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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.