I am not sure, if I should call BULWARK a project, a band, a collection or a train wreck. Swiss multi-instrumentalist Thomas Fässler decided to go all out for his solo debut “Variance” and created twelve tracks that cover a fairly wide spectrum of Metal, Heavy, Folk, Power, Thrash, Death and most things in-between, all with different (Swiss) vocalists and all on one album. Now I like my variety, don’t get me wrong, but if there is this much going on, how cohesive can the whole thing still be? Some artists spread spectra like this out over several releases in order to keep the integrity of the album intact, but there also are instances, where this works out fine, since there still is some sort of thin red line threading through, connecting all the dots.
It is very difficult to write about a review, where most songs sound quite different from each other short from a track-by-track, which is a style I usually despise and only use with some compilations, but let’s see how I can compact this... The info sheet talks about “the uncompromising realization of musical ideas” and if uncompromising means that he does what he wants, no matter what the consequence for the album is going to be, yes, then Thomas definitely succeeded. I’ve been around the Metal scene for a long time and out of the featured vocalists, I have not even heard OF most of the bands let alone heard them, former ELUVEITIE member Sevan Kirder definitely is the best-known name out of the bunch.
Now with such a wide array of styles, it is very important to really have all ducks lined up and be spot on, so that the single songs manage to catch your attention instead of just making you bounce around like a pinball and this is the first problem of “Variance”, because the individual compositions only rarely are strong enough to carry the album forward. On the other hand the production values are stellar, the sound is very transparent and clear, while the musicianship itself also does not leave anything to be desired, with the exception of the sterile drum computer sound, but that’s something that has plagued many artists in the past. Unfortunately the quality of the vocal performances is by far not as positive, since a fair amount resorts to the modern and groovy Thrash scream, which does not only not sit too well with my personal tastes, but also does not do much in terms of character or variety, which doesn’t help.
Opener “Collecting Chi” with the already mentioned Servan Kirder, is somewhat groovy and vocally features both powerful clear vocals and the Groove Thrash bark, but musically adds some flute, some percussion and even some Spanish acoustic guitar over the Metal portions, played pretty hard, which creates a very interesting atmosphere, so it all starts out pretty good. Then we have to skip two tracks of Thrash and Groove Thrash (good riffing, but the rest is so-so) to get to the next track worth mentioning, which is “Twoface” (featuring INISHMORE’s Ramin Dänzer), which showcases far more melodies, some oriental riffing, both clear and growled vocals and overall a nice Folk influence.
“Reap What You Sow” shows more of a Melodic Death Metal influence with modern undertones and a Folk riff at the end, while closing “Last Chance” is a good ballad with cello, acoustic guitars and a male/female duet, which also can be put into the “good pile”, but the rest is either nice and unspectacular or overall generic and thus not really interesting to me and probably the majority of other Metal fans out there that might come across BULWARK’s debut album.
Overall a very ambitious project of the Swiss multi-instrumentalist, but in the end it fails in too many areas and while the potential to create something truly interesting and outstanding is there, there still is far too much work to be done in order to achieve this, only time will tell, if he will find the time and courage to go at it for a second time or if this is a one-off endeavour. I just can’t really recommend this one...
(Online October 10, 2010)