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Thor's Hammer Productions rightly called this full-length debut from the Netherlands (South Holland) "black metal album of the year." However, I am adding that this Scandinavian-influenced, true black metal (no keys, symphonic, female, insane, or clear vocals), is also the very best dark, fast, true black metal full-length ever produced! This melodic, yet raw masterpiece surpasses them all, since the inception of black metal.
Haatstorm has a relentless, ancient, black metal feel that stands in a class of its own, as for example Taake, whereas Zwartplaag does not sound like the Taake horde. Haatstorm presents a new, unique brand of melodic, spine-tingling darkness using buzzing guitars. The epic-sounding lead guitars have not been heard like this since Sacramentum's "Far Away From the Sun," all the way back to 1996, yet Zwartplaag do not sound much like the Sacramentum horde.
All the music on Haastorm makes you feel like you are experiencing a mass grave site, as one of the best tracks suggests "Imperial Death March". Every track (except the intro and outro) has memorable riffing and a new, unique, very dark, black metal feel that far surpass everything for the genre. The bass, drums, guitar and vocals perfectly fit together for each track, and create the tightest horde for a debut. Each musician is already one of the best in his class.
Heiden's Hart jointly released Haatstorm with Thor's Hammer. Only label-mate Cultus, on "A Seat in Vahalla" has any of the special, unique sounds of Haatstorm, yet Zwartplaag do not sound like Cultus. The production is of the highest quality, yet dark black metal rawness strongly comes through the entire CD. A perfect hour long LP that you will not get tired of, with less than a minute of crap between the Intro and Outro.
It is very fitting that Zwartplaag and Faagrim (Christhunt) have since produced a 2011 split on Thor's Hammer Productions "United Wolfish Hordes" both horde's previous offerings producing what I designate as the number one full-length true black CDs for 2010 and 2009, respectively. A final note, the CD cover has the usual embedded female body parts, but Haatstorm's deserve special mention, surpassing those of Black Horizons (2nd LP), Hat (1st LP), and Purest LP covers for this seldom-mentioned feature of the genre—100%.
A mention of the Netherlands instantly brings to mind death metal stalwarts God Dethroned. However, while bands such as the aforementioned and Sever Torture have managed to garner a respectable fanbase, Zwartplaag lies among the many ugly black metal bands lurking in the underground, with Haatstorm being the debut full length release after numerous demos over the years.
With the band's name roughly translated as the black plague, and with an album title named hate-storm, there is certainly high hopes for the music, bringing to mind a vision of dirty black metal, and fortunately Haatstorm does not disappoint. The album opens with a short introductory track, with martial drums in the background and a synth driven melody, giving way to the sound of battle, and instantly the association with Tolkien and epic black metal bands such as Summoning is brought to mind, but this is just one of the masks put on by Zwartplaag, to catch the unsuspecting listener off guard.
As the main onslaught begins with Forgotten Tower of the Moon, the similarity in the music to Scandinavian bands such as Satanic Warmaster and Horna are drawn. The fuzzy guitar tone, the riffs pulled off by Onmensch sound as if they could sit comfortably in a Satanic Warmaster record. The layering of the main riff below the lead guitar riff on songs such as Countess of Blood prominently displays the band's influences as well, backed by the seemingly simple and primitive drumming of Misanthropist.
Dagon's vocals also sound like a cross between Satyricon's Satyr and Satanic Warmaster's Nazgul, making the music on Haatstorm sound as if Satyr appeared on a Satanic Warmaster album. Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, coming from someone who consistently follows and likes the outputs coming from both bands. However, one thing that probably got on my nerves as the album drawn on was the echo effects that are used on Dagon's vocals. While it was hardly noticeable on the first half of the album, they start to get pretty obvious on the second half, with the echo constantly present and sounding overused.
Another factor that could possibly make listening to Haatstorm a challenge are the lengths of the tracks. Excluding the intro and outro tracks, the other songs typically range from 6 minutes to 7:30 minutes, making listeners who lack the patience be unable to experience the album in one sitting. While the first listen to the album got me turning it off by the fourth track, subsequent listens see me putting the album on repeat.
Other Dutch black metal bands that I have encountered such as (oh I'm so gonna get flamed for this) Countess have failed to grabbed any of my attention, yet it is gratifying to know how Zwartplaag, with Haatstorm has managed to sufficiently do so.