February 2011 - REALMBUILDER
I Hate Records is one such label that actively supports the metal underground for many years. The musical spectrum ranges from doom to thrash metal and on to heavy metal. In doing this, they set value on quality and stay unaffected by the latest trend. This is an attitude, which I truly appreciate. It is not surprising, therefore, that New York's REALMBUILDER landed there, because their first LP 'Summon the Stone Throwers' fits marvellously into the label roster. As more and more bands try to achieve new levels of sonic brutality, REALMBUILDER place greater value on melodies and minimalism. Thereby the music draws from influences of the NWOBHM as well as from 1970's hardrock and epic doom metal. One could now believe that Craig Czar Zahler (vocals, drums) and J.H. Halberd (guitar, bass, keyboards) have joined the hordes of retro bands, but that is not the case.
They succeeded in creating a timeless and emotionally charged sound that is very different from the metal fashion these days. Obviously, REALMBUILDER have a clear musical perspective which, despite its close ties with the history of heavy metal, is open to further musical influences. I thought it was about time to get to the bottom of things. So I contacted Craig Czar Zahler, who is one of the creative forces behind REALMBUILDER, in the hope of finding the secret behind the alchemistic procedure, which has lead to 'Summon the Stone Throwers'. It is almost needless to say that I was also interested in Czar's musical background and I can therefore only hope that you feel well entertained by the newest investigations of Cosmic Lava.
Hey Czar, let us start with the founding story of REALMBUILDER. When did you form the band and when did you meet J.H. Halberd?
Czar: J.H. Halberd and I have been friends since the eighties - we met in Junior High school in Florida and grew up listening to and exploring music together. Over the years, J.H. Halberd and I jointly worked on assorted musical projects, and our aesthetic progressed from aggressive, technical material to more stately, mature and emotional music. In 2008 we decided that we needed to create an epic metal band, and so Realmbuilder came into being.
What have you done before REALMBUILDER?
Czar: J.H. Halberd and I had a band called Wombatt that eventually became the progressive thrash band Oligarchy. I also worked with my friend Marty 'Worm' Rytkonen on a primitive black metal project called Charnel Valley, whose albums were released by Paragon Records.
Was it planned from the very beginning to start as a two-man band or was it more or less coincident?
Czar: J.H. Halberd and I enjoy working together and are a good creative match as well as great friends. We knew that we wanted an additional player for lead guitar, but that the core of every song would be generated by us alone.
Have you ever played live (with additional guest musicians) or are you not interested in playing gigs?
Czar: We are interested in playing live, but it is not a priority for us. Writing and recording albums is our focus, and we have recently completed our second album, 'Fortifications of the Pale Architect'. And already, we have begun writing and rehearsing material for our third release.
For me personally, your debut album 'Summon the Stone Throwers' is a very individual work. It has nothing to do with current metal trends even when there are some obvious influences from the 1970's and 1980's. But I wouldn't say that's a retrospective album, because I don't have the impression that you were trying to revive old times by any means necessary. What do you think about your record and can you agree with my assessment?
Czar: I agree with your assessment - Realmbuilder music taps into an older feeling, but we are not a "retro" group. We do not take music from older bands nor do we try to imitate any one specific act. Our music is informed by many very different bands from the last forty years (eg. Manilla Road, Angel Witch, Manowar, Dark Quarterer, King Crimson, Summoning, Immortal, DoomSword, Morningstar, Emperor, Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult, Reverend Bizarre, Heavy Load, Ironsword, etc.) but there isn't any one band we try to emulate. Our spirit is ancient, but out music is new.
Have you been influenced by Bathory's 'Hammerheart'/'Twilight of the Gods' period?
Czar: Not directly, no. The albums that influenced those Bathory albums influenced us - particularly 'Sign of the Hammer', 'Into Glory Ride', 'Battle Hymns' and, to a lesser extent, 'Ride the Lightning'.
The Middle Ages runs like a red thread through your album. There are some medieval melodies and the unique cover artwork as well as the album title evokes memories of a fantasy novel. Would you say that 'Summon the Stone Throwers' is a concept album and what fascinates you about the old times?
Czar: 'Summon the Stone Throwers' is not a proper concept album, but yes, it is a cohesive and remote world built with related slabs of rock. The time period and fantastical elements do make it feel like a larger experience, and certainly a song about fast cars or modern warfare would feel out of place on 'Summon the Stone Throwers', so there is an underlying concept of a singular world. As songwriters, we try to craft melodies and lyrics that lift the listener from reality - most of our favorite music and fiction accomplish this. Although we like music that assaults the listener - things like Mayhem's 'Wolf's Lair Abyss' or Emperor's 'Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk' or Blood of Kingu's 'House of the Rising Scorpion', most of our favorite music (and fiction) invites rather than repels the listener.
Who painted the cover artwork?
Czar: It was a joint effort - I conceived of and drew the cover and Carolanne Leslie painted it in and enriched the details.
Please talk a little bit about the recording? Where was it recorded, how long did it take? Who produced it?
Czar: J.H. Halberd engineered and produced 'Summon the Stone Throwers'. We were in a studio in Wisconsin for eight days, typically for more than twelve hours each day. This was followed by several more sessions of guitar tracking during the following winter.
Your album has been released by I Hate Records. How does this come about?
Czar: A very good friend of mine named Jeff Wagner (whom I met when he hired me as a writer for Metal Maniacs magazine in the late nineties) thought that I Hate Records would be a great label for Realmbuilder. He was right!
Apart from REALMBUILDER, you are involved in two more bands called Charnel Valley and Wombatt. Tell me more about it.
Czar: Wombatt is defunct. It turned into the raw progressive thrash project Oligarchy, the debut album of which will be completed in the not too distant future. Charnel Valley is on hiatus, but Worm and I have recently discussed making a third album, and intend to do so at some point.
Which of the three bands is the most important for you?
Czar: Realmbuilder is my priority - I have always wanted to do music like this. J.H. Halberd and I are always working on Realmbuilder material and have lots of plans for this band.
What are the next plans for the band?
Czar: I Hate Records will release our second album, 'Fortifications of the Pale Architect', on colored limited-edition vinyl this winter. The album is complete and we are finalizing the promotional materials right now. Look for songs on our myspace page in the near future!
Thanks a lot - once again, excuse me for the delay. Is there anything you would like to add?
Czar: Thank you very much for your kind words and support, and I'd also like to thank all of our supporters in the heavy metal underground. Blow the ancient horn!