositions were written and layered. I even liked the percussive elements! I like French comic books. It's a shame that so few of them make it to the American market, because for the most part they destroy even the best stuff that this country releases. My favorites are "De Cape Et De Crocs", "Garulfo", "Donjon", "La Quête De L’Oiseau Du Temps", even "Lanfeust De Troy" and of course all-time famous ones like "Astérix" and "Tintin". This year I read the first two volumes of the re-telling of Nordic mythology stories called "Siegfried". It was visually captivating and epic. I can't wait for more. I'm currently reading a series called "Ghost Money". So far so good. I also like a couple Japanese manga series, "Berserk" and "Detroit Metal City" who are each in their own right the most metal comic books ever. I highly recommend them, particularly to metal fans.
Botanist is a solo-project, will you bring them on stage or will you keep it as a studio-project?
I would be interested in making Botanist a performing band. What makes that difficult is not only finding people to play with, and not only to find people who play hammered dulcimer, but finding people who play hammered dulcimer and would want to play in a weird black metal band.
Metal and more generally extreme music are alweays ridiculized by stupid people. These things are often said by powerful guys, maybe they are afraid that music which make people think is always something against them? Can we be really different from the Big Brother-like scheme or we are forced to stay at the edge of it (actually it would not be always a bad thing)?
I don't really have much in response to most of that, except for how I interpret the last bit about how "we are forced to stay at the edge of it". This makes me think of an idea that I've had for years, in that metal's best stuff seems to comes more out of a place where metal is not so much uncool but rather that no one outside of metal has a clue as to what metal really is. I wonder if, as metal has steadily grown more popular and commercial from the turn of the millennium till today, the output of would-be "top" bands has in fact done the genre an artistic disservice. Take for example top metal labels like Nuclear Blast, Century Media, Metal Blade and Roadrunner. Even Earache. It seems to me that more and more their releases are geared to the equivalent of the metal version of a shopping mall. It is mallcore. It must sell "well" or whatever, but if Century Media is releasing bands like Vampires Everywhere! for any reason other than money, I don't know what that reason is. It doesn't seem that it’s because they love metal. My perception is that 80% of the rosters on those labels are superfluous, generic, empty calories that sound "perfect" but in fact have no soul. That's the irony and contradiction. Popularity and recognition is good for metal because productions have more of a budget, and a budget goes a lot farther with how much more affordable recording is nowadays. Because there’s more money available, people with perfect but hollow musicianship will be attracted to make the requisite material that will sell, as the market for bland material will be greater as more metal grows in popularity, leaving the best stuff for the most part made by bands that have little to no "sex appeal", so to speak. In that sense, is it so bad to "stay at the edge", as you put it? Or maybe it’s best to have a version of metal that casual metal enthusiasts will want, and let the more artistic bands make their albums for their relatively small audiences? What do you think?
What will you do in the near future?
2012 looks like it will be a very busy year for Botanist in terms of work and releases, and also for me as a musician. It's likely that up to three Botanist albums will be released, "III", "IV" and "V". I am currently finishing the recording of the music for "VI", which I will then put on hold to record session drums for the second Ordo Obsidium record. Then, I will record the music and vocals for a Botanist split with Palace of Worms, and do some more doom-oriented music for a Botanist split with a band on the TotalRust label, all of which perhaps will be released in 2013. Then I will also record drums for a project of a friend of mine named Lotus Thief, will be one of the projects on the "Allies" disk included with the Botanist "III" album. If time permits, and after "VI" is completed, I will begin work on "VII", whose basic sound and style have been conceived. The next scheduled releases are Botanist "III" in February, 2012 on TotalRust, and Ophidian Forest / Heresiarchs Of Dis in January, 2012 on UW Records.
Thanks for the time spent with us, the last message for our readers is up to you.
Thank you for your interest.