It’s somewhat rare that there are large splashes within niche genres to the level that we’ve seen Blackbraid make in the space of black metal over the last year and a half. With a release of a pair of songs at the start of 2022, eyes and ears began noticing this one-man band that embraced the band’s heritage and love of USBM and since that time, Blackbraid has released a pair of records and traveled the world and has gained the interest of mainstream journalism. This week I’m proud to bring you insight into the mind behind the music, Sgah’gahsowáh, and share our conversation about influence, the journey of the band so far, and a small peek behind the curtain for what’s next.

I find it’s usually best to start at the beginning and to that end I wanted to know what sounds and bands he connected with that helped push him down the road to extreme metal. While it is indeed fun to reflect on this, examining this path sometimes illuminates new ways to enjoy a band and I found that to be immediately the case with his response:

‘I think it was Opeth, I was probably maybe 14 the first time I saw Opeth and that was probably around the time that I really started digging the Scandinavian scene more. I mean Opeth, I wouldn’t really call them black metal but they bordered on it back then a bit. So that was kind of like a gateway into that. I think the first truly black metal bands that I was really hooked on were probably Dissection and Gorgoroth, and I’d say Dissection was the first one I found. But again, like I only found that stuff maybe when I was like a teen, you know, via seeing bands, like Opeth and other European bands come over here.’

While bands like Metallica, Pantera, and Lamb of God were on his radar because of their connection to the US and their general popularity, Blackbraid doesn’t employ these sounds or the ever-popular death and thrash metal ideas that were more in vogue when he was growing up. While I had seen him comment on this in the past, I wanted to know more about why black metal felt more like home than these other genres.

‘Yeah, I don’t know. Just that it seems a lot more emotional to me. I like thrash and death, but like I said, I don’t listen to them as much. The kind of vibe I get from most thrash and death is just like fun or party or you know, even like the super brutal shit is always fun, you know? Like it could be heavy and like evil and disgusting but like it’s always still fun. It’s really hard to find a death metal song or a thrash song that makes you feel anything other than like, ‘Hey, this is sick‘ (laughs). But you know black metal is really depressing and touches on a huge range of emotion. None of it is really that fun either, like in comparison to the other two genres of extreme metal. So it just kind of seems like a totally different animal to me.’

Black metal – as I have said on many occasions on this site – is a very flexible genre and while bands in the last 30 years have taken its foundations into a vast array of new places, there are some assumptions of what this music is about. Misanthropy, evil, and chaos are often words that are associated with this genre, mainly stemming from the bands that helped launch its second wave throughout Scandinavia. Over time and in regions both new and familiar, black metal has expanded its subject matter greatly but the sonic hallmarks of the music make it a perfect place to express emotional ideas that are more complex than those found in its sister genres such as the aforementioned death and thrash metal. Of course there are exceptions to every rule but as trends go, black metal is an often better vehicle to discuss strong emotional content such as depression, introspection, longing, and just how beautiful these things can appear in the right setting.

The USBM scene is an ever-growing one with acts like Panopticon, Nechochwen, and Wayfarer take black metal to new places from historical events, economic crises, and nostalgic representations of the historical American West. Blackbraid are one such band that to my ear have always avoided the tropes of the Scandinavian content and lean into connections with memory, nature, and a personal point of view. I wondered which, if any, bands helped shape Blackbraid’s direction.

Wolves in the Throne Room are probably the biggest US black metal band and they’re doing on a very similar level where it’s still emotional and stuff, but it’s mostly just nature-based and you don’t really ever hear them talk about Satan. But yeah, I think you know there’s so much nature oriented black metal out there, even like a lot of the old school – obviously there’s Mayhem and all the classics they were kind of super evil and shit – but at the same time there were bands like Windir or Ulver that have been around forever and like they’ve always kind of been doing the same thing where it’s like, really based then in nature and emotion. So, Yeah, I guess that was kind of always my inspiration.’

The well-documented and charming infatuation with nature within Blackbraid’s music, aesthetic, and every other facet of this act can be traced back to the experience of youth, the abandonment of adolescence, and the longing to return. Youth spend in the forest camping, hunting, and fishing led to an early connection with the Earth but the desires and responsibilities of young adulthood led to city life with little time for the outdoors, at least in the same capacity: ‘I grew up in the country. So it’s always kind of been there. I think I just learned to appreciate it a lot more after I left my hometown and was in the city for a few years. I think that’s when it really hit me like how important that connection is to me, you know, after it was like forced to spend a few years outside of it.’

In keeping with the theme of connection to nature, Blackbraid, since the first album, has had focus on the acoustic tracks that pepper both I and II. While this isn’t novel in black metal, the integration and emphasis on acoustic instruments made of wires and wood is a nod back to things that are from the earth re-establishing that connection. While an acoustic set may not be in the picture for now (‘I wouldn’t really know how to do the vocals, maybe an instrumental set or something, but it’s a little harder to keep people’s attention.’) but there were hints that an acoustic album could be in the realm of possibility down the road: ‘I would like to maybe put out another album or two at most then maybe do an acoustic compilation, because most of the songs – all my songs – I like to play them on acoustic too and they have like different acoustic renditions. So yeah, I would love to do that one day.’

Aside from the striking acoustic pieces that are sprinkled across both albums under the Blackbraid moniker, there are other similarities that I wanted to discuss, notably the incredibly descriptive song titles and the sense of place that the lyrics create. There is always a sense of place within their songs be it, “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon” or “Warm Wind Whispering Softly Through Hemlock at Dusk”, there is more often than not a painting created just with the song titles even before the atmosphere and lyrics play their part. When I asked where this came from the response pointed back to Sgah’gahsowáh’s heritage:

‘I guess it’s a mix because if you look at like most indigenous languages and in North America are written in a really similar way, they’re very literal and like they don’t really translate well to English at all. Like there’s so much shit that can’t be translated, like if even people’s names like if you look at someone’s name it might translate to like you know like ‘He who sings softly in the pines at night‘, or something like that, so everything is so drawn out and descriptive and like visual and audio oriented with indigenous languages.

‘It kind of affects the way that we all see the world too. Like you know, I don’t think people realize how much your own language and the way you look at language shapes the way that you see the world. So I think that’s kind of always in the back of my mind when I write Blackbraid stuff. I really want it to be true to the nature of this land also I just I guess I’m just kind of over descriptive you know because of that but also because like I just really want to be very specific about what I’m thinking and I want everyone to perceive the song in the way that I’m hoping it will be.’

With a pair of LPs under the Blackbraid banner in less than a year, there is some expected overlap in writing and perspective. ‘They kind of are the same to me,  it’s kind of like part one and part two of the same album in my mind, they’re very similar. They go hand-in-hand in my mind and I think whenever I do something again, it would probably be a bit different. I don’t think there’s much left to do between the two of them, I kind of did everything I wanted to with that sound.’ So will the next record be Blackbraid III? Time will tell, but it doesn’t quite seem like it at this point and it will probably be a while before we hear any new recorded material as the main thrust of Blackbraid’s efforts for the next while will be touring to support the first two records both at home in the US with eyes set for international stages next year: ‘I’d just really like to take Blackbraid outside the US a bit more, a lot of other countries have been showing interest in us too which is awesome.’

Seeing the rise of this band has been something to witness as it has skyrocketed from just a pair of songs less than two years ago, to two albums, and on tour supporting some of the biggest names in metal such as Cattle Decapitation and Dark Funeral (and since the interview a tour with Wolves in the Throne Room and Gaerea has been announced) it has been quite the trajectory. Any kind of ramp up like this is certainly thrilling and exhausting and while the writing may have paused for the band, gratitude and focus are at an all-time high: ‘It is exhausting most of the time, but it’s definitely a positive experience. You know, I can’t, I can’t complain.’ 

To accomplish what Blackbraid has in less than two years is impressive and while the recorded output may slow a bit at this point, the act will be staying busy with touring, so be sure to catch them when they come through your town or at a nearby festival. This is a truly independent band that has reached their current heights without the support of a label, just capitalizing on the quality of their art and its presentation and it has paid off. Black metal’s narrow gates continue to expand and allow bright new artists to interpret this formula through their own lens and Blackbraid have balanced progress and tradition in equal parts so far between their two albums, presentation, and strong independent attitude. These are all ideas well worth pursuing and supporting.

Be sure to follow the band’s activities on Instagram, buy music and merch over on the website or Bandcamp, and catch them on tour this fall!

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