There’s everything to love about local Rawk trio Realm—everything to love, that is, if everything you love encompasses science fiction, beer, a dose of devil worship, and Heavy Metal. And in particular, Psychedlic-Stoner-Doom Metal, with some occasional hints of old-school Thrash and Power Metal thrown in, just for good measure. Sign me up twice, Bubba.
Because Realm—a unit comprising two present and one past employee(s) of Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall—do Doom the way it’s supposed to be done, heavy and no-frills and bad-ass, with detuned power chords and big bass lines and monster beats that thrum with a power that threatens to rend the very fabric of Reality asunder, shaking walls and quaking bowels and rattling molars out of heads…
And they’re doing it in such a way as to win hearts and minds even in a town with a mad love for the dusky jangle of roots rock and Americana. The first Realm show at Preservation Pub saw the front of the stage awash with indie kids and throwback country fans, casting aside their Rawk inhibitions for just-this-one-night, flashing the secret devil sign and banging heads like there’s no tomorrow…
“We want to challenge Knoxville to headbang a little bit,” says singer/guitarist Jake Lonas, the man who founded Realm in the wake of the breakup of his former outfit, heavy jam-rock Pub stalwarts the Jojax.
Says drummer Nick Leichtweis, a pugnacious New York native with a penchant for beating the heads of his snares into whimpering submission, the Realm trio knew they were in for a rough haul, trying to put even a little Metal over in East Tennessee. “It’s very segregated here,” he says. “You’ve got the tattoo people over here and the bros over there and the hipsters over here.”
But there’s a method in their madness, he says. Realm bait listeners with pleasantly palatable vocals and simple, memorable songs, then yank the hook in tight when that massive breakdown hits and everyone in the room reflexively falls into full-mosh lockstep, head-banging in perfect synch.
“We don’t complicate it too much,” says bassist Kurt Bell, a high school bedroom music phenom who pulls double duty in Realm, hammering bass lines with his left hand while playing keyboards with his right. “There’s a fine line between being cool or experimental, and just alienating people.”
“We have a pretty straight-forward way of writing songs,” Leichtweis says. “And we’re not afraid to be really doomy, and then just do… whatever. Because at the end of the day, we’re not about just being a doom band, or stoner rock, or desert rock, or whatever. In Metal, if you just represent one thing, you usually just get lost in the churn.”
“We try to be more accessible, with a little blues and some psychedelic elements,” says Lonas. “And my vocals aren’t aggressive, either, in the way that a lot of Metal vocals are now.”
Right now, Realm have an interesting preoccupation, inasmuch as every song in their (as yet, limited) repertoire of original songs deals with the Frank Herbert science fiction classic Dune. “Witches are for burning” references a scene in the novel where hero Paul Atreides has his hand burned off and restored by his witch mother, as part of a part of a coming-of-age ritual for members of his clan.
“Fear is the mindkiller” derives from the same scene. “Fatman” is a reference to the Dune villain, the scheming and corpulent baron of the House of Harkonnen. And “Sleeper” tells of Altreides’ path to enlighenment.
Why the Dune obsession? “The whole story is so universal,” says Leichtweis. “It’s like the story of Jesus, or the story of Horus. It looks at how politics hi-jacks religion, and how that’s something that’s been going on for millienia.”
“I don’t know that we’ll always write abut Dune,” Lonas says. “But for the time being, we’re having fun with it. I’ve thought about writing about Bladerunner. Who knows? Maybe that will be next.”
Whether Realm have a chance to be more than just Pub favorites isn’t clear; band members say that given their respective job and personal commitments, keeping a “serious” band is tough proposition. But maybe it doesn’t matter. Says Lonas, “If it ever came to the point that someone wanted to put us on the road, so be it. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Hell, right now, we’ve only played a couple of shows.”
“Right now, the best part of it all to me is just seeing people’s reactions,” says Leichtweis. “When we play shows around town, and see people rock the fuck out, that just makes my night.”
Dune will play Scruffy City Hall with Nashville psychedelic rockers All Them Witches on Wednesday, March 4, following a movie showing by Knoxville Horror Film Festival.