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I ask you, fair readers, to take a hiatus from your metrosexual and technologically-advantaged lifestyles for just a brief spell. Step outside and til your fingers through the soil, or your toes through a stream. Build a small cairn of rocks, whether as a marker, a tribute or a tomb. Take a handful of sticks and assemble a simple lean-to, and then cover it in a mesh of leaves. Sharpen a stone or branch as a tool, or a spear, and forage the environment for berries, for fresh water, for anything that will give you that modest edge of survival. New York heavy/doom duo Realmbuilder perform all of these functions, only in the context of heavy rock music which reaches to the roots of its medium, jerks them forth from the dirt, and then cooks them into a refreshingly tasty stew, enough to feed a family of forever.
Timeless, interesting hooks define this debut, a few overt nods to Black Sabbath being the only true comparison I can make without feeling unfair to the band. Imagine if bands like Manilla Road or DoomSword started releasing records in the 70s, after checking out a pile of damaged mass market paperback fantasy novels from the local library. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Earthsea, Chronicles of Narnia, Conan tales. Now imagine they also strived for the clean production values so many pop and rock bands achieved during that age, and were fronted by a workmanlike, charismatic individual who is fully cognizant of his own limitations and so supplants any illusion of 'range' and 'screaming' with a stolid, earthen sense of authenticity. Glaze this over with somber, harmonic choirs, a constant sense of steady momentum, and a genuine sense of inspiration you certainly don't hear in a lot of copycat doom metal acts, or 80s cheese metal throwbacks. Summon the Stone Throwers is hardly flawless, and in fact I find it the weakest of their three full-lengths, but already they had sown the seeds of style AND substance here, which were very near flowered.
If you can guess already, I want this to be one of the biggest bands in the world. Most likely they'll remain deep in the underground, appealing to a few hundred souls, which is acceptable, but they are a paragon exemplar of how you can reduce a musical genre to its seminal components and then rewire those into a damn fine frame of heavy metal, where anything is possible. Horns, melodies, bitter but brew-sated vocals, this band will cautiously test the waters of a number of possibilities over their career, and Summon the Stone Throwers is an adequate indoctrination to a future that is so heavily strung up by the past. The riffs are quite simple, sluggish if not entirely static chord progressions that are laced with quaint and catchy melodies. I believe the sheer cleanliness of the guitar tone might prove a little too polished for some listeners, who want their doom pregnant with saturation and disgust, but I think this choice works staggeringly well in the context of how they deliver the vocals, absurdly vacant bass-lines and minimalistic drum beats.
Lyrically, Stone Throwers is mildly more epic and warlike than its successor, but you still get the perspective of a looker-on rather than the predictable, heroic visions of fantasy spewed forth from the pens and minds of most heavy and power metal musicians. This is riddled with themes of power or class struggles, siege warfare, reading like second hand accounts of historical events in a low fantasy setting which isn't plagued with multi-hued rainbows or excess magical weavings. As such, it's a little beyond the barbaric perspective of Howard's Cimmerian hero, more of a cultured milieu, points of light and civilization being snuffed out by greedy brigands or other challenges of a medieval or Dark Age setting. It's a fine soundtrack for either a rustic afternoon, a drive to the Renaissance Faire, a board game with cool friends (Shadows Over Camelot, Citadels, Kingsburg, etc), or just reading ancient architectural texts by candlelight. Among the better songs are "Ninety-Nine Raids" and "Forgotten Minion", but it's all pretty consistent in value. Hell, could there be a better catapult song than the title track, or did I interpret that wrong?
I have to give Realmbuilder credit in the capacity that they tried their darndest here to create some quality epic heavy/doom metal a la Manilla Road and Quicksand Dream; the fact that the band has only two members is pretty impressive, but it would be a lot more impressive if the music were actually competent. As it stands, the music sort of plods along listlessly, with some good ideas thrown in but not fleshed out enough to make any one entire song worthwhile. The soloing especially tends to be quite good, but the repetitive, quickly stale riffs and Czar's lackluster vocal performance make the album difficult to digest enjoyably.
Czar's vocal performance here doesn't sound much like anybody else; it's very nasal and timid, almost whiny - if he were a bit more confident, perhaps it would sound better, but it is what it is. The production is good, thankfully, with a nice meaty guitar tone and vocals that are up front but not overwhelming - although, given the vocalist, that's not necessarily a good thing. The drums are deep and crunchy - everything as it should be, except for the songwriting, really. At times it feels quite epic, but the songs sound haphazard, as if pieces of a puzzle shoved into the wrong places so they don't fit quite right, but still maintain some semblance of continuity at first listen.
Certain areas, like the vocal multi-tracking in "Silver Ziggurat" and the main riff of the title track, are very well done and very pleasurable to listen to, but it's just not enough to save the album from its seemingly random meandering. Perhaps if the band members had spent a little more time on it, it might have stood among the ranks of epic metal like Quicksand Dream and Longings Past, but such is simply not the case here. Some songs are better than others, but none are really more than decent; "Bow Before the Oligarchy" manages not to have too many shitty moments, but neither is it really outstanding; the same is the case with the title track. The other songs are for the most part unmemorable; not really offensive but not really something I'd actively want to listen to, either. Overall, Realmbuilder's debut isn't a total flop, but not far from it either - there's definitely room for improvement here, which, thankfully, is met on their second album. If you're a fan of the epic heavy or doom genres, skip this album and move right onto Fortifications of the Pale Architect. If you're a true collector, buy this album for the artwork, as it's quite good, and certainly the best thing about it.
Straight out of New York city comes the "epic" metal-playing duo, Realmbuilder. Sadly, the only thing epic about Summon The Stone Throwers is its failure. Its tracks are filled with the type of monotony and blandness that will make you drowsy, yet prevent you from falling asleep out of fear that the album will somehow have a permanent, negative impact on your subconsciousness. If you plan on listening to this album all the way through, I suggest taking breaks in-between each song. If, during your listen, you find yourself staring complacently at the ceiling waiting for your nose to bleed while hesitant to double-click onto the next track, it's time to give up on Summon the Stone Throwers all-together. This album was made exclusively for the eccentric, the pretentious, and those with a very abnormal sense of humor.
Instead of marketing Summon The Stone Throwers as a soundtrack to ancient landscapes of forgotten lore, Realmbuilder should have pitched it to the makers of South Park for "Heroin Hero." Summon The Stone Throwers is reminiscent of those crisp, autumn afternoons I spent at coffee shops, listening to drugged-out street musicians perform endless, impromptu opuses. Although I can't be certain, I'd be willing to bet that they were joking more times than not. There's no doubt that Summon The Stone Throwers would be a much more enjoyable listen if massive amounts of alcohol came along with it, but I am unfortunately incapable of writing anything in such a state of inebriation. If "Ninety Nine Raids" doesn't make you want to turn the album off, then my guess is you probably enjoy watching Troll 2 and playing Super Pitfall. This album possesses a similar type of awesomeness to the aforementioned late-eighties atrocities, and is further proof that some bad music can still be enjoyable.
If the abnormally high vocal tracks aren't enough to give you a seizure, then Czar's immediately recognizable, erratic tone will. The accompanying backup vocals wouldn't be bad if they actually had something substantial to go along with. Aside from the guitar solos, which are the only redeeming quality of Summon The Stone Throwers, the album is very dull and nearly void of all emotion.The drums are incredibly minimalistic, and at times have no presence whatsoever. Although every track is uniquely painful to listen to, "The Tarnished Crown" might take the cake. The difficulty of producing something this unbearable can be compared that of failing a test. Surely, neglecting to study and skipping class will get you a below-passing grade on an exam. However, this will probably only get you down into the 50-59% category. In order to get anywhere from a 0%-20% on an exam, one must study quite diligently so that they can purposely get all of the answers wrong. The fact that J.H. Halberd (rhythm guitar, bass, backup vocalist) is actually an accomplished music professor perfectly demonstrates this point, and that complete ineptitude is actually a trait possessed by only few.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
Reviewing lots of CDs in a generally similar style can lead a writer up a few creative cul-de-sacs. There’s only so many different adjectives that can be used to describe certain kinds of music, and in particular I’d be almost scared to look back over my previous reviews and count how many times I’ve used variations on the words ‘epic’ and ‘atmosphere’.
But then there are CDs like this where nothing else will do – Realmbuilder’s debut, ‘Summon the stone throwers’ is indeed epic metal that may be short on originality and technicality, but has looming, monolithic atmosphere in spades.
The influences are obvious and the band makes no attempts to hide them – Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, Robert E. Howard – but what is so captivating about it all is the lo-fi execution. Recorded (for the most part) by just 2 men, ‘Summon the stone throwers’ is an extremely minimalist example of the style that throws out rich production and keyboard excesses to focus on the absolute basics of a heavy metal performance – memorable riffs and melodies, and choruses that seek to inspire.
The dry production leaves large gaps between the instruments, with everything bare and open for examination. The conservative use of riffs – each song is only based on a couple – could in the wrong hands lead to dull repetition, but is handled with expert care here. With the CD lasting only 35 minutes, the band don’t waste so much as a note and have arranged each of the songs to a fine point.
The only real extravagance comes from the lead guitar, provided by guest musician Brian Koenig. A million miles from his home in progressive thrashers Luna Mortis, he nevertheless acquits himself very well, his solos exuberant and flashy, yet somehow not clashing with the more simplistic nature of the riffs and in fact knitting into the arrangements quite perfectly.
It has to be said that Czar, who performs the lesser-seen dual role of drummer and vocalist, doesn’t have the strongest of voices. He carries a tune well enough, and his historical and low fantasy-based lyrics are well written, but he lacks any real range and as the focal point for a bare-bones project like this he doesn’t quite have the power needed to give the songs the finish they deserve.
His Bill Ward-inspired drumming is far more satisfying though, again forgoing anything mind-blowing in the technical stakes in favour of spicing the songs up with energetic rolls and fills while at the same time keeping a steadfast beat on the go that keeps everything grounded and marching at a steady pace. He really shows his worth with the tight rhythmic lock he forms with the guitars and bass on the crushing closer “The tarnished crown”, which sends the CD off with a triumphant trumpet fanfare in its closing stages provided by ‘everything else’ man J.H. Halberd.
The influences Realmbuilder draw from the greats of the past are spread through different songs to different degrees. Everything falls under the traditional/doom bracket, but these hints of variation are another deciding factor in keeping the music from stagnating; while songs like “Colossal glaciers” evoke droning trepidation, the aggressive “Ninety-nine raids” almost feels like a Neolithic ancestor to thrash.
A stronger vocalist is the only thing Realmbuilder are really lacking, and they have otherwise set a high marker with this powerful, meticulously constructed debut CD. The daring, back-to-basics style is a more difficult thing to pull off than it would seem, and with no wall of production techniques to hide behind the duo have displayed everything they’ve got to offer front and center, so it’s good job that it’s so satisfactory.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)