Botanist - Collective: The Shape of He to Come 01Though not exactly my favorite band in the metal canon, there are few acts I’m more excited to talk about than Botanist. While some avant-garde bands attempt to breach genre boundaries by removing as many traditional melodies and discernible rhythm patterns as possible while still qualifying as music, these Californians take an experimental approach by simply modifying the tools of the trade. By swapping six-string guitars for the obscure yet beautiful hammered dulcimer, they practice modern black metal on a structural level with a completely unique sound capable of moments more beautiful and more terrifying than one is likely to find anywhere else in the genre. Collective: The Shape of He to Come, their seventh LP in as many years, is an attempt to further not only the boundaries of the scene but also their own aesthetic. It’s hampered by issues that have plagued Botanist since their inception, but it’s a marked evolution and an impactful album nonetheless.

The Collective header of this record is meant to highlight a break from Botanist’s main line of albums as their first team effort. Whereas vocalist/drummer/dulcimist(?) Otrebor previously handled all songwriting and instrumental duties, the band’s live lineup has provided contributions on this particular outing. TSoHtC‘s sound is distinctly familiar in a way that only a band as unique as Botanist can pull off, but collaborative input has brought marked changes. Layered, melancholic cleans largely replace Otrebor’s harsh vox and the average track length has greatly increased, but far more significant adjustments have been made to the band’s dulcimer arrangements. The Botanist of old channeled the unbridled forces of nature in its simplicity; Botanist on The Shape, conversely, comes across a complex marriage of abrasive black metal and spiritual grandeur. There’s a borderline religious level of reverence accompanying the grandiose, cascading note progressions, and for much of the album, the effect is completely captivating.

Despite the record’s majestic tone, there’s a sort of loose playfulness to many of the dulcimer performances that deliver a contrasting sense of levity. Melodic patterns jump huge spaces between notes in quick succession like ricocheting raindrops, and the resulting effect, while technical, perfectly reflects Botanist’s pro-nature thesis. The compositions, while consistently intriguing, can feel a bit long-winded; at ten minutes apiece, the three “metal” tracks feel a bit bloated and occasionally disjointed. The title track, in particular, suffers from the latter issue, featuring a jarring instrumental break at its midpoint that sounds like it should be a transition into a new track altogether. Even so, the intricacy of Botanist‘s soundscapes sweeps me up in the catharsis; while listening in the moment the songwriting issues melt away, and it’s only on post-listening reflection that these problems become obvious.

Botanist - Collective: The Shape of He to Come 02

The more pressing concern with TSoHtC, in keeping with Botanist tradition, is the record’s production. There are certainly worse sounding Botanist records, but it’s a damned shame that the sonic evolution didn’t have a greater impact on the engineering. The snare drum, when coupled with the unadventurous drum performances, creates a metronome-like effect that’s hypnotic in a way that some will love and others will loathe. Meanwhile, the lightly distorted dulcimer drowns out much of the mix aside from the choir-like clean vocals, which I find a bit dispassionate in execution. “And the World Throws Off its Oppressors” thankfully provides relief from any production mishaps as a nostalgic, stripped-down folk tune that recalls memories of good times by the campfire. The opening and closing tracks are similarly minimalist affairs that grant the album unexpected and welcome variety, with the back end of the opener (“Praise Azalea the Adversary”) hinting at the atonal cacophony that accents much of the record in disturbing fashion.

The Shape of He to Come is a complex work that, admittedly, took several spins to connect with me. It’s not as immediately engrossing as many of Botanist‘s older albums, and I think that the shorter tracks of a record like VI: Flora might be a better starting point for newcomers to the band and their unique, potentially jarring approach. Yet despite some bloated cuts and disappointing production, this is a beautiful effort that transcends its surface level problems and stands out in the context of the band’s catalog, even if it’s not strictly their best. There’s truly nothing else that sounds like Botanist, and as a direct result of The Shape, I’m intensely curious to hear where Otrebor’s willingness to explore new ground will take his avant-garde oddity.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Avantgarde Music
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 1st, 2017

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  • Master of Muppets

    I’ve been trying to be as into this as I was excited about it when preorders started, but the vocals just keep holding me back. To be re-spun, for sure.

  • welyyt

    This site has turned me into a production-snob/audiophile douche, but this is one of those situations where I’m so hypnotized by the music I didn’t even notice the mediocre production job. We’ll see how that changes with future listens, but this is pretty great either way.

    Great review EE, never heard of the band before, but I’ll have to explore their back catalog now.

    • lagerbottoms

      Me too :D

      The choirs with the blast beats in the background are so mesmerizing that I forget basically everything else

  • GWW

    God that SUCKS.

  • Yolo Swaggins
    • Amazing!

    • The Unicorn

      My secret is now exposed!

    • [not a Dr]

      Ectoplasmic unicorning rules.

  • Never heard of the band before, but this sounds pretty good.

  • Absolomb

    Meat n’ potatoes but instead of meat it offers some extravagant indian spices. I’ll take a bite or two.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Just spices and no meat is a recipe for… disaster? vegans? vegan disaster?

  • sir_c

    The band is like the gin carrying the same name

  • Thatguy

    No, the emperor has no clothes. This sounds horrible.

    • You wot m8?

      I took one listen to that awful drum sound and noped the fuck out.

    • [not a Dr]

      The naked emperor is hawt! I’m liking this more than I thought I would.

      • Thatguy

        I have not changed my mind

        • [not a Dr]

          Are you suggesting that an easy play on words and a vague statement on my enjoyment of the track wasn’t enough to change your opinion? You are quite difficult!

          • Thatguy


            I liked your comment more than the music.

  • MetalVic

    I like some weird stuff, but this is just… twiddly twaddle. Pass.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I was going to make a comment about the (my?) rules of Metal, Rule Number 1 being: No guitar, no Metal. I was going to make a comment about how it should be mandatory to mention Dead Can Dance AND Lisa Gerrard when one talks about the hammered dulcimer. I listened to the embedded tracks and could hardly make out any hammered dulcimer yet I heard what sounds like guitars.
    So instead I’m going to make a lame joke and ask if a hammered dulcimer is a dulcimer that is really, really drunk.

    • Name’s Dalton

      I don’t know if it was hmmeryou d but I hit on a dulcimer once.

    • Wilhelm

      The Dulcimer was re-named the “Hammered Dulcimer” after another German instrument called a Shietholt was brought to America (Appalachia) and was renamed the dulcimer or mountain dulcimer.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        And now my lame joke has been turned into knowledge, Awesome! Thank you!

  • Jon Hartley

    I just can’t get past how the drums sound. Hard pass.

  • Me

    I would have LOVED this when I was a teen dropping acid and shrooms.

    The drum sound isn’t St. Anger bad.
    Not great, but not bad.

    • Here’s Johnny

      nothing like that

  • Aguy

    I want to dig this for its weirdness, but it really is just bad. Maybe someday some other crazy choir-and-hammered-dulcimer-and-black-metal band will come along and nail it.

  • Frost15

    I liked this, it was like if the choruses from Enslaved and Hammers of Misfortune joined in a guitar-less effort…

  • It’s a bit more than a site gimmick, bud.

  • Hammersmith

    This is a pretty tough listen. Feels like none of the bandmates have ever played together before. And that drum sound is just super bullshit.

    • Here’s Johnny

      its a one man project lol

      • Hammersmith

        Guess he should learn to play with himself.

  • Óðinn

    Sounds great! Thanks, Eldritch Elitist!