Blackbraid - Blackbraid II (Cover Artwork)


Blackbraid II (2023)


It’s an interesting thing, being a fan of most of the more extreme sub genres. If someone were to ask me where my heart lies, then it’s likely I’d say either hardcore or death metal, depending on what day/mood/time of year you caught me. I’m maybe less likely to say black metal, but when I look at some of the records of the last five years or so that I have enduring emotional ties to, many of them are indeed black metal. Not necessarily so much the 2nd wave, church burning version, but more so the atmospheric, emotively charged kind. Often involving either particular narratives or traditional/classical instrumentation. And almost always positioned in direct opposition to the fascistic subset that has permeated black metal since its very inception. So when Blackbraid, a one-man ‘indigenous American black metal’ act emerged only last year, I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d be a fan. And I was. But the first record felt like an experimental first step as opposed to a fully-formed realisation of a concept. I was happy the project existed, I just didn’t think the output was that remarkable.

When I heard that the follow-up record was coming less than a year after the debut, I confess I wasn’t entirely filled with confidence. Let’s be honest, one-man black metal projects aren’t exactly in short supply and quality control is a frequent criticism of many of them. I then learned this next effort would be half an hour and 4 songs longer than the first. I was not overly optimistic at this news. It absolutely delights me to say that I was about as wrong as I could be. Instead of a meandering, purposeless collection of too-long songs, what Blackbraid (AKA Jon Krieger, AKA Sgah’gahsowah) has actually done is give the necessary time, care and reverence to both the elemental, earthy style of black metal he favours, but also the Native American aspects of his music. Not only does this mean both of the main constituent parts come to life in their intended form, but it means they have an organic opportunity to blend together. Yes, some of the acoustic tracks do serve as dotted lines between the two and introduce melodies that are initially far more recognisable as Native American than black metal, but when those melodies appear again in the guise of a conventional black metal riff, just how well the styles have been meshed becomes clear.

To look at this somewhat more academically for a moment, there is an innate tragedy and associated mournfulness in the story of the Native American people and although that isn’t immediately analogous to the genesis of black metal, there is a parallel to be drawn in terms of rejecting the imposed structures surrounding its protagonists. Black metal is music of opposition, of rejection and of disenfranchisement. I appreciate that this might be a clinical, reductive way of viewing things, but I’ve spent some time questioning why I think this combination works so well. Sufficiently so that the art form becomes a formidable method of delivering a political message. And these themes are incredibly potent, of that there can be no question.

There is something about black metal albums that when I truly connect with them, feels more profound than almost any other form of music. And this is one such album for me. I have no connection with Native Americans nor Norway (to the best of my knowledge) and for the most part, I couldn’t even tell you what the lyrics are in this record, but I know as well as I know anything that Blackbraid means what he’s singing about with every ounce of his being. I know that he has poured pain and suffering into this record and I know that I can feel it coming out of the speakers. All of this whilst also recording what is simply one of the best black metal records I’ve heard in recent years at the same time. (It’s also worth highlighting some of the best solos in a black metal record in years as well.) As I mentioned before, there is equal reverence given to both sides of that particular coin. And yes, taking a ‘world music’ influence and applying it to black metal isn’t exactly new, what matters here is the quality. Which is absolutely sky high. Looks like I’ve found my atmospheric, folk-infused black metal obsession of the year.