Album Review: BLACKBRAID Blackbraid II

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Blackbraid is one of the most exciting new acts in extreme metal. A Native American black metal project, Blackbraid gives us their second breathtaking record in as many years. Fresh off the Decibel Magazine Tour, this new record is poised to make a significant impact in the extreme metal scene, without any doubt.

To get right to it, Blackbraid II is an early contender for black metal record of the year. Sgah’gahsowah, the one man behind the project, is able to take the traditional sounds of black metal and then further shape and move them in a very distinct and novel direction. In this respect, the record is filled with the ferocious tremolo picking, explosive drumming (check out the face-melting “A Song of Death on the Winds of Dawn) and breakneck speed that we all expect in the genre. However, at the same time, we also get a variety of novel sonic accents that involve acoustic instruments and flutes. It’s Bergen, Norway meets the American Adirondacks.

“The Spirit Returns” has everything you could really ask for in a black metal song. Riveting and skillful, the song takes you on an epic journey. The track has atmosphere and melody and I love how the lead vocal is slightly distant in the mix. The lyrics, which feature a story of fate and retribution, are impactful and mesh with the music so well. The video itself seems to parallel the respect for the land found in the Norwegian black metal scene, however, Blackbraid juxtaposes the steadfast tradition of showing natural scenes in Norway with those of the American countryside.

More traditional Native American sounds are integrated with “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon,” specifically with the integration of traditional drums and flute. This was actually the first single released by Blackbraid, and many folks took notice in terms of the originality and new sounds that this 10+ minute opus brings to the world of global black metal. A variety of twists and turns accentuate the novel aspects of Blackbraid’s work and therefore invite those who are looking for something new but while staying somewhat close to their close comfort zone.

Another reason to really love this record is that, unlike many of the solo black metal acts out there, Blackbraid is unafraid to use modern production techniques and give depth and resonance to sound. Songs like “Twilight Hymn of Ancient Blood” sound absolutely fantastic. Recorded with care to ensure wide dynamic range you can really hear the crunch of the guitars and none of the instruments get lost in the mix. Same with “Sadness and the Passage of Time and Memory” which features acoustic guitar and a pace that gradual builds throughout the the seven minute track. It’s a powerful and emotional song that just comes through your speakers with much appreciated clarity.

The record ends with a nod towards Blackbraid‘s obvious immersion in the sonic world of Bathory with a riveting cover of “A Fine Day to Die.” There have been many a Bathory cover to grace the airwaves and the internets but let me tell you, this particular cover is just outstanding. It’s evocative and passionate and a fine way to end the record, so to speak.

Blackbraid leaves no doubt. This is the most exciting act in black metal and while Blackbraid I was a very good record, Blackbraid II tops it. With this record, Blackbraid sets the new standard for American black metal.

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