GRÄFENSTEIN, Skull Baptism (2010, Black Hate Productions)

The skull:
They went literal here, and found a pair of hands holding a skull, as if to dunk it in a baptismal font or something, and then, I guess, they did a really bad job with the magic wand tool in Photoshop, grabbing a messy blob of the original image and plunking it on a white background. Then they made it all dark and murky and evil. Then they called it a day. Well, they did slap the band’s logo on the skull, but it’s impossible to read, so thanks for nothing, guys.

The music:
Although Gräfenstein are nominally a black metal band, 25% or more of the riffs in their songs are straight up thrash. It’s a weird combination, because for the most part they don’t blend the two styles (except for an occasional black metal barre-chord riff with a thrash beat). Instead, they just alternate between the two distantly-related modes. So while “Monarch of Scorn” starts with a barrage of thrash riffs that go on for close to a minute, it ends in a blur of black metal blasts and expectorative rasping. Both identities of the band are competent, even good, although I prefer the thrashing to the blackening, because that’s my nature. They even throw in a little neoclassical noodling in “Vermin.” All in all, this is a strange album that I can’t say I love outright, but I do find it generally appealing. The playing is sharp, the sound is abrasive but not off-putting, and the intensity is undeniable. If they’re able to better incorporate their disparate elements in the future, I could see myself really digging this band.
— Friar Johnsen

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