Ovo je malo preenergično (ekološki orijentirani black metal) za moje potrebe, ali tip je konceptualno zanimljiv. Živi povučeno, čeka apokalipsu i nada se vremenima kada će biljke opet biti glavne na planetu. Mistički eko-terorist koji dobiva poruke od sotonskog bića kojemu je cilj što brže uništenje ljudske vrste. Fuck for forest!
May flora again reign supreme: an interview with The Botanist
What to say about The Botanist? He makes, loosely, eco-oriented black metal; he plays it entirely on drums and hammered dulcimer. He inhabits ‘The Verdant Realm’ where he surrounds himself in flora and awaits the coming apocalypse. The Botanist receives incantations from Azalea, the Satan of the verdant realm, from which he works up plans to speed up the downfall of man and the coming of the budding dawn. His work is a form of mystical eco-terrorism, creating hypersigils in form of music and text with which he seeks to hasten the apocalypse. Perhaps we should let him say the rest.
This interview was conducted by Wawrzyn Kowalski, who translated it into Polish for www.porcys.net
The Botanist: “he drums for the trees.” Don’t get me wrong, but I’ve seen lately a quite famous documentary about the Norwegian eco-organization “Fuck for Forest” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuck_for_Forest). What do you think about this initiative, the meaning of eco-terrorism as a whole and about its boundaries?
I haven’t seen any Fuck for Forest porn, so I can’t comment, but “Sex is often shown to attract us to buy all kinds of bullshit products and ideas, so why not for a good cause, [the enviromnent]?” is something I can get behind. FFF seems to be doing its own thing in upheaving a variety of norms, and to that I say fuck, yes.
The usage of the term “eco-terrorist” as applied to The Botanist’s music brought its share of attention. Rather than discuss the broad meaning of that term and others’ perspectives, I’d rather explain what it means within The Botanist’s context. Most associate “eco-terrorism” as a radical political expression in which sabotage or violence is carried out in the name of environmental rights, and in which the agent and recipient are both human. In the world of The Botanist, in contrast, the agents of terror are the plants themselves, who — in the distorted view of The Botanist, whose perspective the albums are written from — act out as they can in order to rise up against the human oppressor.
The Botanist isn’t concerned with human politics, as taking a political stance would favour one group of human interest over another. The Botanist’s desire is to witness the coming of the Budding Dawn, the day that can come to pass only after all humanity has died or killed itself off. He sees that outcome as the ultimate utopia.
Ganoderma lucidum is a plant that protects the liver. On the other hand, Amanita Virosa is a fungus that could mortally injure it. What is the story behind the appearance of particular plants/fungi on your albums? What is the origin of your botanist hobby, by the by?
Thank you for looking into those. In fact, they are both fungi, and I encourage all those interested to read about them, as well as any of the other plants the songs are named after. Every plant is depicted on the Botanist bandcamp so that listeners can make a visual connection to the lyrical content and appreciate a veritable depiction in contrast to The Botanist’s perspective. The photos are also there simply so people can learn and become more interested and aware of nature.
The world is the most beautiful thing in the world. We as people can pat ourselves on the back for all our inventions and accomplishments, but even the greatest of these pales in comparison to the seemingly impossible perfection that can be witnessed even in the most simple plant. While there is an apocalyptic, misanthropic aspect to The Botanist, I’d like to think that first and foremost the music is about the glorification of the natural world in general, and plants in particular. I believe plants are beautiful and wondrous, and I believe that if humanity could shift its world view away from itself as the omnipotent beings of the universe and into a more humble understanding of its true place in the greater scheme, it would lead to a greater quality of life for all living things.
Did you see the One Man Metal documentary on Vice? What do you think about it? For me a lot of good material, but filmed in some awkward way: Xasthur’s trembling hands, like in some “Real Drama,” and the thesis that these guys are broken and mismatched when it comes to social life. Quite disrespectful.
I generally think Vice magazine’s edgy, cynical appeal comes from some place of loathing and disrespect for people and pop culture in general. Vice has always seemed to me like a continuous circle of paradox that stokes its own fire as it turns: angry, disillusioned hipsters that are fascinated by their loathing of their own world. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Vice Magazine. I think it is spot on in the vision and tone that it sets out to do, but I can take it in only limited doses.
My perception plus your prefacing of the documentary made me expect something sensationalized and overtly mocking. Like, “hey, we’re going to go talk to these total losers. Get a load of these guys!” or have something of the kind of sensationalism that the otherwise entertaining documentary on Gorgoroth has. But I didn’t really get that sense of disrespect that you did. I got the sense that while JR Robinson did go into the interviews wanting to get as good story angles as he could, which meant in some cases trying to get information that the artists didn’t want to discuss. I felt that he went in with genuine respect and admiration for what they had created. Rather, I found myself listening to the artists, identifying what I felt I had in common with them and what I didn’t have in common with them. I think I may understand where you are interpreting the disrespect to lie in the documentary, but I perceive that whatever disrespect largely comes from the artists’ views themselves. What are your thoughts?
Agreed up to a point, but… What I would describe as disrespectful is not JR Robinson’s attitude. (However, the line: “I had Jef Whitehead tattoo the cross and crescent from Shadow of No Light, and he saw that we are serious, about getting him on camera” reminds me of some documentaries about the tribal life in the Amazon.) He did a great job finding these guys, and it is a good material in the sense of getting new information. However, it is presented in an annoying way.
For instance, Sin Nanna is not a loner, he is a “family guy,” but he is presented as a kind of freak wandering in the woods. And that’s all right, that’s part of him, but I feel the real conflict here lies between the effort of showing real-human faces of those beasts, and still trying to make them as creepy as possible. The result is neither the first nor the second aspect is done well.
And Xasthur. The most interesting part, in the end, his character seems to be really deep, but the camera is sometimes more interested in filming the mess in his house. Xasthur has sacrificed a lot for his music, I personally find it praiseworthy — he was trying to express his disappointment, but in a way that the documentary was shot, I sometimes feel like I’m watching something, as I said before, some reality show drama. It is a manipulation, and Robinson had some right to do so, as every author has, I just think that this vision deserves more a multi-perspective approach, something more than the “one man metal misanthrope” approach.
Could you describe the concept of the eremite Botanist character from your album cycle?
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.
You have joined The Flenser recently, and you have released your previous albums on tUMULt. It strikes me that on the tUMULt website there is that image of hundreds of slain muskoxen, and “flensing” is not such an ecological activity, either. Kidding, but how do the music profiles of those labels suit The Botanist’s music and ideas?
The Botanist owes a great deal to tUMULt and Andee Connors. I believe being on his label was the origin of a good portion of the initial push regarding the project. Being released on tUMULt was in itself a dream that I had had for nearly 10 years, as I had always viewed the label as having the most depth and artistic merit (particularly for its size) of just about any other label… much like how I view Andee’s record store, Aquarius Records, the best record store I have ever been to.
I likewise am thankful to have had III: Doom in Bloom released on TotalRust, as that label offered The Botanist a new level of worldwide distribution and the opportunity to break into some new outlets. Also, for a dedicated doom label to recognize my attempt at a doom album as legitimate was a high honor.
With respect and appreciation to those labels, I view the upcoming partnership with The Flenser as marking a major chapter in the growth of The Botanist. What I am most appreciative of is that Jonathan Flenser approaches running a label with the same kind of passion that serious musicians I know feel about making music. I see The Flenser as being an aggressive, honest, generous label that wants to help its artists to the greatest degree of success possible, as success for the artist means success for the label. I look forward to a mutually beneficial time with The Flenser.
I’ve read that Immortal’s At The Heart of Winter is one of your favorite records. They mixed a lot of heavy metal sound with old school black metal, and they came up with a really freaky concept on that one. Today black metal seems to be all about mixing styles and the weirdest ideas. How would you sum up what this genre went through in the last decade?
At the Heart of Winter was the ideal black metal gateway album for me, most probably because of the aspects that you pointed out. It had enough elements of the epic heavy metal that I had grown to love since I was a child, with the intensity of death metal that I had already started liking, but with a whole new vibe that was specific to Norwegian black metal. Before it, I couldn’t see black metal’s appeal. Thanks to it, I started to, and then learned to appreciate what I couldn’t before. To this day, Immortal is my favorite black metal band, and my favourite record of theirs is either At the Heart of Winter or Battles in the North. Depending on the day, you’ll get a different answer from me.
I understand the agitation that some have about black metal getting too far afield from its perceived roots in the past 4+ years. However, I also see the genre having a long stretch of creative doldrums that lasted almost twice as long before those 4+ years. I wonder if the drop off in that drive and intensity partially is as a result of the coming new millennia that brought no element of apocalypse whatsoever.
It took those with their minds in the genre some time to re-invent or re-imagine it, but I think overall increased artistic merit and fresh expression is favorable over rote re-hash. And not to take anything away from the great albums of the now perceived “2nd wave,” but the Norwegian scene hasn’t been making much of anything outstanding for a long time. The last thing I heard from Norway that I got into was Tsjuder’s last album, Legion Helvete, that, even though it was nothing new, had a certain energy and approach to it that made me remember a feeling that the classic Norwegian albums gave, which I hadn’t had in some time.
As far as a more classic approach to black metal goes, I still feel myself drawn more often than not to Germany, who as a nation has been carrying the torch highest for me in my personal enjoyment of the genre, with bands like Nagelfar, The Ruins of Beverast, and Lunar Aurora being names that come most easily to mind.
The Botanist probably is an implied part of the bit in your question about “black metal being about mixing styles and the weirdest ideas.” I’ll take your inquiry even further and bring up the question if The Botanist is even black metal, a topic that was stirred up when Metal Archives kicked The Botanist off its pages. Frankly, whether what The Botanist does is perceived as being metal or not is not of much concern to me. If it is, fine. If it’s not, fine. I can honestly say that the creation of the music comes from a personal place of reverence and adoration for metal, from my specific interpretation of what about metal music and ideology has resonated with me ever since I started becoming obsessed with it. I think I could also replace “metal” in that last statement with “classical,” and repeat it. Regardless of how the music of The Botanist is perceived, it has a deep meaning to me, and the singularity of my approach to its creation will remain the same regardless of how outsiders view it.
What kind of classical music are you referring to?
Some of my most obvious classical favorites fall in line with the stereotypical metal fan who likes classical: the Baroque period (Vivaldi, Bach, Handel in smaller doses) and Arvo Pärt, as has been discussed. I also enjoy the music of Górecki, Grieg, Debussy, Smetana, Rodrigo, Barber and the medieval choir recreations of Jordi Savall, to name a few.
With the stuff I like, metal sounds a good deal like classical and vice versa in my head. This is particularly true with the Baroque period, probably the most borrowed-from classical period in metal, which to me conjures notions of a grandiose cultural elite, steeped in history and tradition, which, when applied to metal, helps bolster the genre’s own version of elitism, which is something whose romantic aspect I believe resonates with me a lot.
People in general seem to believe that “contemporary” classical music is all about experimentation over quality, about some unlistenable dissonance done purely because it’s never been done before. I largely think that, anyway. But if you look to the metal or indie world, you can find some amazing, moving classically-based works, most importantly from Stars of the Lid and all its offshoots (Christina Vantzou, Brian McBride, The Dead Texan, A Winged Victory for the Sullen), whose classically-based ambient drone music highly influences my own. And then I must also mention the incredible work of Virgin Black, and most notably the album Requiem: Mezzo Forte, which is the finest and in a sense most veritable classical/metal crossover ever. It’s got astounding vocals, classical pieces played by an actual ensemble, superb guitar and drum tones, and above all, striking, memorable compositions. The follow-up album is also amazing, but much more metal. Basically, all of Virgin Black’s music is worthwhile.
You are not a representative of the “Cascadian” movement. However, it is not too difficult to link your and “their” philosophy. As for you, what is the most important distinguishing mark of this type of black metal music?
I don’t know, Wawrzyn, you tell me? I’m afraid I don’t have too much of a profound answer as I personally find much of the output recognized as coming from that genre to not greatly resonate with me. On paper, it seems like it would, but I’ve often found the music to be made up of a lot of buildup that sadly never climaxes, but rather just comes and goes. With that said, there are some bands who are recognized to be in the genre that I’ve enjoyed, with Skagos and Echtra coming most immediately to mind.
For sure, though, the points in common in ecological philosophy appeal to me, and while I don’t see The Botanist as being part of that genre, either, if a bunch of Cascadian metal fans want to embrace The Botanist and buy its records, they are welcome to.
Brandon Stosuy wrote about The Botanist: “doesn’t seem to conform to a list’s [his top 2011] hierarchy.”, do you feel the same? Like someone who doesn’t belong to the contemporary metal scene with all its pigeonholes?
I love metal, but I don’t believe it has to be metal to be good. The music of The Botanist is in a way the purest form of expression that I can channel through myself, regardless of what style it is perceived as being in. While my heart will always belong in some form to metal, I don’t feel I have any control over what others will think and feel as to what the nature of The Botanist’s music is, and any and all are free to make any judgments they wish.
I know that you admire William Blake. Skagos have used Blake’s painting as the cover for their Anarchic album. Ulver used his poetry earlier, and I found it interesting that science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card modeled the Taleswrapper protagonist on Blake, too. Why does Blake and his concepts become so important for pop culture?
Oh, no. Not that Ulver record. That record is really, really unfortunate. Even though Ulver probably did worse as far as my fandom is concerned, that record stands as the Ulver album that I dislike the most. I loved the first three Ulver albums very much – they are each pinnacles of creativity in their own unique way that other albums made since are compared to – so I was of course very keen on hearing the fourth album, particularly because it was about Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which is my favorite of the artist’s poems.
It’s been about 12 years since I heard that Ulver album, so I can hardly remember anything specific, but my overall recollection is that whatever pockets of appealing material is spread out very far between lengthy periods that were tedious at best and egregiously campy at worst. I remember it being all over the place. I checked in with a friend who loves Ulver, including newer Ulver, and loves music in general more than I do, and he corroborated all my memories about themes From William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” So, yes, Perdition City is probably an even more terrible album, but there was something uniquely disappointing to me personally about the Blake album that made it the worst… and at least Perdition City has a more clear sound concept.
As far as overt concept albums about William Blake’s work, my clear favorite is Bruce Dickinson’s The Chemical Wedding, which is not only my favorite Bruce Dickinson album, but qualifies to me as the best thing Iron Maiden did post-1980s.
I’m no scholar of William Blake, but what I do believe I’ve learned is as follows: Blake was an individual who stood up for what he believed in, even if he was the only one to believe it. And what he believed and saw he turned into a massive theological universe that he created in words and visuals. His universe is mesmerizing and fascinating (although I have to admit its complexity is far too horrible for me. Even to this day, I can only follow the more straightforward sections of his work, leaving the great bulk of his prose bewildering). He was a conscientious outsider. He loved nature and he loved his wife. Above all, his work seems to project a sense of living life with passion and a sense of romance, with an objective to be unfettered by the everyday limitations that society at large tries to force upon all of us. To me, all of his work endeavors to transcend mundanity, and its like had never been seen before, and maybe not even since.
Among the stuff that inspires you I found two Polish elements as well: Vader’s music and Zdzisław Beksiński’s paintings. How were you introduced to Beksiński’s art?
The first conscious introduction to Beksiński’s art was when tUMULt put out Leviathan’s Verräter. The image of that demonic, possessed church was incredible, and I had to see more. I own art books featuring all of Beksiński’s work, and since have realized that his art, particularly the black and white stuff, is featured on quite a few metal albums, like Wolok’s Servum Pecus, Evoken’s Antithesis of Light and Blood of Kingu’s Sun in the House of the Scorpion, among the most notable ones. No surprise there. I’m thinking of using a Beksiński piece for The Botanist VII. I won’t tell which one, but I can say that I’ve never seen it used before.
And I have to talk about Vader. Vader is to this day one of my favorite bands ever. Like Immortal for black metal, Vader was one of the main bands that got me interested in death metal. Before that, I remember I had heard a friend’s Malevolent Creation cassette in his car, maybe some early Cannibal Corpse, probably some early Gorefest, and death metal seemed dumb. But when the same friend played me Vader’s Black to the Blind, I knew I wanted to learn more. I specifically remember the sensation of my mind’s hair being blown back by the blast beat intensity of “The Innermost Ambience,” and that such a thing was humanly possible. Wanting to get into death metal via albums like Black to the Blind, Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos, Morbid Angel’s Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and Napalm Death’s Fear, Emptiness, Despair definitely coincided with my decision to start playing drums, and figuring out how these guys did what they did. I’ve talked about how much Andy Whale is an influence on my drumming, but I have to put Doc right up there with him. To this day, I believe Doc had the best blast beat ever. Like Whale, Doc didn’t play a lot of variety in his bands, but what he did play had tons and tons of personality.
Just yesterday, Vader’s Litany came on my iPod. It was so awesome. OK the kick drum sample borders on comedy, but hearing that album again was a reminder of how great albums from the death metal scene used to be, and that it isn’t that I’ve gotten over death metal, it’s that death metal in general has been making really stale, tepid albums for a long time. Sadly, I can even say the same about Vader. Since Doc’s death, it’s definitely not been the same. They had a resurgence when they went all plastic fantastic with Daray’s drumming period, but it was still lacking in the overall exuberant hunger.
I remember seeing Vader in the late ‘90s-2000, when they had Shambo on bass and Mauser was new to the band. I saw them at The Cocodrie in San Francisco in support of Black to the Blind (along with Cryptopsy, who was supporting Whisper Supremacy, and Divine Empire, who had Derek Roddy at the time). Before Vader hit the stage, it was like something deeply, scarily occult was going to happen. When they played, it was like they were dangerously close to being crushed under the weight and brutality of their own music. It was the same when I saw Vader at Wacken in 2000 and November to Dismember around the same time, with the same line-up. Again, incredible intensity and tightness. Nowadays, when you go to a Vader show, it’s like Peter walks out on stage, politely waves to the audience, and he and whoever he happens to be playing with at the time hit “autopilot.” I haven’t had a meaningful sense of who’s even in the band for like five years. (Also, someone who’s close to Peter needs to tell the man that if he’s going to keep using “reich” in conjunction with his band, he needs to learn how to pronounce the word so it doesn’t sound like morbid “rake”… which might be appropriate for The Botanist, but not for Vader.) Since Vader has been on Nuclear Blast, it’s been “good because I love Vader and it essentially sounds like Vader, so on some level, I’m happy” but really… it’s a facsimile. Sometimes I think that the albums by Dies Irae, that Vader rip-off band that weirdly featured both Mauser AND Doc (and also Novy), is better. Seriously. Compare Vader’s two Nuclear Blast albums with Dies Irae’s Immolated and see which is better. Dies Irae’s victory is greatly because of Doc. I’m happy I got to meet him before he passed away.
If you want visual proof of how much more Vader used to rule, check out their live DVD Vision and the Voice, and despite the super stale environment all those DVD releases of shows shot at that studio in Kraków give, you can get a good sense of why Vader became one of the biggest names in death metal. And if you know who to look for, you can see me standing in the photo pit in one of the still photos taken of Vader playing at Wacken in 2000. Officially immortalized in Vader history! Stoked!
You are also a metal erudite who often leaves some references in your song titles. “Chaining the Catechin” plays with Deathspell Omega’s “Chaining the Katechon.” I think this is witty. What other inter-relations can be found?
Since you’re so sharp, I’ll explain that one. A catechin is a kind of antioxidant, which are very popular nowadays for the health-conscious as they (catechins) absorb the free radicals that can promote cancer in the body. “Chaining the Catechin” is about this antioxidant’s source, Camelia Sinensis, a very popular plant as it is the source of many of the more beloved kinds of tea we drink, like green tea and oolong.
There are many other references and tributes to metal in The Botanist, but you’ll have to find them for yourselves. OK here’s another from the same song: the lyric “tied in glass chains” is a reference to “Tied in Bronze Chains,” the first song on Rebel Extravaganza, my favorite Satyricon album.
“Katechon” – the Greek term connected with the end of days. I’ve read the review on the Quietus where the writer has name-checked Shyamalan’s “The Happening” as a poor description of plants’ Armageddon. I’ve seen the “Troll 2″ movie, full of veggie tree-goblins, too, and it’s considered “the best/worst film ever made.” You are the prophet of plant kingdom come, how could you imagine this kind of apocalypse? For instance: how would you describe the shape of Rhododendoom?
The form of the Rhododendoom is up to you, Wawrzyn, and up to all those who read this.
I deliberately want to leave much of The Botanist’s conceptual form up to the imagination of the listener. Taking that further, what in fact is going on in The Botanist beyond the official description (see question #3) is also up to you to interpret. This seemed like the right choice as while what The Botanist is about and the vision of it are very clear and meaningful to me, because of its personal nature, I don’t believe I could ever totally convey that to anyone else. I believe that instead, your imagination can make for a much more compelling image and emotional reaction. Thus, what The Botanist, the Verdant Realm and Rhododendoom look like is totally up to you. I intend to use a variety of artists and styles to interpret this concept on albums to come.
In Slavic legends, there was a demon that personified Ergot (the fungus that grows on rye, with hallucinatory attributes, used by Slavic and Scandinavian warriors and seers). Is the Azalea demon derived from the distant past, too, or did you just make it up?
Of course, an azalea is an actual flower. It’s part of the rhododendron family. It’s quite common and lovely. But it also has the trait of wanting to grow and devour farther and farther past its planted space. Kind of like the human species. The lyric “devouring all beyond its needs” refers to this and is also a tribute to Bolt Thrower (“Dying Creed”), since you wanted more metal references. That pernicious conqueror aspect of the plant, along with the name Azalea, revealed it as the source of the voices inside The Botanist’s head within the Verdant Realm mythos.
The medieval alchemists used the Alrauna (Mandrake) because they believed that (mingled with menstrual blood or semen from the hanged murderer) it could bring to life the homunculus, a little humanoid creature (the symbol of transmutation – as Carl Jung stated). Does The Botanist still see any hope for the transmutation of humankind and avoiding its decline?
As we’ve talked about earlier in the interview, The Botanist awaits the destruction of mankind. The plan set forth for him from Azalea is detailed in the lyrics of “Quoth Azalea, the Demon (Rhododendoom II).” This song details how, upon the completion of the task that The Botanist will help bring about, he is promised, as the last being on Earth, and the human facilitator of Azalea’s plan, eternal life in the Chlorophyllic Continuum, the great collective that unites all floral energies… essentially, his ultimate recompense is to become a plant. This is utopia to The Botanist, seen as the perfect achievement of harmonious bliss as the last vestiges of human limitation are thrown off.
The mandrake is the homunculus you referred to, a humanoid/plant creature whose humanoid part rests underground. When the humanoid part is pulled up, it shrieks, killing all living creatures that hear it. The mandrake is derived from the plant called mandragora, which is the title of the next Botanist album. The first five (of seven) songs are a concept album about how Azalea directs The Botanist in how to raise an army of mandrakes in order to eradicate humanity.
What transformative direction will Botanist choose on IV: Mandragora?
IV will be as stark a sonic difference as III is to I/II. Even though the release is coming up, I still don’t want to reveal too much. I will say this: some talk about albums I-III as having a lot of space. If so, that space is largely closed on IV.
Your new record looks great, can’t wait to hear this one. The cover art is amazing.
Thanks. I believe a great way to make oneself look like a genius is to surround oneself with geniuses, and M.S. Waldron is one of those geniuses.
I believe you’ll enjoy IV. I think its flow is maybe the best I’ve achieved yet on an album.
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