THE BEST OF TWO WORLDS
Like a bolt out of the blue the Native American Black Metal (N.A.B.M.) project BlackBraid from Adirondack Mountains, New York made its presence known earlier this year through two singles on the YouTube-channel of Black Metal Promotion. The number of streams, likes and pre-orders hint at something out of the ordinary. Hype or just great timing? Fact is that N.A.B.M. (or Indigenous American Black Metal) has been steadily on the rise for the past decade with acts like Ifernach, Pan-Amerikan Native Front, Blue Hummingbird on the Left and Vital Spirit.
Twenty years prior the grounds had been plowed by Xibalba Itzaes from Mexico and later consolidated by Volahn and its Black Twilight Circle from California. All take inspiration from/or pay homage to nature, heritage, and legends of their ancestors from The Americas. BlackBraid is no exception as protagonist and creator Sgah’gahsowáh explains below. Furthermore he reveals the catalysts behind BlackBraid, the creation of the first full-length ‘BlackBraid I’ and his future plans.
“BlackBraid is my solo-project, I do everything except for the drums. My buddy Neil Schneider, who is also my audio engineer, helped me to record everything. He’s a great drummer, so he tracked the drums for me. But other than that, I do all the other stuff on ‘BlackBraid I’. I took the pseudonym Sgah’gahsowáh (The Witch Hawk) for BlackBraid, which is Mohawk, I live on Mohawk ancestral land, so I kind of wanted to honor them a bit by taking this name.”
When was the idea and the music of BlackBraid conceived? Did you already have material or did you start from scratch?
“”Bearfoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil” was the first one I wrote in the Summer of 2021, I think. That Fall I wrote “The River of Time Flows Through Me”, which is the second single. So they are relatively new. And in the winter, around December/January of 2021/2022 I was finishing everything else for the album. I’d say it was probably all done by March. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I didn’t have a solid plan going into it. I mean, I’ve been a musician all my life. I knew I loved that first song, but I had no intention to do something with it.”
“BlackBraid or a solo project were not on my mind at all. It wasn’t until I had written the second song and I was happy with both of them. That’s when it all fell into place and I became pretty positive that I wanted to write a full album, to make it a whole ordeal: a solo project. So, it kind of fell together and that’s why I decided to release those two songs first. Because they were the sparks that ignited the flame, so to speak.”
What about your musical background and influences?
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was a kid, probably twenty years now. It’s crazy to say that, but I should be way better with twenty years under my belt, haha. I’m almost thirty-three and I think I started playing around when I was ten or something. When I was younger, from my early twenties I would say, I had a few other bands playing Metalcore and some pretty awful things, haha. But I also wasn’t that invested in any of it. I always was a guitarist prior to BlackBraid, I just played guitar.”
“Looking back on those bands I had when I was younger, I was not doing much of the writing. I’d write solos and harmonies and stuff, but not the meat of the song. I wasn’t as invested in the content, you know? At that point, I just thought it was a way to meet girls and have fun, haha. As I got older, things got nuts and I stopped having time to play music. I probably stopped for five years… no, more like seven or eight years without writing anything before BlackBraid. You know, I always mess around and practice and what not, but I didn’t write anything substantial that I was super proud of in that period.”
“Last year it really started to come to me a bit more. My wife and I bought our house in 2020 and we got to move further into the wilderness, a spot we really love. I think that was a big catalyst too, to be able to get out of town. Being in my seclusion and in nature again. I really started to write much faster once we’ve moved here. That’s definitely a big part of it too, I think. Like it has come full circle. I grew up in the country; in a very rural area, not too far from here, actually.”
“Nature’s always been a huge part of my life, but as I got older and went to school, I ended up living in cities for a while. When my wife and I met, we lived in a small city called Albany, which is one and a half/two hours South from here. But she grew up in the country too, we both love nature and solitude, so our goal was to find something to return to that. It felt like a ton of weight fell off my shoulders when we were able to leave the city. I don’t really do well living in cities.”
“Regarding my influences, I do love all the classic stuff, I won’t really go through much of that. But I was raised on a lot of the Scandinavian stuff, as far as Black Metal goes, I really like the Finnish stuff, like Sargeist: a huge influence on me. I love Dissection, I think you can hear that a bit. From the United States I really like Uada, Wolves In The Throne Room. Watain is a big one for me as well, those guys are amazing. But I think I wanted to take Dissection or Sargeist and make an album pretty much in the same vein. There isn’t really a Native Black Metal band doing that, so I kind of wanted to take it and make it the best of both worlds. Take that sound and stay true to it and change the subject matter I guess.”
When did your interest for your heritage begin? Was it something you were brought up with?
“Yes and no. I grew up really close to nature, with my family we were camping and fishing all the time. And I’ve been tracking deer from a pretty young age, and I know how to tan hides and pelts. It was always relevant to me, but it wasn’t until I was much older, like in my mid-twenties, that I had much interest in the spiritual aspects of it. It kind of came full circle then. But that nature side has always been with me.”
Do you live on your ancestors’ ground?
“No, I’m not, I was born in the South. I was adopted at birth, my ancestors are like Southern natives. But I’ve lived in North America my whole life, but I’m not Mohawk. My blood is not Mohawk or Iroquoian, I don’t want to confuse people with that because of the Mohawk name. I took that moreso to honor them, because it’s the land that I live on and where most of the inspiration for BlackBraid comes from.”
Do you have any idea why it is that Indigenous Black Metal has gained popularity since, say the last decade?
“I think it’s kind of the perfect storm. Which has definitely helped me as well. If you ask me, it’s a mix of a couple of things. Within the last ten years it has become pretty easy for people to record music at home by themselves. As opposed to having to go to a studio and pay for it for a week; recording twenty/thirty years ago was a much more expensive process. But I also think that Black Metal as a whole just in the last ten years has really blown up. The subgenre is huge now. Thousands of bands and it keeps expanding. There’s great stuff coming out, but how many Satanic Black Metal albums have come out? Or Norse Pagan Black Metal albums? Obviously that stuff is great and everyone listens to that.”
“But it’s almost like if you see just another cookie cutter Satanic or Dark Fantasy album and you don’t play it because you’ve heard so much of it already, you know? There’s so many of us that love Black Metal, all of us are pretty into the obscure stuff and we’re constantly searching for some sort of Black Metal we haven’t heard yet. The scene is so oversaturated at the moment. I think maybe it’s the situation where there’s not much out there for Native Black Metal. So, when some of us does do something, there’s not a lot of competition you know? It seems to take off a little easier and I guess that’s really an advantage right now.”
Especially in North America there are ongoing lawsuits and cases from indigenous people against companies and states to reclaim their land. Resulting in regular news coverage, and recently Pope Francis made apologies for the Catholic Church’s role in the oppression, mistreatment and cultural genocide of indigenous people in Canada. Do you think that these matters also contribute to the popularity of N.A.B.M.?
“I think all of that is definitely a huge underlying factor with everything as well. That’s probably one of the things that makes Native Black Metal seem so genuine and so interesting to plenty of people. Because the subgenre of Black Metal, if you think of Black Metal, you’ll most likely think of classic early nineties Black Metal. Scandinavian stuff, you know? That was where Black Metal was “born”, so to speak. And the movement became a thing. If you look at those bands that define Black Metal, regardless of what they were doing, pretty much all of them are very Anti-Christian. Whether they are Satanic, Pagan or Atheist, Black Metal inherently is a rebellion against Christian oppression.”
“Especially in the nineties, it’s very different today even in Europe, but back then everything was so Christian and so taboo to not be Christian, or to go against it or to call them out on the atrocities they did. I’d say the heart of Black Metal is really rebelling against Christian oppression, no matter how you decide to do it. You can write any Black Metal you want, but the Native American experiences are full of sadness and anger. There’s a lot of real genuine feelings to draw on and I think that makes it a bit more relatable. Also, more interesting than another Lord of the Rings-album, haha.”
What holds the near future for BlackBraid? Are you planning on playing live?
“We just announced our first show actually. October 7th at St. Vitus in New York City. That’s a 2-day festival with a bunch of other indigenous metal bands. Should be pretty awesome. We play on night one with Pan-Amerikan Native Front headlining and Lamp of Murmur headlines the second night. And I think, I haven’t said anything about it yet, but I think we’re going to play a show in Los Angeles in September. Very shortly when the album comes out. I’ve got the live line-up ready, they just started rehearsing and I’ll be joining them soon. Starting this Fall you’ll be seeing us play live more and we’re hoping to go pretty heavy in the latter half of 2023. You can probably except to see us abroad at some point next year.”