Blackbraid, a Black Metal Musician With Native American Roots

Black metal has long been associated with Scandinavian gray skies, snowy landscapes and Norse mythology. Most people know it as the musical genre associated with church burnings and brutal murders in Norway in the early 1990s. (These events are documented in the book Lords of Chaos, which was made into a feature film in 2019 starring Rory Culkin as the misanthropic occultist musician Euronymous.)

However, black metal has expanded and diversified to such an extent that one-man bands are the genre’s latest successes. black bladehails from the Adirondack family and draws on its founder’s Native American roots rather than Viking or medieval weaponry.

“I didn’t want to do anything impure, and I didn’t want to be an indigenous guy writing about Thor, Odin, or whatever I had no personal connection with. I wanted to make a traditional-sounding black metal album, but I didn’t really want to I want to write something that I can identify with,” said the Blackbraid creator, called Sgah’gahsowáh (Witchhawk Mohawk), in a video conversation weeks before the release of the new album. rice field. “Black Blade II” on friday.

The record sounds fairly traditional, relying on classic black metal ingredients: screeching vocals, a flurry of thumping blast beats, and guitars that hum like angry bees.

But there’s also elbow room within those parameters, and on “Blackbraid II,” you hear delicately strummed acoustic guitars and traditional flutes.Catchy riffs, especially on singles “Soul comes back” It coexists with ambitious tracks like the 13-plus-minute “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon,” which rises and falls like an epic story.

Pretty impressive for a one-man band. Sgah’gahsowáh (aka Very Black He’s Metal) composes the material and plays all instruments except the drums. The drums are programmed by my friend Neil Schneider. (Schneider was also responsible for recording, mixing and mastering the new album. Blackblade expanded to a live quintet.)

Sgah’gahsowáh grew up not far from where he lives now, and started playing guitar and listening to metal when he was, as he puts it, “barely in middle school” in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I was. But he didn’t like the styles popular in the United States, like thrash, typified by Metallica and Megadeth, and death, a brutal attack matured in the swamps of Florida.

“A lot of black metal is just about melancholy and sadness, and a lot of it is based on the loneliness and brooding atmosphere of nature,” he says, adding that he grew up in the woods and was “a moody teenager.” There was,” he added. it touched his heart. “And I loved music more,” he said.

After some futile efforts in the local scene, he created Blackbraid as a solo act and released his first single. “Barefoot ghosts dance on bloody dirt” Fast forward 18 months, with an album under his bullet belt and an upcoming album, Sgah’gahsowáh was speaking days after playing at the prestigious European festival Hellfest and Hellfest. . Copenherr. Next up is Midgardsbrot, a festival held in a former Viking settlement in Norway in August.

“I quit my job in April or May of last year, so I’ve only been doing Blackbraid as a career for about a year,” he said. (He worked as a carpenter.) “It’s kind of crazy.”

Naturally, its rapid rise evokes skepticism, especially in a genre as passionately niche as black metal, as ultra-limited releases are a testament to its credibility.

“I read an article about someone thinking of themselves as an industrial plant and I was like, ‘Hey, black metal isn’t big enough to have an industry,'” Schneider said with a laugh in a video chat. Blackbraid are not signed to a label and self-release their music.

Although not far from the mainstream, black metal has grown in the United States over the past two decades, and domestic black metal is known as USBM. Among them, the Native American scene has penetrated through projects such as the California label. pale moon night Other bands include Pan-American Native Front, Ends Embrace and Ixatitran.

“Black metal has definitely become more diverse in the last ten or fifteen years,” says Daniel Lukes, co-editor of the recent collection. “Black Metal Rainbows” said in a video interview. “It’s become a place where people feel comfortable expressing their identity, be it gender identity or ethnicity. Bands like Blackbraid are certainly part of this pioneering. On the other hand,” he continued. , “The relationship with ethnicity, indigenous identities, traditions and heritage has been in black metal from the beginning.”

Black metal’s longstanding interest in history, mythology and paganism suited Sgah’gahsowáh. Sgah’gahsowáh was adopted, so he chose his stage name in honor of the land in which he lived rather than his specific ancestry. (His friends call him John, but he is reluctant to give out his last name so he can be easily found online. Also, to protect his family’s privacy, he’s moved to his own town. The position of is also kept secret.)

“There are many displaced Native Americans on this continent. It is a very common misconception that we all grew up on reservations and had access to tribal communities,” he says. “This is how I think about Blackbraid.

Sgah’gahsowáh also combines black metal with indigenous traditions through his early use of highly stylized black-and-white facial makeup known as corpse paint. His current style draws less from Scandinavian designs.

“If you look at traditional war paint across America, there’s no difference between it and corpse paint,” he said. “Anyway, I always thought of it as war paint for Black Blade. It’s already perfectly intertwined with the black metal aesthetic.”

One of the reasons Blackbraid’s growing audience is that he draws on a great source of inspiration in black metal, something that remains very much in the minds of many: its connection to the natural world and ecosystems. is to be

It has long been part of the Nordic scene (inspired by winter and countless songs about it). Video of a man walking in a snowy landscape) and has thrived within part of USBM, led by environmental bands like its predecessor Agalloch. wolf in the throne room and the Panopticon. “Sakandaga” The song, from Black Blade’s first album, has lyrics like, “Time slows down to a soft whisper/Like a pine wind a stream gently drifts by.” The accompanying video is full of shots of majestic forests and mountains.

“Almost everything I write is a product of nature,” says Sgagasower, who describes himself as a “woodcutter who likes to fish and stuff” and an avid hiker. “I want to empower indigenous peoples, that’s a big thing, but at the end of the day, it’s nature that matters.”

“I want to take that relationship and somehow translate it into my music so that people can feel it, especially those who don’t have a lot of time to spend in nature, For those who live in places where nature is inaccessible, I really hope it shines the brightest in my music.”

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