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Fool’s Game just came out of nowhere a year or two ago and blew everyone away with their tight playing and visceral anger and heaviness. This is a sort of dark power metal supergroup formed by members of other dark power metal bands like Pharaoh and Manticora, both of whom are formidable enough on their own, so you can only imagine how formidable the chimerical combination of them is. It did not disappoint in that regard.
Reality Divine is made up of simple chemical components like heavy, thrashy and metal-barbed riffs spiked with vicious chugs and monster gallops, and vocals that soar and layer over themselves for extra effect, but the way these components are put together is exceptionally masterful. The songwriting is dense and complex, with layers of sound that reveal new dynamics and idiosyncrasies of the songwriting with each play. This is clearly a work made by professionals, as every song is airtight and played with confidence.
This whole thing is like if Angel Dust or Tad Morose got way more technical and obsessed with riffs than they already were – any given song on this album has twice the amount of time changes, layered melodies and riffs than any given song by those bands. Not that quality and quantity are the same thing but…on this album the riffs are all pretty fucking good. Not that I’m surprised by that either, though, as the guitarist is the great Matt Johnsen from Pharaoh. Lars Larsen (isn’t that like naming your kid John Johnson?) from Manticora is a good singer, although his voice is sometimes a little flat sounding – but he does better here than I’ve heard him do in his regular band, and the energy he puts into every line he sings more than makes up for that fact. John Macaluso’s drums are incredibly varied and interesting at all times, making for another standout performance.
But really where the strength lies is the songwriting itself. All of these songs stick to the same tempo, but they always keep your ears entertained. “Mass Psychosis” kicks things up with an ugly groove and some mean, hard-assed riffs that sound like Iced Earth if they were any good anymore (the guitar tone is actually kind of similar to recent IE, with its papery, clinical sound). This song and “Sowing Dead Seeds” are the only ones that even land in the ballpark of gateway songs for this band, as everything else is a monolith of technicality and progressive influences. I have to single out “The Wild Swans at Coole” as particularly intense – like a meltdown of all technological advances. Computerized Armageddon is what this song evokes with its desperate vocal lines and hungry rushes of riffs…masterful stuff. “The Conqueror Worm” rules, with its duet featuring Pharaoh vocalist Tim Aymar. “As the Field of Dreams Was Abandoned,” besides having a really long title, has a monster hook, with one of the biggest choruses on the album.
I have to say this isn’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong – it’s really, really good, and the time flies by like a few seconds when I’m listening to it, but I can’t help but think the songwriting could have been more varied. Every song here sticks to the same tempo. It’s a good tempo, and I’m as big a fan as anyone else of the militaristic, charging tempos, but wouldn’t it be cool if they gave us a real monster of a slow, crawling doom track? Or perhaps a real speed metal beast, breaking the barriers of sound? The possibilities are endless and I can’t give this a perfect score until the band flexes their creative wings a little more.
Fool’s Game is a damn good band. Reality Divine is a cracking album of mature, well written music with clear vision and direction, made by people who really love what they do and love the metal genre. If you like melodic metal at all, this album is a huge underground treat, and should really be praised more than it is. Because if you don’t, we might not get another album out of these guys, and that would be a damn shame.
This was a surprise. I got this through Cruz Del Sur's new online promo system and was immediately just blown away. Fool's Game is a new band formed by ex-Division guitarist Matt Crooks, and I would say leaving that stodgy outfit was the best thing he ever did. He recruited Pharaoh axe-slinger Matt Johnsen, keyboardist Nik Van Dyn of Redemption, drum veteran John Macaluso (Ark, Yngwie, Starbreaker) and topped it off with Manticora vocalist Lars Larsen to form a supergroup of sorts – even though most of the bands involved are fairly obscure.
There is a strong overall similarity to Pharaoh, with involved but heavy riffing and complex arrangements. There is definitely a prog sensibility at work, but it is dense rather than sprawling and showy. The guitar work is thick, hooky and powerful, with stellar lead work. Macaluso's drumming is much more textured and subtle than anything remotely power metall-ish, with no double-kick in sight. I was unsure about Larsen as a vocalist, but he has really stepped up his game from the "Roots of Eternity" days and performs powerfully. The vocal lines are catchy as well as involving, and they avoid anything obvious or lowbrow. Pharaoh vocalist Tim Aymar shows up to share vocal duties on one of the album highlights "The Conqueror Worm", and he and Larsen mix perfectly together.
I'm trying to pick out strong points, but it's impossible, as this is just a nonstop tour de force of power, melody, and relentless heaviness. Complex enough to have depth without losing focus, melodic enough to be memorable without stripping down the compositions, this is an album that gets better every time I hear it. This is one of the best albums I have heard all year – if not the best, and Cruz Del Sur needs to get off their butts and start promoting it as such, like, now. You want a quote? How about "Best Melodic Metal album of 2009", "Absolutely Masterful", "The Debut of a Great Band". There, slap that shit on some stickers and get it out there. Fans of real, deep, intelligent metal should not miss this for anything.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com