Adding new minds to an established creative process always bears a risk. Often times it's debatable if the final product of a new line-up manages to live up to previous efforts. If there is one band, however, that continually surprised me with their ability to outdo themselves it must be Botanist.
The former one-man project has become a full-fledged band over the course of the last couple of years and has now released its first group effort with Collective: The Shape of He to Come.
In the past, Botanist albums were composed solely by the then only band member and mastermind behind the project, Otrebor, the songs on The Shape of He to Come were written by the current full line-up of Botanist consisting of six members performing material that was written and recorded between the years of 2010 to 2016. One aspect that hasn't changed is that a lot of the music on this album was composed around pre-existing drumtracks that Otrebor recorded in 2010. With my history of messing up the band's line-up in mind, I will supply a list of members and their respective contributions down below for your and my convenience.
Otrebor - vocals, concept, drums, keyboards, vocal parts for tracks 2, 3 and 5
D. Neal - bass (except for track 1), all dulcimers for tracks 2, 3 and 5, dulcimers for track 1
R. Chiang - all dulcimers on tracks 4 and 6, dulcimers on track 1
Bezaelith - bass (track 1), vocals
A. "Golem" Lindo - harsh vocals
Balan - bass
The product of their combined efforts is an album that is unlike anything the project has released before. Whereas previous Botanist releases had an aura of mystique and emotional ambiguity about them, The Shape of He to Come presents a much clearer vision of the Verdant Realm. The weirdly fascinating beauty of earlier works has now made way for a more impressive and organic sound.
The most striking addition to the band's repertoire are certainly the group vocals that are a result of Otrebor's wish to take the project away what from he calls a "romance meets science" theme to something more spiritual and theological.
Album opener Praise Azalea, the Adversary was used as an intro for most of the band's live shows so far and for this album it was furnished with vocals. The song sets the tone with a funereal dulcimer solo that grows more lively before the mood shifts and A. Lindo makes his first, terrifying appearance. The dulcimers are now raw and dissoant as the drums and bass join in to back Lindo's intimidating and disturbing performance.
Following that the band unleashes their new sound to full effect on the title track. Blastbeats and layers of bright dulcimers form the backdrop for the melodious and elating group vocals and despite the dulcimers taking a bit of a backseat in favor of the new vocal approach the band has hardly neglected them on this album.
In addition to the medieval sounding dulcimers on To Join the Continuum and Upon Veltheim's Throne Shall I Wait the band deploys a number of new techniques on the uncommon instrument. And the World Throws Off Its Oppressors features what sounds like plucked or palm-muted playing and during the outro of To Join the Continuum the band adds heavy reverb to the dulcimers, turning them into distant post-rock guitars.
In combination with the group vocals the dulcimers have also joined in an interesting relationship in which bright and crisp sounds back the exhilarating choir sections whereas discordant veils drape the ominous harsh vocal appearances.
Bolstering the ranks of the project with new members has done Botanist a world of good, making The Shape of He to Come the band's strongest release to date as they once more raise the bar on their sound. The organic interplay and various new ideas have taken Botanist's music to the next level on which it will hopefully receive all the attention that it has been deserving of for so long. With a new album featuring the setlist of their current tour already announced for the very near future I can hardly wait to hear what Botanist have in store this time.