Blackbraid
Blackbraid I

Heading into 2022, I had no idea that this was going to wind up being my most heavily anticipated album of the year. Granted, I’d have to have been some kind of all-seeing mage or wizard or whatever, because, until the first day of this year, nobody knew Blackbraid even existed (ok, before someone writes in to tell us all about how they’ve known about Blackbraid for years or whatever, I’m sure SOME PEOPLE knew about this project, but chill the fuck out).

That was when unknown (I SAID CHILL OUT) one-man Black Metal maestro Sgah’gahsowáh (pronounced Ska-gah-sow-ah, according to Metal Archives) posted the band’s first two tracks on Bandcamp, “The River of Time Flows Through Me” and “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil.” I can’t honestly tell you exactly when, but sometime in the winter shortly thereafter, I was tooling around on the app when, lo and behold, the striking cover art for the latter single, depicting two indigenous men in full body paint, popped up on my feed. The photo was more than enough to pique my interest and lure me in for a listen. 6 minutes and 25 seconds later, I was hooked. Hard.

To then find out that Sgah’gahsowáh was based in the Adirondack mountain region of upstate New York, the very same mountains that I call home, my instant fandom became instant obsession. I needed to know more, I needed to HEAR more. Unfortunately, it’d be quite a wait to hear anything else from this project besides those two first singles – but since then, the buzz surrounding Black Braid has grown pretty damn impressively, considering we’re talking about a one-man Black Metal band from the mountains of New York that, so far as I can tell, has no significant prior professional recording experience, no well-known prior bands or collaborations. That, leading up to the release of this first album, had only released three songs to the public (the third single, “Sacandaga,” a Native American word meaning “Land of the waving grass” but also the name of an Adirondack lake where I caught my personal best Northern Pike, was posted just prior to the album’s release. Sorry for making this about me I’m still kinda geeking out about all of this).

To that end, you would neither have known or assumed this apparent lack of experience by listening to any of these first recordings. These are tightly performed, highly atmospheric Black Metal tracks whose beautifully layered melodies are as apt a representation of the Adirondacks’ sheer majesty, as the heavier moments are to the of the mountain range’s potential for cold, bitter harshness. It’s like watching a graceful moose from afar on a quiet, still, sunset-lit pond – only to have the moose spot you, run you down, and trample the ever-loving piss out of you until you’re nothing but pulp on a pine-covered forest floor (seriously, do not fuck with a moose). But right before you lose sight and breath, you witness a gorgeous red tailed hawk floating weightlessly over an orange, purple and pink sky. Awe-inspiring beauty, and merciless brutality wrapped into one.

The opening track “The River of Time Flows Through Me,” sets the tone right from the get-go, charging out the gates with a blistering, blast-backed tremolo riff that leads into the album’s first gorgeous melody. I was already loving the hell out of this, but then everything briefly stops – and Sgah’gahsowáh launches into an absolutely FILTHY blackened death riff that puts your ass right on the floor and lets you know right away that this man is playing for keeps. An enormous amount of credit has to go to producer and studio drummer Neil Schneider who lent his talents to this effort because the album sounds absolutely massive, and the drumming is superb, both helping to give  Sgah’gahsowáh’s guitars and powerful, seething vocals appropriate gravity. Halfway through, everything stops, giving way to an atmospheric break backed by the sounds of a mountain stream, painting a vivid scenery of what this band is about and where it’s from, and successfully showcasing the flip side of the band’s inherent duality of light and darkness.

Adding a unique element to Blackbraid‘s sound is the occasional use of traditional Native American flutes – sometimes as a main focus, such as on the very fittingly titled instrumental track “As the Creek Flows Softly By,” and other times as a subtle background element like on “Sacandaga.” Whichever way it is deployed, it’s certainly effective, adding to the spiritual, almost spooky sort of vibe that’s being presented here. If anything, I wish Sgah’gahsowáh used it even more throughout the album though being a one-man project now hitting the road, I can understand the probable logistical difficulties with making it more of a main focus of Blackbraid‘s sound. If he were to make it a more regular part of the band’s compositions, I certainly would not object, but it’s certainly not a necessity to keep my interest here. The songwriting on I suggests the work of someone who’s been at this for much longer than Blackbraid has been, and while I don’t know the man on any kind of personal level, I’m willing to bet he’s a hell of a story teller. Little details like at the end of the epic album closer “Prying Open the Jaws of Eternity,” where Sgah’gahsowáh recalls a riff used all the way back on the album’s opening track (remember the atmospheric section I mentioned earlier?), this time played slightly slower and backed with additional doom-y, heavier guitars, really showcase his understanding of foreshadowing and story arc, making feel like an entire listening experience, as opposed to just a collection of songs. And there’s a great array of emotions being tapped into here as well.

The two instrumental breaks bring a sense of calm and serenity, contrasting beautifully with the raging, self-described “war song” of “Barefoot Ghost on Blood Soaked Soil,” which speaks to the suffering and genocide and injustice of Indigenous people in this country. Appropriately, it’s the album’s most furious offering, foregoing the atmospherics almost entirely to unleash generations of frustration and anger over the song’s six and a half minutes.

Listen, I’m not completely lacking in self-awareness. I know that my own interests and love for the Adirondack mountains that have so heavily influenced Blackbraid I have, at least to some degree, impacted my overall excitement for this album. But fuck it. I still genuinely think it’s as impressive and memorable a debut as any I can recall in a very long time, and whatever hype this project continues to garner is absolutely deserved. The wide net of influences, coupled with Sgah’gahsowáh’s own distinct and still-developing sound makes for an intoxicating, exuberant black metal record that certainly makes this act an instant major player in the USBM scene, not to mention adding another voice for an under-represented population of the country that sure as shit has a whole lot more to say and be pissed off about than your average Norwegian, at least. Do not miss out on this one, because I think it’s the start of something truly special.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
September 5th, 2022

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