From now unto Eternity, I hereby declare every review of a Judicator record shall include the anecdote of band founding members Tony and John crossing paths at a Blind Guardian concert for the first time. Thus, Judicator was born and thus, the story will remain told in all recounts of Judicator‘s music. Myth or truth? We will never know, but it obviously makes for a good background narrative – especially when the band’s music is so clearly a carbon copy of the Guardian‘s earlier days.
The Last Emperor is Salt Lake City‘s Judicator‘s fourth album and it continues where 2012’s King Of Rome left off, combining melodious European style power metal with more thrashy US metal influences and historic/fantasy lyrics, reminiscent of ’90s Blind Guardian. 2015’s At The Expense Of Humanity was a more complex and lyrically personal album due to a loss in singer John Yelland’s life. Coincidentally, the music, written by multi-instrumentalist Tony Cordisco, coincided with this heavier theme. This year’s The Last Emperor is a callback to more straightforward power metal, displayed too by the relatively short runtime of under 50 minutes if you’re not counting the CD exclusive bonus re-recording of the track “King Of Rome”.
I mentioned Blind Guardian too many times already, so what’s up with that? Yes, Judicator very much sound like circa-Somewhere Far Beyond era Guardian. This is for one due to vocalist John Yelland’s voice, he sounds as much like Hansi Kürsch as Jens Carlsson (Savage Circus and Persuader), with the only difference being his vocals a tad higher and more soaring. Combine that with typically Guardian-trademarked vocal harmonies, “Tanelorn” style guitar leads and epic choruses and you end up with an album Blind Guardian could have released after Somewhere Far Beyond. Oh, and Hansi Kürsch performs a guest part on “Spiritual Treason”. Who would have guessed.
Judicator take the best of European and US power metal; grand arrangements and massive choruses mixed with slightly progressive compositions and thrashy riffage disregard the characteristic problem of generic power metal which is repetition and simplemindedness. In this regard, The Last Emperor is evocative of last year’s über power metal release “Apex” by Unleash The Archers: each song has its own style, nature and temper, but all of them form a homogenous album, a feat not achieved easily.
If you like your power metal more complex than Helloween/Gamma Ray level and enjoy incredibly melodic vocals paired with hefty riffs, splendid refrains and the occasional ’80s/’90s thrash metal gang shout callback, Judicator is the band for you. Unless Blind Guardian challenge Judicator with a new release this year, Judicator‘s The Last Emperor will surely be one of the best records in this particular melodic power metal niche in 2018 due to its diversity.