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The marriage of fantasy and power metal has been a long-enduring one, some would even argue going back to when the latter term was used for an early Metallica demo tape on the trading circuit that was adored with artwork inspired by a classic scene from Conan The Barbarian. By contrast, reality tends to be a less covered subject, usually being the preferred realm of progressive bands, and also more extreme outfits when focusing on the bleaker side of things, but occasionally being tackled by bands of the power metal style outside of the usual cliches of love and heroism. Though the lofty image of a Greek temple amid a sea of what is likely red wine lends itself more to the otherworldly, a good way to approach the third and final studio opus of Sweden's Dionysus in Fairytales And Reality is as a musical endeavor that tilts a bit more towards the darker end of the realist side of the coin, though not one that is completely bleak and cynical.
Stylistically, things have definitely moved into heavier territory, sporting a number of songs that are more moderated in tempo and heavier in character. It opens in a very different place than the last two LPs with "Illusion Of Life", starting off slow and subdued with a clean guitar and a subdued vocal display out of Olaf Hayer, soon to land in a mid-paced groove that carried by a more traditionally rooted riff set that sounds almost like it could have been heard on Ozzy's Diary Of A Madman, though the chorus of the song retains some sense of this band's triumphant power metal roots. Similar musical schemes are found on "Blinded" and "Tides Will Turn", only with a bit more of a progressive feel as the riff work is a bit more elaborate and the lead guitar input is heightened. The most memorable and catchy song to be found on here, "Spirit", also follows more of a grooving, heavy character with an eye towards the same Dio and Iron Maiden influences the resulted in "March For Freedom" on the previous LP, which was a stylistic outlier on said album and would have probably fit in more on here.
While this album definitely shows a fair degree of stylistic development and change, it would be misleading to call it a full departure for the band, as the same general spirit and signature sound endures. There have often been commonalities between this band and Freedom Call in a few peripheral areas, but this album's second song "Orb" takes it a bit further and literally sounds like a direct homage to said band, even going so far as to feature a main guitar riff that sounds quite similar to the one that kicked off said band's self-titled song on Crystal Empire, though the rest of the song is more guitar focused and harder edged. On the other side of things is a Judas Priest infused approach to power metal more in line with Primal Fear and Paragon to be found on "The World" and "Queen Of Madness", and Hayer's vocal quality leans a bit more in a Halford direction, though avoiding the same frequency of obligatory banshee wails. Even full out echoes of the keyboard enriched, classically tinged and upbeat character of Anima Mundi make a full out comeback on "True At Heart" and "Dreamchaser".
Naturally the shift in favor of a darker and heavier sound while still having a sizable helping of the older, lighter sound of the past will result in some interesting cross-pollination of ideas, and this is where this album holds an actual qualitative over its two predecessors. The results in question are two impressive songs that are a bit longer in duration and wider in scope than anything previously heard, and definitely go to the length of blurring the line between power and progressive metal beyond the band's usual impressive displays of guitar and keyboard noodling with a classical flavor. Of the songs in question, "The Game" is a bit more chorus oriented and up tempo, but also gives bassist Nobby Norberg an opportunity to shine in a way that few power metal bassits do, though it should be noted that the overall bass presence of this band has always been above average, both in terms of audible prominence and activity. "The End", which ironically was the last song for this band, has more of a wandering feel to it, having one of those extended chorus sections that doesn't lend itself to audience participation, but is loaded up with astounding moments of technical brilliance, to the point of rivaling early Dream Theater.
The changing tides of power metal in 2007 were sadly the final nail in the coffin of this arguably short-lived band, one that would result in two key members departing for other projects. Keyboardist Kaspar Dahlqvist ended up having a brief run with the commercial flop Masterplan spin-off Ride The Sky, whereas both the drummer and bassist would become involved in the more modern sounding Saint Deamon, and vocalist Olaf Hayer would set his sights on Symphonity and a short stint with Magic Kingdom (both bands that sound fairly similar to this one). Such is the ongoing game of musical chairs in the world of power metal, nay the whole metal world. But in the end, Fairytales And Reality is a fine testament to a band that reaffirmed and slightly expanded the world of a scene during it's latter days. Until the next great wine harvest, let all enjoy the vintage that remains stored in the cellar at Mt. Olympus.
My problem with Dionysus has always been the mind-numbing simplicity with which they approached their song writing. This album is more tolerable in that sense.
But it's not spectacular.
Dionysus play a style of power metal that is actually probably a little bit more like Finnish than Swedish power metal. Not incredibly fast or heavy, with subtle elements (mostly in the guitars) of 80's metal, with moments of cheesy keyboards.
Most of the songs consist of mid-paced power metal riffs of fairly good quality. There's still a number of those slow, meloncoly parts where the guitar drops out temporarily. Songs like Queen of Madness, The World and Tides Will Turn are some of the darker and heavier songs this band has done (which isn't saying much). There's a couple good solos on some tracks, but they're mostly scale-runners which do nothing really.
Bands like this must make up for their lack of sheer energy and astounding musicianship that most first and even second tier bands have, with at least having memorable riffs, or catchy, sing-along songs. But Dionysus is hit and miss in this aspect as well. I believe a problem may arise from their vocalist. Relatively strong on his Swedish accent, and though obviously talented as a singer, just not powerful enough to make any songs' choruses explode with energy or life. He stays within a safe range, and doesn't wail or screech. Most of the songs don't have enough energy to accomodate for it anyway.
It's not all bad though. The song The World is a nicely done song, with a very catchy chorus and a nice solo. Tides will Turn is a stern sounding song with some balls, some keyboards helping out but not interfering in the background, a slightly spiced up structure with a very unique, dark bridge and bass parts that spring up occasionally.
I'm just barely giving this album a passing grade. Though it's a tough choice to make. It lacks the pure energy of bands like Wizard, the technical flair of bands like Angra or Hibria, the balls of Gamma Ray and the simple undeniable hook-filled choruses of Nocturnal Rites.
I suppose the thing that tips the scale is that they certainly seem to be heading in a better direction, and as strange a thing as it may be - because the bass is pronounced, and the bassist does fills. That is very rare especially in power metal, except for exceptional bands like I mentioned - Angra and Hibria.
So, if you're really a die hard power metal fan, pick it up. Otherwise, forget about it.