Realmbuilder is astonishing New York doom-duo formed by Czar (vocals, drums) and J.H. Halberd (guitars, bass, keyboards, trumpet, vocals) about four years ago. These knights bring Doom and Heavy Metal all over the world with their second full-length “Fortifications of the Pale Architect”, which was released a year ago by I Hate records as limited vinyl edition and was reissued onto CD just in April of 2012. If you’re searching epic doom songs with unique atmosphere and vibe then it’s better for you to find few free minutes and read this interview which we’ve done with Czar Craig Zahler only two days ago. I fell in love with that band after listening only two songs on I Hate bandcamp page, and I’m sure you’ll get my point when you hear the sound of Ancient Horn! Heed it’s call, we march at dawn.
Czar: Hail Aleks! Three quarters of my family is from Russia, three generations back--- my great grandparents. Additionally, my last name, Zahler, when said quickly, starts to sound like Zar, so Czar has always felt like the right metal name, connected to my heritage and my actual name. And if you speak to JH Halberd or anybody else with whom I’ve worked, you’ll quickly learn that I am a demanding fellow.
Got it, sire! “Fortifications of the Pale Architect” was firstly released in February of 2011 by I Hate Records only as vinyl edition and only in April of 2012 it was released as CD. Why did you decide to start with vinyl? Of course it’s more aesthetic and serious format than CD but CD is more convenient for promotions and etc.
Czar: Peter at I Hate Records determines the formats and timing for our releases. There are a number of reasons for the vinyl coming out first, but the main ones seem to be that vinyl has a special quality that appeals to collectors and that once the album is out on CD, people are stealing it from online sources everywhere.
But Realmbuilder true followers already have vinyl copies of your album, do they? How do sells of vinyl and CD editions go? I’m afraid that not all listeners know that labels and bands can’t produce new stuff if they have no money (which mostly comes from selling).
Czar: I Hate Records produces and limited edition of vinyl and when those sell out, they produce CDs. At whatever point those are gone, they may print another edition, as they have done with our first album, “Summon the Stone Throwers.” Although we like the vinyl format, some people do not have record players or like to listen to stuff in their car— the important thing is not the format, but the music itself.
Realmbuilder keeps it’s old school metal vibe since first album “Summon The Stone Throwers” and till second “Fortifications of the Pale Architect”, did you aim from very beginning to combine retro and modern ideals of metal?
Czar: Our aim is to write music that we like— we never try to sound “retro.” Neither of us likes the modern mechanical drum sound that has been so prevalent in metal since the early nineties, so in this way, we sound like bands from the eighties or seventies. And we are not compelled to write aggressive music, which most modern metal is. But if you listen to the end of the song “Fortifications of the Pale Architect” there are tons of musical layers, and this is more in keeping with the composer aesthetic of more modern bands like Summoning, Katatonia or Emperor. And I have no idea if a real trumpet is old or new—to us, it’s just part of our realm.
It’s an interesting question – do you consider that modem music sounds more aggressive? Can you say that modern scene degrades or it just develops in another way than old one, does it?
Czar: The general progression of mainstream heavy metal is toward more intense music, things like Lamb of God or Slipknot or High on Fire, none of which are to my liking, though there are many branches and some bands go in other directions. Reverend Bizarre expanded upon the stark and repetitious minimalism of Saint Vitus and Moonblood simplified and elongated the style of Darkthrone’s Transylvanian Hunger. Currently, bands like Ghost, Jex Thoth and Devils Blood are having success exploring the niche between traditional metal and hard rock, while incorporating psychedelic elements into their music.
And what is “leading mood” of “Fortifications of the Pale Architect”?
Czar: The album alternates two primary moods: strength and loss.
I don’t remember if you still play in others more extreme metal bands where you took part before, so it would be logical to suppose that you concentrate all your creative powers onto Realmbuilder.
Czar: I write music and lyrics and play drums in a black metal band called Charnel Valley, but Realmbuilder is my priority band.
I’m glad that you also have a good taste in a case of albums’ art-work; I know that someone could find it strange, but personally I get your intentions, because it suits stylistic, musical and lyrical conception very well.
Czar: I come from a drawing and animation background, so painting was new to me and a skill that I intend to develop further.
Somehow the art-work of “Fortifications of the Pale Architect” reminds me of PC games from 90s. Do you play PC now or you have more serious deeds to do?
Czar: You are not the first person to say that the cover looks like a PC game! When I have the time to plays games, I prefer the role playing games like old school Dungeons and Dragons (with dice and friends) over computer stuff, though I appreciate the work that goes into building the digital RPG realms.
I’ve read comments from some people who didn’t dig your music at all, and you know there was common misunderstanding of whole band’s conception. How often do you meet with such recall?
Czar: Most of the reviews have been very positive, but our music is not for everyone. There are people who find our sound and subject matter “cheesy” or “dated.” So I suppose they want fast, technical songs about modern warfare? Or falling in love? Or the government? That’s not Realmbuilder. We strive to make emotionally rich sonic worlds that are unique to our vision. In each track are heartfelt pieces of JH Halberd and myself. We are very serious about what we do and we enjoy it as well— after all, we’ve both been into metal since the eighties.
Can you say that Realmbuilder already has a constant fan base?
Czar: Yes. The underground metal community Germany is very, very supportive of our work. Danke!
Hah… Interesting… What’s about New York? Do you have a feedback there? NY doesn’t look like a place where songs about castles and highway men are actual, though if it has been said metaphorically then yes, it works for every big city.
Czar: Most of our supporters are in Europe, and I’ve not heard much from people in my city. I do not draw inspiration from city itself, but New York is a terrific place for me to live and thrive as an artist.
What is a basis of Realmbuilder lyrics? I mean – do you inspire by real historical or fantasy topics?
Czar: I make my living as a fiction writer, and the lyrics for this band are original stories based upon the musical worlds that JH Halberd and I create. Inside each world are imaginary tableaus and pieces of truth from our lives.
Can you tell a bit more about your work as a fiction writer?
Czar: I have a novel out now called ‘A Congregation of Jackals,’ which is a brutal, character-driven western that has done well for me. One of my screenplays was made into the movie ‘Asylum Blackout.’ This is rough horror— a couple of people fainted at its premiere in Toronto. I have a crime script called, ‘The Big Stone Grid,’ that Michael Mann (director of Heat and Miami Vice) is planning to direct, and a western feature called ‘The Brigands of Rattleborge’ that Park Chan Wok (Old Boy) is currently interested in making and several other projects in development, including a martial arts television show at FX network, called ‘Downtown Dragons.’ And I’m also looking for publishers for my other unpublished novels. So yeah, I’m pretty busy these days…
Your vocal sounds more confidently in “Fortifications of the Pale Architect”, but riffs are mostly pretty simple yet effective. I see no reasons to complicate whole sound of Realmbuilder but what do you think with Halberd about it?
Czar: Thanks for the compliments! I completely agree that my singing is more confident than on the début. This second album really solidified our sound: distinct riffs, heartfelt vocals, rich layering and spacious arrangements.
I know that you already have stuff for third release, what is your progress? What is conception of Realmbuilder new album?
Czar: The third album is called “Blue Flame Cavalry.” We have recorded the primary components for all of the tracks. We want to build bigger worlds, and are doing this through fewer, but significantly longer, compositions.
Will “Blue Flame Cavalry” be performed in same musical vein as “Fortifications of the Pale Architect”? And of course I hope that you will not change your manner of singing.
Czar: The compositions are more expansive on the new album, but the style will be similar, though JH Halberd is always trying to refine the sound, make things bigger and also sharper. My vocals are similar, but again, more confident than on the previous release. I’d like to think that I’m learning!
Realmbuilder is still a studio project as two men are not enough to play live in your situation, but can you name bands with which you would like to collaborate in some way?
Czar: There are plenty of musicians whom I admire and would like to work with on some other project, but Realmbuilder is JH Halberd and myself, complemented by Brian Koenig, whose lead guitar enhances the material. So Halberd and I are not really looking to collaborate with another band--- two prolific songwriters in one band is more than enough!
You still compose music and lyrics only with mister Halberd, do you?
Czar: Yes. The two of us write everything, except for the solos.
And do you see any modern bands which have similar aesthetic and musical conception? True to say I recall only Elliott’s Keep from Texas.
Czar: There are a lot of bands that we enjoy, but there isn’t one that really has our sound or approach. Our influences range from doom bands like Reverend Bizarre, Doomsword and While Heaven Wept to epic metal bands like Heavy Load, Manilla Road, Ironsword and Morningstar and NWOBHM bands like Trespass and Angel Witch. But the closing sections of songs like, “The Star Disappeared from the Sky When We Uncovered the Bones of the First Gods,” “Fortifications of the Pale Architect,” and “The Tarnished Crown” are more in line with thickly layered studio composers like While Heaven Wept, Summoning and Emperor.
You worked in Metal Maniacs magazine in 90s, did you? How was it to work in a real paper magazine in 90s?
Czar: After doing my own fanzine, I wrote for Metal Maniacs from the late 90s until it went out of print a few years ago — I did tons of reviews and a handful of interviews. This is where I started to learn how I learned to write music. And actually, when I interviewed Hellhammer for Mayhem’s “A Grand Declaration of War” (a daring album which I adore), he showed me how to properly perform a blast beat, which I later used in my black metal band. I learned a lot about music talking to bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Nile, Emperor and Virgin Steele.
What were most interesting for you changes in metal scene through these years? Can you name some cardinal events which indeed have change the scene?
Czar: More than any single event, the arrival of the internet has impacted the metal scene and the music industry in general.
In the nineties and early 2000s, it was a privilege to write for Metal Maniacs, which was the best and best distributed true metal magazine in the country, and had great writers like Jeff Wagner, Marty Rytkonen and Chris Maycock on board. Now, anybody can write a review and more importantly, anybody can go listen to music instantly and determine for themselves whether or not they like the music, which also lowers the importance of a written review. I have never once illegally downloaded an album, and I do like that I can spend a few hours on youtube or wherever and listen to obscure bands like Hand of Doom or Goatlord or Blood of Kingu or Triarii or whomever. Afterwards, I locate and buy the album if I like it. I want to own it and support the artist…but this is not what a lot of people do, so CD sales get worse and worse as a result of the internet. Fortunately for people like us, metalheads are far more devoted than the average music listener, and still buy music. And the internet also facilitates people hearing about new bands like Realmbuilder and this interview, so there is a good side to the how this technology has impacted heavy metal as well.
Thank you Czar for your answers, I’m glad that it was pretty easy to get in touch with someone from Realmbuilder (that’s why I love I Hate records :-). I wish you and J.H. all the best – long live Realmbuilder!
Thanks for your interest in Realmbuilder. And thank you to all of the readers who support our music. Blow the ancient horn!
Interview By Aleks
I Hate Records | Bandcamp
Realmbuilder | Myspace