Review: BlackbraidBlackbraid II

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I’m not sure what’s been different about this summer.

Normally the high temperatures and unforgiving levels of southern humidity get me in the mood to blast my eardrums with nothing but the scuzziest of the fuzziest (stoner/sludge/doom), but not this year. This year the soundtrack for my summer has been an absolutely heaping pile of black metal. And if you’ve kept your ear to the ground of the scene, you’ve probably heard about Blackbraid, the one-man indigenous black metal project of Sgah’gahsowáh. Blackbraid I was one of my favorite finds of the early summer, so I’ve been pretty excited to see how Blackbraid II compares.

There are a lot of black metal artists out there who are perfectly content to alternate between a few dissonant chords for 6-8 minutes, which I certainly don’t mind. Blackbraid is not one of them. This album has riffs aplenty and seasons them with some nice meaty chugs. As good as the guitar work on this album is, I think the real star here is the drums. The blast beats on this record are fairly sparse by black metal standards, but when they do come in, they are absolutely pummeling. In the absence of blast beats, there are lots of snare and cymbal fills to keep the listener engaged.

Speaking of engaging, the album keeps you pulled in by throwing in some softer tracks. I really like when albums do that. It keeps things from all blending together. These tracks are largely composed of acoustic guitars paired with some traditional Native American instrumentation. I feel like flute is a hard one to swing in metal. I often find it distracting or out of place, but in the tracks where it’s present, it feels right at home.

My complaints with the album are pretty few and far between. The back half of the record feels like it loses momentum. I think the most likely reason for this is that there are two massive tracks back-to-back, with “A Song of Death on Winds of Dawn,” the second of the two, feeling like it drags on a little too long. Other than that, I don’t really have much to critique. The production on this album is crisp and clean and nothing really gets washed out, but I might like a little bit more bass guitar in the mix. Of course, that could totally just be my bias as a low-end lad myself.

I’ve really taken my time to mull over this one. There’s been a lot of praise for this album and I wanted to take a step back and decide if, after a few good listens, it’s still worth that hype. After careful consideration, I would say that it is. Even though Blackbraid II isn’t reinventing the wheel, Sgah’gahsowáh has presented us with a mighty fine wheel to roll. I think it’s an improvement on Blackbraid I and a record that I’m happy to recommend to anyone looking for an entry point into melodic black metal, or even for just some good ol’ tremolo-picking comfort food.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Blackbraid II is out now via Neuropa Records.

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