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Better than the movie. - 88%

hells_unicorn, June 24th, 2013

America has become quite engrossed in the story of Perseus and Medusa thanks to the 2010 remake of "Clash Of The Titans", though far less in these parts have likely read the original source material. But one wouldn't be wrong in assuming that a place like Cypress where Greek culture and lore is the lifeblood of said nation would have a far deeper understanding of the original story and would be more prone to presenting it without the extras that tend to go with a Hollywood production. Such is the nature of "Dark Gorgon Rising", the powerful debut of a Cypress based power metal outfit in Astronomikon. Forget about all the outlandish special effects and embellished fantastical meandering guising as a story that you've likely been exposed to and prepare for an album that is far more concise, yet also far more glorious.

While this album has largely come about thanks to the efforts of several session musicians and the only proper band members are the bassist and the lead vocalist, one wouldn't know it by how well it has been crafted. It walks a very thin line between the essential catchiness that must come with any melodic album and the virtuosic guitar work that also tends to be a staple of the style with an effortless zeal that is not seen as readily these days as it was circa 1999. In fact, this album largely listens like one of the glorious symphonic albums to come out of the late 90s Italian scene ushered in by Rhapsody Of Fire meshed with the slightly humbler but still flashy Helloween revivalism heard out of Germany at around the same time (think Freedom Call but with a slightly more melancholy character).

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this album is how it balances the Middle Eastern musical tendencies that are largely typical of Greece's music with a more Western friendly sound that greatly resembles the sound first purveyed by Iron Maiden and picked up by a number of mainland European bands during the revival period in the later 90s. The former influences come to a climax on "The Stone Abomination" (though they echo through much of the rest of the album, perhaps the loudest point being "A Sad Day At Argos"), manifesting themselves as a mid-tempo walk through an otherworldly realm that is somewhat reminiscent of "Powerslave". By contrast, the fanfare character of straight up songs like "The Spell I'm Under" and the Manowar-like closing anthem of triumph and tragedy "Perseus Eurymedon" show a band heavily influenced by both German melodic brilliance and even a USPM sense of emphasizing riffs alongside melody.

From a purely instrumental music perspective, this album is quite varied and multifaceted, but when dealing with a lot of the individual parts this album enjoys a much needed anchor to keep it from veering off its intended course. The most auspicious of these consistent elements is vocalist Nicholas Leptos, who is about as obvious of a vocalist as could be tapped for this style. With an extremely nimble voice that is bombastic enough to rival Bruce Dickinson yet also as smooth and airy as Michael Sweet, he brings about something that can be appreciated by fans of the most sugary of Stratovarius adherents to the rougher edge of the post-NWOBHM side of the power metal coin. Naturally other elements play a particularly vital role in keeping this album centered, of which session guitarist Socrates Leptos shines through the most with a concise yet flashy lead guitar assault and a steady mixture of soaring harmonies and rock solid riffs.

This sort of concept album has been done before and quite often, though few have managed to mix the elements to this extent and come out with something that actually flows like an audio story book set to music. The early albums of Iron Savior and the first "Emerald Sword" saga of Rhapsody Of Fire come to mind as early examples of this approach, and Ancient Bards is probably the best contemporary example of such masterful power metal storytelling, but none of them go into the unique mixture of East and West that this accomplishes. It's in a class by itself, and should definitely inspire the curious ears of those who like their power metal to be both guitar oriented and loaded with soaring melodies.