Judicator - The Last Emperor (Review)

Judicator’s fourth album is a concept album that delves into history similar to their albums King of Rome and Sleepy Plessow, but this time the events of the First Crusade are the inspiration of the songs. After At The Expense of Humanity, to have an album based on one of the most controversial events in all of humanity’s history is incredibly exciting. To quote CROM owner Carl Frederick, it truly is as if “Blind Guardian and Riot had a lovechild called Judicator." For those unfamiliar with the timeline of these events, as well as highlighting the performances of the songs, let’s follow the album track by track:

The Last Emperor: The scene is that of the nearly 40,000 soldiers gathering before a handful of priests as they bless the army to retake the Holy Land. Between the chanting of the priests and the power of the relics at their disposal, the protagonist of the album (a knight in the retinue of famed Crusader leader Godfrey of Bouillon) is swept up into holy fervor as they prepare to march towards the Levant with the idea of absolution of all sins driving these men to brace for adventure. This song is a stellar opener for the album, and sets the pace for the rest of the album.

Take Up Your Cross: Once his holy fervor has settled down, the listener finds the protagonist rationalizing the decision he’s made to leave his home and embark upon this quest. There is doubt and fear within him, but he steels himself to go on Crusade because he feels called to defend those that cannot defend themselves and are falling victim to the villainous Saracens regardless of how terrified he may be feeling as he marches into lands completely unknown to him. Michael Sanchez’s lead guitar work on this track, as well as the rest of the album, is a wonderful addition to Judicator’s artistic palette.

Raining Gold: Here the protagonist partakes in some of the Rhineland massacres of the Jewish population in 1096 that were encouraged by the zealous preacher Peter the Hermit. While he partakes in the massacres, the listener begins to see the doubt of the rationale behind why such atrocities were being committed. The Jewish women of the towns of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz threw showers of gold coins at the Crusading army in order to buy their safety, but much of it was futile as they massacres rampaged through the towns. John Yelland’s vocal range go into King Diamond territory at being able to sing very high without the awkwardness of falling short of hitting the notes, and the manic delivery of the vocals really portrays the 'franticness' of these atrocities.

The Queen of All Cities: Finally after months of travel and adventures, the Crusading army arrives at the city considered to be the doorstep of Asia, the Eye of All the World, Constantinople. Before the army can be given passage across the Hellespont into the enemy territory of the Seljuk Turks, Emperor Alexios forces most of the leaders to swear allegiance to him in order to have the Crusading army reclaim lands that formerly belonged to him (hint hint, most of the Crusading army’s leaders had their fingers crossed when making their oaths). With the formalities out of the way, the army crosses into Asia Minor and begins to suffer with the loss of horses due to malnourishment before reaching the city of Nicaea. Tony Cordisco and Michael Sanchez both contribute fabulous guitar solos on this sprawling track.

Spiritual Treason: The main character begins ask himself the tough question about how holy and justified this holy war truly is, but the weights of his sins and the offer of their absolution drives him to keep pressing on regardless of how shameful he may feel at the slaughter of the people that are seen as enemies. The great Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian joins us on this track and is synced perfectly alongside John Yelland’s vocals. Carlos Alvarez of Power Theory’s excellent mixing and Brett Caldas-Lima’s mastering skills perfectly compliments Charlie Bauerfeind’s engineering of Hansi’s vocals. It’s hard to tell whether or not this is either a Blind Guardian song or a Judicator song because everything comes together so fluently.

Antioch: The Crusading army then arrives after much trials and adventures at the ancient city of Antioch. Almost immediately, they begin to lay siege to the city. Amidst some of the sorties that the army attempted, one of the knights by the name of Raynald Porchet was captured and the Turkish garrison gave him every opportunity to renounce his faith to live with the Turks in comfort or to have him ransomed back to the army. After praying for days, he denied both and was martyred. Dave Brown of Chaos Frame adds his vocals onto this track, and they compliment the range of Mr. Yelland’s vocals gracefully.

Nothing But Blood: This track tells how Godfrey of Bouillon bravely hunted a bear in Asia Minor that had been terrorizing pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and the holy sites in the area. This event is only found in a handful of sources from the time, however, it serves as an intriguing metaphor as the noble Godfrey defends the defenseless against the “beastly” Muslim overlords. The thought of it being difficult to tell between the blood of the man and the beast can easily be transmuted to the events of the First Crusade. Michael and Tony’s guitar solos are excitedly reminiscent of the twin guitar attacks of the usual suspects such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

It Falls To Jerusalem: Finally, we reach the culmination of the Crusades. At first, we see Bohemond unsurprisingly break his oath to Alexios and claim the title of Lord of Antioch for his own self after the long and grinding siege had been lifted and the remainder of the garrison was slaughtered. Godfrey, amongst other leaders, call Bohemond a coward for such treachery. However, seeing as Bohemond was stubbornly determined to remain in Antioch, the rest of the army turns to march towards Jerusalem. As the Crusaders reach the holy city, the holy fervor returns and all of the soldiers proceed to massacre any and all of the residents remaining within the city. Being offered the Crown of Jerusalem, Godfrey feels the hollowness of receiving such a crown. Even having his sins absolved, he still struggles with not feeling a sense of peace he thought he would feel after the holy land had been “liberated”. In fact, it is not the end of the journey, but the beginning of another chapter that is the history of the holy land.

King of Rome - Here is a re-recording of the title track off of their debut album, and it is a fitting song to end the album. While the subject matter is about Napoleon, the similar themes of the maddening drive that leaders have to obtain that which they deem illustrious or holy is similar enough to where it fits perfectly. Again, the twin guitar attack of Michael and Tony really enter into a territory that is occupied by the likes of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray where their technical styles are different from one another, yet compliment each other excellently.

In closing, this is an amazing album that is the next artistic step for a group that is poised to be one of the leading lights of the American heavy metal scene. This would be the album that truly defines Judicator’s sound as an exquisite combination of power metal and thrash metal. For fans of Blind Guardian that are waiting impatiently for their next album, they will find much that pleases on this album (it even has Hansi dropping by for a visit). And yes, BUY THIS ALBUM!!!

10/10 HAILS

Label: Self-Released (2018)

1. The Last Emperor

2. Take Up Your Cross

3. Raining Gold

4. The Queen of All Cities

5. Spiritual Treason (ft. Hansi Kürsch)

6. Antioch

7. Nothing But Blood

8. It Falls to Jerusalem

9. King of Rome (2018 Re-Recording) (Bonus Track CD)

#Judicator #powermetal #traditionalmetal #review

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