Blackbraid – Blackbraid I [Things You Might Have Missed 2022]

The story of Blackbraid I is a tale as old as the mountains. Unknown artist bursts onto a scene that is crying out for something new and original. Artist brings fresh perspective and everyone gets excited. This is the next big thing. Hype builds with promising singles. Debut album is released. Initial reaction from fans is rapturous. But some new listeners feel let down; the promise has not materialized. Since nuance is dead, camps double down: this is either AotY or boilerplate black music that’s been massively overhyped. Sound familiar? This is the trajectory Blackbraid’s debut album, Blackbraid I, took earlier this year when it was released. Now that the dust from… er… August has settled, what can we actually say about this fascinating and curious creation?

Firstly, Blackbraid I is not what you think it is. Ostensibly a Native American one-man atmoblack project from the Adirondack wilderness created by Sgah’gahsowáh (with some drum help from producer Neil Schneider), Blackbraid refuses to conform to your gimmicky expectations of it. Want music that radically re-imagines black metal through a Native American lens? Providing, perhaps, a counterpoint to the “Wild West” black metal of Wayfarer? Prepare to be disappointed. Blackbraid I is mostly straightforward, harsh, atmospheric black metal with few bells and whistles. Think classic Wolves in the Throne Room or Agalloch. Sure, there are some traditional instrumentals here and there, but Sgah’gahsowáh is not interested in being the poster boy for you to hang your progressive ideals on. No, what drives him on is a ferocious passion for his land and for this music. When you combine that passion with some serious songwriting chops, well… you have compelling black metal, my friend.

Blackbraid I is driven by passion and authenticity. A passion borne of internal fire, not a minstrel-like desire to conform. Like a charging bear, it explodes with “The River of Time Flows Through Me,” which highlights Blackbraid’s considerable strengths: a fiery rage of lava streaked with veins of shimmering melody and propulsive musicianship. Its 6-minute run-time flies by, as does the album itself. Blackbraid I bounces from banger to banger, deftly weaving in moments of mournfulness (“Sacadaga”), and shimmering melancholy (“Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil”). Throughout, the riffs are catchy, the pace unrelenting, and the musicianship solid. Blackbraid I’s highlights are very high, and there are no major missteps.

Yeah, Blackbraid doesn’t reinvent any black metal wheels here. Yeah, Blackbraid I conforms quite rigidly to existing black metal templates. Yeah, the non-singles aren’t as strong as the singles. Yeah, it could perhaps have been more experimental. I don’t care. When music is this passionate, fiery and authentic, I just want to put my headphones on, close my eyes, and let it soak through me. For reasons unknown, people have projected what they want Blackbraid to be, rather than what he is. Don’t fall into the trap. Take Blackbraid I on its own terms and you’ll discover one of the most compelling black metal albums of the year by one of the scene’s most exciting new voices.

Tracks to Check Out: ”The River of Time Flows Through Me,” Sacandaga,” “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil”

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