That’s right folks, it’s a two-for-one! When I found out I was getting the chance to interview Otrebor, the mind behind the genre-bending, experimental black metal group Botanist, I was a little bit excited. OK, I’m lying; I was really excited. Botanist has been one of my absolute favorite projects operating inside the post/experimental black metal spheres and a big reason for that is because of the ecological/environmentalist/biological theme of the project. So getting to chat with the person behind that theme and vision was a true treat for me and the resulting interview which you can find below came out great.
But wait, there’s more! We’re also getting to premiere a whole new track from the project’s upcoming Photosynthesis, which sees release on October 30th via the incomparable The Flenser. The new track, “Bacteria”, introduces some of the more expansive, scintillating sounds used on this album. Its sprawling intro, all cavernous drum fills and echoing guitars, is a perfect counterpart to the fragile fury that erupts closer to the two-minute mark. This is where the trademark, signature sound of Botanist make its appearance, the abrasive vocals melding with the beautifully poignant guitars and dulcimers. But make no mistake, the track maintains much of that “ambient” vibe from the intro, channeling it above the expressive bass of one Tony Thomas (Dawn of Ouroboros, Sentient Ignition).
All of this comes together for some truly complex and evocative music, perhaps more so even than previous Botanist releases. So, you have three tasks ahead of you: press play on the new track down below, read Otrebor’s thoughts on the album, making music, keeping things fresh, and climate change down below. And then head on over to The Flenser to pre-order the album. Ready? Set? Go!
Greeting Otrebor! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. I want to open by saying how personally impactful Botanist has been for me through the years since I discovered VI: Flora. Writing about a broad concept like nature, how do you still keep your music personally impactful? Is this something you consider as you compose?
Thanks for the praise and the coverage over the years!
When I record for Botanist, I still feel like I’m a conduit. This hasn’t changed since the beginning of recording the first song of the first record in 2009. Yeah, I’ve learned more about theory and sound, refined the recording approach and honed the instruments and gear to places that serve the project — but when I get behind the drum kit or dulcimer or microphone, it’s like I open the gate for something to speak through me. This happens way more when I make Botanist than in other projects. It feels like I’m summoning the agony and pain, the beauty and harmony, the weird, byzantine aspects of flora, filtered through whatever weirdo that I am.
In contrast to my first question, it seems almost obvious that individuals should be considered parts of their broader ecosystems, humans included. Why do you think we have difficulty conceptualizing our parts in the broader planetary system? Do you see your music as an attempt to transcend this difficulty?
Botanist’s conceptual aims are to raise the appreciation of the beauty of plants. Then, Botanist aims to show how essential plants are to all. The Natural world suffers because of humanity’s actions, but ultimately who will suffer the most definitively from these actions is humanity itself. Botanist works as an artistic mirror to this.
Humanity keeps getting in its own way because every single one of us is just trying to get by. I think even the most privileged of people perceive this notion. In this sense, I don’t think we’re different from any other living creature. The way our global system basically works makes “getting by” about acquisition and consumption. Those tenets are often unsustainable and self-destructive. On any level, from a person trying to feed themself to a person trying to merge a megacompany, all could benefit from mindfulness about their actions. On every socio-economic level, people have some kind of options. I wish we could better see our choices and make better ones, because I believe we have the capacity to do so. Humans aren’t different than dogs who will eat all food before them, even if makes them sick. However, humans have immeasurably greater means to consume and destroy.
As the climate crisis accelerates, do you find yourself reacting to it in any way? Photosynthesis feels, in some ways, brighter and more vibrant than previous releases. Is this connected to our present and the reactions of the planetary system that we are starting to see all around us?
Any timing of the release of “Photosynthesis,” its sound and themes with global crisis is a coincidence. Speaking out, focusing on current calamities has its use and worth, but we also need reprieves from the collective juggernaut that urges us to wallow in angst. In the Botanist discography, “Photosynthesis” is relatively light on the angst. That aspect of it is neither accident nor coincidence. The album is intentionally about the actual process of photosyntheses as measured by science, spun with The Botanist’s perception. The album ends with the statement of plants being essential to the survival of all fauna on the planet. In that sense, I think it’s a good year to release this particular album. I hope it can offer thought, emotion, and relief.
Is it more vibrant? I don’t know. While I do believe it’s a progression, I think that has as much to do with the people playing on the album and the person who mixed it.
Moving on to the music itself, how did you go about incorporating Tony Thomas’s playing style into your music? His style is certainly different to a lot of the previous work that’s appeared under the Botanist moniker.
The production of every Botanist album is about assembling a team. The solo albums are like this too. When I assemble the team, I like to pick people in whose ability and vision I have faith in, that way I can let them run with the parameters I give them. This allows for others’ brilliance to color the albums in ways I could not. I provide a basic framework, and let others do their thing. Sometimes editing, suggestion, re-direction is required. This was no different in Tony Thomas’ case. Tony is a generally gifted music-maker in general, and a guitarist in particular. He also has the unusual gift to be driven in his work ethic. He had not before been a band’s bassist. I wonder if the combination of having the stereotype of the guitarist converted to bass, plus Tony’s penchant for playing guitar in bands that are all dense and noodly, made for a new layer of prog vibe with his bass contributions… whatever it is, that’s what we got on “Photosynthesis,” and it’s a very cool, essential, welcome aspect to the album’s vibe.
How do you see the relationship between this release and the duplicate vision displayed on Ecosystem A and Ecosystem B? Without spoiling too much, is there a Photosynthesis B floating around there somewhere or was that a one time experiment?
There is a very clear relation between those albums. “Ecosystem” and “Photosynthesis” are sisters. The drums and dulcimers all come from the same original sessions in 2018. The intention was to make albums, as a band, on the short side of the full-length spectrum, so that those albums could be represented entirely in a live set. I asked our drummer to make twice as much material as we would need for one of those albums, so we could have more flexibility in choosing good song flow. “Ecosystem” was thought to be the “A” album, and “Photosynthesis” the “B” album, but since we got the final mix from Dan Swanö, we’ve wondered if it ended up the other way around.
“Ecosystem version B” was what “Ecosystem” was originally intended to be, had our live singer stayed in the band. He left to start a family even before his parts were recorded… so I decided to make “Ecosystem” the most “Botanist” album it could be, which means having my vocals, for better or worse. But I wanted our old singer’s vision to be represented. I wanted to allow for the testament to our relationship and time spent, to his contributions to the band in the time we had together. So I recorded him, with the intention that the “B” version, as it stands now, to be released on cassette for a tour some day — but “some day” ended up being the next year.
There is no “Photosynthesis B” (the version of “Photosynthesis” licensed to Japan on Daymare will have demos from the “Eco/Photo” sessions)… but I do have a pretty cool plan in store for the material going forward. I don’t believe it’s something that you’ll be able to guess, and I think people will love it. Maybe next year?
Lastly, I hope you are doing well with the multiple crises unfolding in America (and globally). What would be your advice for those of our readers who are looking to become more active in the fight for a healthier, better tomorrow?
Oh, I’m doing fine. I mean, I’m much more stressed and afraid and introverted than ever, but I have also found this time of multi-layered apocalypse sense to offer a great opportunity for mindfulness and compassion, not only to others but also to myself. Working on taking things more slowly, giving others and myself more space to act out, and to better understand how not to take acting out personally. I believe that on an individual level, mindfulness, compassion, establishing healthy boundaries, making good choices, working on positive projects are key, more than ever. During lockdown, I recorded a solo Botanist album. Maybe it will get released in a couple years? Thanks for the interview, and thanks for reading.