Jul 032023

(Andy Synn takes a second look at Blackbraid and their new album)

The thing about overhyping a band, or an album, is that it doesn’t really leave you much room to manoeuvre in the future.

After all, if [Record A] was so perfect how is it possible that [Record B] – which we all agree is an altogether superior and more mature piece of work – is somehow better?

Case in point, while Blackbraid II undoubtedly improves upon its predecessor in a myriad of subtle ways it’s also not without its flaws, which I’d imagine presents certain writers/reviewers with a difficult decision to make.

Because either they acknowledge that II is the better album despite its imperfections – in which case they have to admit that they went a little overboard with praising I – or they have to continue to pretend that the band can do no wrong… in which case, how is it possible to improve on perfection?

As you may have guessed, my own opinion on Blackbraid II sits closer to the former option than the latter (though I think I was far more measured in my analysis than most), building as it does on the already well-crafted blueprint of the band’s first album by adding a little more intensity, a little more intricacy (especially in the bass, which is an unexpected and understated highlight) and an extra dash of atmospheric depth.

It isn’t perfect by any means – band mastermind Sgah’gahsowáh occasionally has a tendency to get stuck on a certain idea/refrain a little too long, and there are a couple of tracks which just kind of trail off towards the end (and the less said about “Twilight Hymn…”, which sticks out like a veritable sore thumb, then better) – but the highs far outweigh the lows.

The opening one-two of “Autumnal Hearts Ablaze” and “The Spirit Returns”, for example, immediately sets a high bar – one which many of the subsequent tracks will at least go on to equal, if not exceed – with the scene-setting acoustic slow-burn of the former eventually erupting into the latter’s blazing brilliance (which gives you your first taste of the album’s increased intensity).

Sure, they’re not going to be getting away from the Agalloch/Uada/Panopticon comparisons any time soon (not that they’d necessarily want to) but – in a world where the same people who would criticise Blackbraid for this are more than happy to go gaga over the latest Mayhem or Marduk clone – it’d be churlish not to appreciate just how good this record is when it really hits its stride.

Whether that’s the high-energy, hook-heavy attack of “The Wolf That Guides…”, the back-to-back epics of “Moss Covered Bones…” and “A Song of Death…” (both of which manage to incorporate some subtle, but striking, indigenous influences), or the captivating catharsis of closer “Sadness and the Passage of Time and Memory” (which is easily the best track on the album, and one of the best songs of the band’s short but storied career thus far) there’s no shortage of energy or emotion on display across the length and breadth of the album.

That being said, the album’s length is one thing that sometimes works against it, especially on multiple re-listens, and I’d argue that cutting both “Spells of Moon and Earth” and “Celestial Passage”, as well as the aforementioned ill-fitting “Twilight Hymn…”, would have condensed and consolidated things into an even stronger whole, but that’s very much just conjecture at this point.

The truth is that while Blackbraid II probably won’t win over the critics and doubters of the band’s first album – one other consequence of overhyping things, of course, is that certain people will inevitably turn against them on principle – it definitely solidifies them as a vital, albeit still developing, new voice, whose best, in my opinion at least, is still to come!


  1. Great review!

    I am beyond pumped for this!

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