Blackbraid on the brink of glory

Living in the Adirondacks near Sacandaga Lake in Spectulator is a star among black metal fans. Over the next few months, his profile in the genre is set to rise even higher.

Blackbraid, the stage name of Capital Region native and solo Native American artist Sgah’gahsowáh, recently announced that his second full-length album will be released on Friday, July 7th. “Blackbraid II” comes on the heels of his first national tour, which kicks off this week. Both the tour and the new album build on the buzz he garnered for his 2022 self-titled debut, a surprise hit that became a top-seller on Bandcamp last summer and was announced as a 14th best metal album of the year by Rolling Stone.

When he first started recording material as Blackbraid a few years ago, this type of success wasn’t on Sgah’gahsowáh’s mind. He worked full time as a carpenter and just wanted to have fun and exercise his creativity.

“He is quite mad,” said Sgah’gahsowáh. “I’ve been a musician all my life, playing guitar is my bread and butter, but it’s been five to 10 years since I’ve played music at all, before that I was into smaller, (uglier) stuff when I was young. Then I met my wife, got married, traveled, bought a house, all these (things).

“Until the summer of 2020, music was more of a hobby at this point,” he continued. “I messed around with some instrumentals and liked them so much that I knew I wanted to make a full album. It was supposed to be a side venture that I would put on Bandcamp, maybe press a few CDs. Then it went number one on Bandcamp for a while, it was crazy. Now there’s this tour that’s really wild. I’m 30 years old and I never planned to make music for a career until now.”

And it definitely became a full-time career for Sgah’gahsowáh. He’s an independent artist, not signed to a record label and wants to stay that way. The Blackbraid business is a two-person enterprise; he handles the musical end of the operation, while his wife manages the logistics and “makes sure everything runs smoothly.”

Just as he did not expect music to become his main occupation, Sgah’gahsowáh did not know that maintaining it would be so intense.

“I’ve turned down every metal label under the sun and I’m really sticking to being independent,” he said. “My label is unnecessary. We’re in a very unique position where my wife and I handle everything a label would do. She is the other half of Blackbraid and makes everything functional. She handles the merchandise, the design elements, really heads up the business side. Everything a label would do, it does.

“It’s still definitely extremely stressful; Last year at this time I quit my job as a carpenter — building houses, doing crafts — because Blackbraid became a significant income,” added Sgah’gahsowáh. “I thought, ‘Oh man, I’m a professional musician now, life is going to be so great.'” It’s a lot more stressful than working 40 hours a week. Blackbraid is my baby and is on my mind 24/7. Organizing everything from the shop, the delivery, the recording, it’s very difficult not to work.”

Sgah’gahsowáh’s workload continues to grow. He wanted to keep Blackbraid as a studio project and until recently kept turning down shows until he got offers he couldn’t refuse. His current tour is sponsored by Metal Blade Records and Decibel Magazine, key brands in the metal world, and features major black metal bands Dark Funeral and Cattle Decapitation as headliners. On June 15, in what he describes as “the moment I made it,” Blackbraid will play the same stage as Kiss at HellFest just outside Paris, France.

Since Blackbraid is solo in the studio, Sgah’gahsowáh had to assemble a band for these performances. To accomplish this, Sgah’gahsowáh turned to Eduardo “EDO” Mora, who runs the Los Angeles-based, all-local black metal label Night of the Palemoon.

“The guys I use live are friends from LA,” explained Sgah’gahsowáh. “After Blackbraid got to the point where we had to do live shows, I talked to EDO about getting the line-up together. It was kind of nerve-wracking, but I trust him with my music.

“All the other members have their own solo thing, which is honestly pretty standard for black metal to be solo projects,” he continued. “All these dudes are great and no stranger to the dynamic (of being an accompanist on a solo project), they understand my work and it works out great. We are really pumped to play.”

Putting together an all-local black metal band was, all things considered, pretty simple. Black and death metal are thriving subcultures in Native American communities, and Blackbraid joins the likes of Lamp of Murmuur and Of Feather and Bone as local acts to break through the genre.

Black metal and its themes are rooted in Scandinavian culture. As Sgah’gahsowáh explains, the music translates seamlessly to indigenous peoples and their cultural experiences.

“I’ve been listening to black metal for many, many years, since I was a teenager. It’s kind of the default,” he said. “I’m a very nature-oriented person and I spend a lot of time in the wilderness, which goes hand-in-hand (with black metal). If you look at the origins of black metal in Scandinavia in the 80s and 90s, there are pagan, anti-Christian, nature-worshipping themes. This goes hand in hand with the Native American experience; the themes are interchangeable with both cultures.

“Pagan religions in Scandinavia were suppressed and subjected to rape and murder by white Christians, it’s quite a bloody story,” added Sgah’gahsowáh. “Most Indians I know would say they experienced the same treatment from white Christians. Black metal is about the divinity of nature. It is based more on oppression than rebellion, which is more suited to the local culture and experience.”

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