"The sound of rattling chains emphasizes the lyrics about the oppression indigenous people had to suffer. By now you’re completely plunged within the totality of this album, which feels almost like a true concept-album. Lyrically and thematically, some of the songs deal with Native American traditions and historical events and horrors, but mainly the focus is on Mother Nature and the connection humankind has lost with it"
When it comes to solo projects in the black metal spectrum, the image that "one" (or at least I) can stereotypically have, is one of a depressive loner, disappointed with the world, sitting in his parents’ dark, shabby attic (or basement) while frantically writing evil music and lyrics the entire night. With the sonic result sounding like thirteen in a dozen, there are however absolute exceptions to that rule (Mizmor, Unreqvited, Mare Cognitum anyone?) Well, this Blackbraid solo project most certainly doesn’t fit in that narrowminded image I painted before and most certainly does fit in the exceptions to the rule category.
This one-man band was founded by Sgah’gahsowáh (meaning Witch Hawk in Mohawk) who has his roots in Native American heritage and who lives in the Adirondack Wilderness, hours above New York. He is responsible for all music and lyrics except for the drums, recording, mixing and mastering which are done by Neil Schneider. The result in the form of his DIY debut album Blackbraid I is just plain astonishing, and in my opinion, it deserves your immediate attention.
The album opener The River of Time Flows Through Me fittingly begins with the sound of a peaceful flowing river for a couple of seconds and with that, the picture of that shabby attic goes out of the window for good, and a wide view over a rural wilderness takes over. Riffs are rolling and the drums kick in and this interesting journey begins. The pace is fast, and the atmosphere is mystic and in your face. Sgah’gahsowáh’s vocals play a big part in that. Expect no typical black metal shrieks or screams, but a variety of deep guttural and harsh tones with a tone ranging somewhere between and beyond Johann Hegg (Amon Amarth) and Henri Sattler (God Dethroned). In the middle of it all, the song slows down to mid-tempo, with a melodic solo and the sound of the river, but then the fast riffage returns, with that melodic soloing going along over it, with the drums blasting underneath. The floating river sounds end the song by fading into second song As the Creek Flows Softly By which is an emotionally laden instrumental song carried by an acoustic guitar and a traditional flute. I love the courage to place a song like this so early on the album, because together with the lyrics it is this indigenous sound that makes this a Native American black metal album.
Sacandaga comes bursting in, full throttle as soon as the last flute note disappears in the raven-filled sky, reminding you that this is still a black metal album you’re listening to. And while the fierce tremolo pickings are fired in your brain, another traditional instrument (is it a horn?) appears in the background and it’s so cool that the guitars pick up that same melody and continue the song from there. The pace stays ultra-fast for awhile but always with small rhythm changes that perfectly fit and give the song it’s unique body. The flute that we heard on the previous song returns for a passage as well, but not in an overkill fashion, but in a well-dosed manner.
Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood-Soaked Soil follows next and it’s a six-and-a-half-minute song with the same ingredients alternating between fast and fierce, and grooving dynamic melody. The sound of rattling chains emphasizes the lyrics about the oppression indigenous people had to suffer. By now you’re completely plunged within the totality of this album, which feels almost like a true concept-album. Lyrically and thematically, some of the songs deal with Native American traditions and historical events and horrors, but mainly the focus is on Mother Nature and the connection humankind has lost with it.
Warm Wind Whispering Softly Through Hemlock at Dusk is another instrumental song that caresses our ears and soul. This time it’s the earlier heard acoustic guitar and an electric guitar that merges their sensitive melodies as a prelude to the last song of the album: Prying Open the Jaws of Eternity. A ten-minute magnum opus that starts of as an almost doom song with the deep guttural vocals grabbing you by the balls, but slowly pacing its way up to mid-tempo, and from there into “fasten your seatbelts” mode, finally returning to the doom laden sound of earlier, leaving you with a WHOOOAHHH! what a ride, kinda feeling!
There are albums that from the first note, resonate. To me, Blackbraid I is one of those albums. And remember that this was written by one person and recorded by two, and with a production like this and no label (yet) to release it, I feel the need to spread the word, in order to give this the acknowledgement and recognition it deserves. Pick it up. Year list material.