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One of the most interesting aspects of New York's Realmbuilder is how, in the construction of their fantastical mythos, they often approach the world-building from a 'ground level' perspective. That is, they tell the tails of the highwayman, the builder, the miner, the peasant, the beholden of the heroic setting, rather than taking the easy way out and scrawling out some woefully generic fantasy tripe involving a cut & paste warrior and his cakewalk over evil wizards and/or dragonkind. Basically, they're the anti-Rhapsody. It's all in their chosen moniker, and the duo's proves all too loyal towards the themes of their sophomore Fortifications of the Pale Architect, a consistent and well written bridge between the first and third records, both stylistically and qualitatively.
Yes, Realmbuilder is the polar opposite of all the frivolous, ribbon-wearing flower metal which thrives upon speed, sugary melodies and fits of classical orchestration to make its point. This is the metal of masons, of craftsmen, laborers who serve beneath their masters, trying to eke out a stable living in an age of sorcerous and barbaric oppression. As 'worker placement' games like Agricola or Pillars of the Earth are to the board game genre, so Fortifications is to the world of heavy/doom metal, and it's a major draw for me. I feel that the instinctual comparisons to Manilla Road or Manowar remain intact: there are obvious Sabbath-borne riffing progressions, and some melodic glazing redolent of Omen, but the honest timbre of Czar's voice reflects that Man-ly sensibility, a guy working with what he's got and not what the genre stereotypes tell us we need. So no screaming, or excess musicality or ability to his music, just pure working class sincerity, with which he manages to work wonders. I mentioned in my review of the third album that it took some getting accustomed to, but going back in time, I wonder why I ever might have hesitated...he's distinct, and plugged into the harmonic vocal arrangements that often spring up in these songs, quite a flawless fit.
Architecturally, the riffs are still extremely simple, as are the drums, with the bass taking a mere support role (not a forte on this disc). But here's the catch: they're relatively memorable, and for all the head scratching about where I've heard them individually in the past, which often soils my experience with a record, I feel like they actually have a unique quality, making chord choices that I really would only expect from this band. As usual, the material is slower in nature, steady and very stripped down...no complexities to distract from the duo's strict adherence to theme. You will feel, in every single track on this sophomore, exactly as if you'd been thrust into the world they've created, which seems like a pastiche of pulp 60s-70s fantasy influences ala Howard, Moorcock, Lewis, Wolfe, Lieber and Saberhagen. Blue collar melodies are about the only uptempo component which breaks from this mold, but when we're in the mood for tales of empires being carved from wood and stone, the pacing here really is effective in relaying the appropriate atmosphere, without ever reducing itself to a glacial procession as you'll find in much monotonous doom.
Seven tracks, nothing wasted, nothing exceedingly repetitious or welcome-wearing, even though the lyrical themes might even arguably lend themselves to such. The rhythm guitar tone is a bit dirtier than on the debut, but we're talking only the most miniscule difference. Aesthetically this throws no curve balls from Summoning the Stone Throwers, but the songs generally rule, in particular "Iron Wheels of the Siege Machines", "Highwayman" and the ridiculously-Bal-Sagoth-titled "The Stars Disappeared from the Sky When We Uncovered the Bones of the First Gods". But really, there is not one I would replace, because this band casts such a unique shadow of escapism that expands the history of their imaginative worlds...but unlike so many fantasy-based power and heavy metal bands, they show a willingness to first place the cornerstones, to harvest the soils, to hunt the beasts, and give us a rare glimpse of a humbler perspective, without betraying the grand concepts we hold so dear in that literary genre. Realmbuilder is a GREAT band, though the polished minimalism of their compositional aspirations might turn away those who seek something more solemn and crushing.
They say you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But on occasion, that could save you a lot of time.
Take Fortifications of the Pale Architect, for instance, the sophomore album of New York epic doomsters Realmbuilder. The cover looks like it was very earnestly created (in MSPaint) by someone with a rudimentary grasp of perspective, but without any real knack for composition, no comprehension of proportions of the human body, a lack of appreciation for the distinction between good and bad fantasy, a lazy streak--and most importantly, a complete inability to look at his own finished product and say, "Well, that sucks." Translate that critique of visual art into a critique of music, and you can see where this is headed.
These guys have a rudimentary grasp of what makes good metal. After innocuous horse sounds, the record begins on a nice NWOBHM-style riff. A handful of other riffs here are actually pretty good. A handful of the solos are very good as well. The vocal style is a non-horrible clean vocal in the vein of many of the lesser epic doom and NWOBHM vocalists--you know, the guys who aren't Marcolin or Dickinson. I don't think I can say anything else good about Fortifications.
Most of the riffs are awkwardly put-together, like the place where the title architect's hand meets his arm. (Is his forearm three inches long?) The title track is a perfect example, sounding little better than something my untalented high school band would have jammed on for seven minutes without any idea of where we were going. The solo is pretty cool, I admit, but then it comes to the worst aspect of this whole album.
Worse even than the numerous ungainly riffs is the ungraceful vocal phrasing. It's as if all the lyrics were written separately from the songs, and they were jammed together on the fly. "Iron Wheels of the Siege Machines" is the worst example, because while it starts out OK, it has one of the worst choruses I've ever heard.
Finally, I have to mention the fantasy aspect. From what lyrics I picked up, not all of it is particularly bad. No worse than your average power metal, anyway. But they named the album and gave it art based on the worst story of the bunch. Why is building a fortress all that cool?
Fix the ladders
Stack the stones
We build the wall that shields the empire
This kind of mom's basement level D&D is what gives fantasy, and metal, a bad name.
originally written for Doom-metal.com
Realmbuilder is a rather strange band whose music style I won't try to define, but as far as I am concerned, the epic metal tag fits them the best.
What do I mean by 'strange'? While most epic metal bands I can think of have either very high-pitched vocals, very often reaching falsettos, trying to sound as dramatic as it gets with a "don't worry sweet princess in high tower, I am coming to kill this dragon" kind of attitude, these guys sound way more majestic and real-balled. Probably most people's first association with epic metal is also Manilla Road and while I don't find many similarities, Realmbuilder is just like the formerly mentioned - one such band that bears the flag of the genre without pissing on it.
As you would suppose, everything in the world of this album is imaginary. Your modern world doesn't have a place in it. From the very introduction of the album you get a horse galloping together with a fast melodic guitar and a marching drum. The soldiers are riding behind their commander on a quest. Seriously, I have no idea what the song is about, but this is how it sounds to my ears. Its music exists in its own empire created by the band. The overall sound of the album is rather quirky and not absolutely to my liking. It smells like low budget production, but in a bad way. While sometimes this gives a more romantic old-school sound to a record, the guitar here sounds somehow "cut". I don't pretend to understand a lot from production and all, but it sometimes bugs the whole experience of the Fortifications of the Pale Architect.
Another plus for these guys is that they don't have heart-melting, cheesy ballads. The whole record is more about weaponry, iron sieges, savage man attacking one another rather then pink-coloured love stories. And while the band consists of only two men, it does sound full-blooded. Of course, if you forget the weird sound, which is kinda hard to forget, because it clings to your ears the whole time. I was recently thinking of what to listen to while I read some of the epic Robert Howard tales I found lying around and now I know. This album is great soundtrack to anything that you would need if you want to pretend you live in another world. The great guitar solos are also a huge helper to get soaked in the old-day like atmosphere. Also, while many might dislike the vocals, I do dig them. Not all epic/power metal has to be fronted by someone whimpering. The powerful riffs are strong and convincing. I don't want to evaluate their originality, but they sound brave enough for me to believe the guys.
It's good to hear some good epic metal these days, as most musicians tend to waver towards the clean production and generally appealing power-pop metal bullshit that big companies would sign.
The Tell of the Realmbuilder : The Epic Empire Will Live On
Prelude : There are some castles that will manage to succeed the test of time, hence preserving their cultural baggage with their solid walls. These structures will help the age old ideologists in their quest, a never ending homage to their gods, their influences, their mentors. In Realmbuilder's little but honest castle, there's an idol in the shape of a shark placed in the center of their chapel. Praise thy altar. Like the epic metal templars they are, criticism is nothing important, they'll keep fighting with the help of their proud sound. who cares what the more popular cults say, who cares what me, an apostle of no importance say.
Still, this is my testament to them. In my mind, in this era, this is a success in itself to follow the guidance of the Shark and his road to Manilla. Albeit being happy with the noble intentions of this duo from the New World, the great city of New York to be more precise. Before my continuation of this publication, I have to state that I am offering them my full approval. I'll gladly support their real metal crusade by offering my most sincere thoughts in a non apologetic manner.
Verse I - The Painting on the Walls : The cover art is quite interesting, it was done by Czar (drums, vocals, lyrics) and I really appreciate the old 80s fantasy video game/tabletop role playing game vibe. We have a caped tyrant looking at his spires outside his castle window and there's huge mountains in the background. It's a bit amateurish, but for the style they play, it fits, just like Manilla Road's artwork always fits their music even though it's obviously not the prettiest drawings around. Epic metal is not something that we should take very seriously, it's something that we should enjoy with our child hearts just like when I play Dungeons and Dragons. It's touching our imaginary perception, it touched mine at the very least.
Verse II - The Lyrical Approach : Czar, outside of his musical endeavors is also a novelist and screenwriter. So, we have a very vivid album with captivating ideas developed in an epic fashion. Nothing new that their forefathers haven't told us before though, we can read Howard's influence on Old Savage and A Conflict Between Dukes reminds me of the Dune saga by Frank Herbert. The lyrics are often simple, but full of imagery and they were fun to read. But in the end, they kind of fall short compared to some other songwriters such as Solstice or Atlantean Kodex. I'm sure the lyrics can be more complex and even more enjoyable.
Verse III - The Construction of a Realm : A kingdom, if you're not Alexander the Great, will take a lot of time to be established. If your desire is to enjoy life itself, you'll be better served with small pleasures. Being a visionnary is harsh and it's not given to everyone. What these two guys do is passionate epic heavy/doom for the initiated disciples and it's definitely full of nostalgia. It can be perceived as a middle of the road band, but with the amount of this kind of steel released, I'll gladly take what I can. They're not a lazy band, they do not sound like a particular band, instead they're encompassing many old school influences and making them their own.
My principal criticism towards their music is definitely the vocals, Czar's delivery is unorthodox and its power is lacking. Like Realmbuilder's overall sound, it took me a while to appreciate them and I'm still reluctant when I'm confronted with the album. I like the dynamic that we can find in a duo (I'm a fan of Darkthrone's modern and more traditional metal material) but I think the addition of a seasoned vocalist would be something welcome. He's not a bad singer, but I'd like more torque in his vocals. The moments with background/choirs vocals are well done though. His style is not nasal as Shelton or Baker, it's more subdued and he's at his best when it's slow and there's a traditional doom ambiance. Nonetheless, there's some really catchy vocal melodies like the ending of the title track, I was humming this part while I was walking in the cold and it's epic, memorable and immediate.
Fix the ladders/Stack the stones/We build the wall that shields the empire
Verse IV , The Epitome of a Grower and the Foundations of the Realm : When I first heard the album, I thought it was really underwhelming and incomplete, I learned to like it, the very good riffs tamed my opinion. They're mesmerizing and my only desire is to get vocals to match them. It's a duo but they do have a lead guitar guest, while necessary, the leads are not pristine and are a bit anticlimactic, especially in the doomy track Old Savage. The songs are truly epic, the atmospheric track Ascend to the Glass Kingdom is well done even if it's used as an interlude in the middle of the album, I'd like to see this side of the band more thoroughly. While the band can have really catchy moments on their more fast paced tracks (just like Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road), I prefer their slower numbers like the last track The Stars Disappeared from the Sky When We Uncovered the Bones of the First Gods (no, it's not a Bal-Sagoth song). Their blend of epic heavy and doom metal is charming and I kept trying to enter the realm, after three or four attempts, something happened, a door got unlocked somewhere. It's something that doesn't happen often to me, I either like something from the start or I don't. The bass could be more present and noisy just like their ancestors, it's a bit buried under the mix. Talking of the production, it's appropriate and without any frills and I guess that's how the band wanted it.
Postlude : This album is highly recommended to all epic metal aficionados worldwide and also to the Dungeon and Dragons geeks! It's a better and more focused album than their debut Summon the Stone Throwers and there's slower numbers. Talking of their doom dimension, maybe it's because I'm more a doom apostle than a traditional metal one, but I think it's really their forte. I would happily live in their realm, they took their time to build it, the foundations, the fortifications and materials are solid.
Some of my wish for the band's future : longer and slower songs, more intricate lyrics and songwriting and I'm sure it can be even more epic than it already is!
Metantoine's Magickal Realm