Gorgon Cult

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Although they hail from a country -- Italy -- that's not exactly famous for birthing top-notch black metal bands, Rome's Stormlord's third full-length album, 2004's Gorgon Cult, does a more than passable job at competing with the acknowledged Scandinavian masters of the genre. Not that the dour, black-draped sextet is reinventing the wheel, mind you, but rather taking a well balanced blueprint for symphonic black metal (made popular by Dimmu Borgir, Borknagar, et al), and running with it like few Italian bands have before them: confidently and convincingly. In fact, standout tracks like "Dance of Hecate," "The Oath of the Legion" and a rip-roaring cover of Iron Maiden's "Moonchild" generally succeed where many of the band's compatriots have failed, by minimizing the symphonic black metal genre's overtly theatrical tendencies (something Italian acts have a notorious weakness for) while simultaneously reigning in any sort of stifling orchestral overkill. This way, Stormlord's ultimate focus on heavy metal -- not classical music -- is never brought into question, and how could it, with nearly every song (excepting the instrumental "Memories of Lemuria") motoring along behind furious blast-beat-driven velocity. Lost somewhere within this din, vocalist Cristiano Borchi alternates strangulated rasps, ogre-like grunts and even brief examples of melodic singing, but lacks a strong enough vocal signature to compete with his bandmates' remarkably tight and diversified musicianship (note the especially grandiose arrangements given the title track and the closing "Night Breed") -- arguably constituting the album's only major weakness. Otherwise, Gorgon Cult roars by without reproach, and stakes Stormlord's claim as a force to be reckoned with in the imminent future of this still developing symphonic black metal subgenre.

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