posted on 9/2009 By:
I got pretty excited when I first caught wind of this little project. While not exactly something I'd call a typical "supergroup," considering the best known player (at least here in the U.S.) is likely Pharaoh's Matt Johnsen, Virginia's Fool's Game have handily landed themselves on the metal map by delivering one of 2009's more impressive debuts in the power/prog realm. Honestly, Johnsen's presence alone on lead guitar is likely enough for more than a handful of quick-draws on the ol' wallet, but the rest of the band bring a high skill level to the playing field as well: Matt Crooks, formerly of Division, is the project brain-child and provides rhythm guitars and bass; long-time metaller John Macaluso from Ark (and sporadic records from TNT, Riot and Yngwie) sits behind the drum kit; Redemption's Nick van Dyk peppers in keyboards; and Manticora's Lars Larsen delivers the smooth, Barlow-esque vocals. So, as I said, the formula may not look familiar to many of our readers, but it definitely strikes the target if you're a fan of strong U.S. power metal with a progressive flare.
First and foremost, Reality Divine is a heavy album. One of the heavier power metal albums I've heard in some time, actually. Unlike many of their peers across the water, Fool's Game completely shirk the idea of delivering syrupy ballads and overly gleeful bouncers in favor of hammering through nine dark, dense, galloping rippers. In fact, apart from the light piano start to the short instrumental "Prelude to the Fair", there's only two other bits of "mellow" that crop up in the midst of "Sowing Dead Seeds" and "The Wild Swans at Coole". The rest of the journey sturdily pounds the "power" into power metal, so fans of Iced Earth or the Barlow era of Pyramaze should definitely stand at the ready.
Apart from the sheer weightiness delivered by Crooks and Macaluso, Johnsen's melodic guitar play and Larsen's lower-registered clean vocals take the next spotlight. A mere 20-seconds into the opening cut and we're already exposed to the first dose of familiar "weedly-wee" melodic bubbling from Johnsen, and his cozy footprint is heard countless times throughout the rest of these tunes as well. And lo-and-behold, but who should we find offering up some gently-folded in guest vocals on "The Conquering Worm"? Why, none other than Matt's Pharaohian teammate, Tim Aymar. But that's honestly all that ties the Fool's Game sound to that of Pharaoh's; this is a much crunchier affair than any of that troupe's output.
Those who often avoid this genre for fear of being assaulted by dainty, warbling vocals, let me assuage your troubled minds with a personal guarantee that Lars Larsen delivers as heavy a clean power metal voice as any other swooner currently in the game. As mentioned earlier, think along the lines of Matt Barlow, but mix in just an edge of Zachary Stevens/Jon Oliva (Savatage) for good measure. His delivery is very strong and passionate, yet he thankfully never stretches outside his potent mid-range. Choruses are catchy and layered nicely, and we even get bits of deathish grumbles alongside some very sparse female vox that help to push the album's storyline along.
There's really not much I can think to bitch about, which is pretty rare when dealing with an inaugural effort such as this. It may seem crazy to mention, but sometimes the emphasis on "heavy" overshadows some of Reality Divine's more subtle nuances, so things such as Nick's keyboard play generally take a backseat to the dense riffing and melodic noodling. He does get a few moments to shine, however. Particularly the break-out solo 5-minutes into "The Conqueror Worm". It would be nice to see his work paint a little more added atmosphere for future releases.
If the idea of a heavier Blind Guardian gets your blood pumping, or if you found yourself disappointed for one reason or another with the latest output from Pathosray, Primal Fear and Cage, you've just found a serious contender for turning your frown upside down. In a year seemingly devoid of notably strong power/progressive metal, Reality Divine stands out like a Dire Wolf amongst cooing coyotes. Impressive and definitely recommended!
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