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Label: Lommebejer Records / Release date: 15th September 2023
Scandi DIY-ers Swartzheim are at it again. After a rather quiet 2021 debut, these Crossover-thrash Danes have spent two years “consolidating themselves as a live entity”, primarily playing gigs, clubs, parties and festivals in their native Denmark. They also won the Danish version of Wacken Metal Battle this year. The band describe themselves as having been formed back in 2018, when the members were still in school. They released their debut – and to date only – full length album in 2021. The first album is entitled Clinical Nightmare and was the pure definition of DIY. Self-produced, self-released, the whole shebang. This is not a review of Clinical Nightmare, but it’s still worth knowing where these guys are coming from in order to figure out where they’re trying to go next. Because Sympathy is clearly a step towards something new and I’ll be honest here: something new was needed.
Clinical Nightmare was not what I would classify as a bad first album, but it lacked focus, atmosphere and feel, all of which were the direct result of inexperienced production, at least that’s how I see it. But beyond the murkiness and general lack of distinct direction (primarily sound-wise), there was still something there. Their debut album is not the sort of thing you would find on repeat in my house, but it was an effort that made me think whatever they released next might be good. Going into Sympathy, I wanted to hear a band who had matured whilst still sticking to their Thrashy guns.
This EP does not hang around waiting for you to get ready. Fuck no, it jumps straight into things with an unapologetic title-track that already feels more evolved and thorough than anything found on Clinical Nightmare and it’s impossible not to be intrigued by this start. The opener is groovy and driven by solid basslines and aggressive riffing from the trio of guitars, but it’s the drumming and vocals that really stand out. Vocalist Jeppe Halse Fugleberg deserves a lot of praise for incorporating clean-ish vocals at times, and by that I mean that there’s more to the vocals here than rumbling and screaming, which was not the case on their debut album. There is a clear classic-rock/metal influence at play here which is anything but usual when we’re talking about crossover thrash. This leads to a fresh feel and I can’t help but admire the fact that Swartzheim are clearly unafraid to do their own thing. The drums are where it’s at though. Sebastian Vestergaard is not simply holding down the rhythmic end, he’s sitting in the background doing all he’s supposed to do, whilst also effortlessly showing off nifty little fills whenever it’s appropriate.
And this carries over to track number two, “Artillery”. This might be a nod to the legendary Danish thrashers in Artillery, but that’s neither here nor there. This track is a banger that evokes the aforementioned Artillery, but also bands like Municipal Waste, which cannot be bad. The flow is purposefully interrupted and this song is full of breakdowns, yet the aggression comes across perfectly, the backbone is there in the form of bass, drums and rhythm guitar, the solos are soaring yet never feels stale or unoriginal, and the vocal is pure crossover thrash and straight up brutal. You can’t follow up the opener any better than this.
The third track, “Execute”, carries on in the same way and why not? These dudes aren’t changing what works, except for bringing back more classic vocals to the mix, but it ends up feeling entirely appropriate. The anger, angst and pure hatred for the world is shining through in the best way possible ad it’s fantastically clear that these guys are no longer lost in the wilderness, looking for their sound. I’d like to highlight the short guitar-solo found approximately halfway through “Execute” because it’s a thing of beauty and the perfect example of how you can incorporate classic soloing into a genre as modern and abrasive as crossover thrash. Wonderful.
Sympathy ends with “Project 5” and this one is driven by guitars whilst the drums do their flashy, perfect little thing. The riffing is super solid, the soundscape is deep, rumbling and thorough and I’m just letting these masters lead me along now. This is a very good end to an incredible journey, however short. I’m still awestruck as to how Swartzheim have managed to incorporate different influences and feels into a 4-track EP and managed to achieve the flow and atmosphere that they have. Clinical Nightmare was floundering and clearly a case of 6 musicians looking for a way to coexist and create together. Sympathy represents exactly what you’d want from Swartzheim going forward: unapologetic crossover-thrash that is happy to throw in classic metal-influences. This all leads to a very solid effort and I’m genuinely excited for their next full-length album. If it’s anything like this taster then watch out, because these Danes are here to take over the world of crossover thrash and I’m the new leader of the bandwagon.