Following the understandably personal detour that came with 2015’s At the Expense of Humanity, Judicator’s fourth full-length album returns to the world of historical power metal. In fact, The Last Emperor seems to be an update of the style on their 2012 debut King of Rome. It’s a very streamlined album compared to its immediate predecessors, boasting a shorter runtime at less than fifty minutes without a single interlude in sight. Including a re-recorded version of King of Rome’s title track as a bonus track only provides more fuel for my unlikely hypothesis.
Thankfully it’s not a retread by any means as a more polished production job clears the path for even more melody and bombast. In an interesting twist, Judicator has completely phased out the harsh vocals that’d been present since their inception, allowing for frequent choral vocal layers. The results somehow make the band’s Blind Guardian ideation even more transparent than it’d already been though that’s hardly a complaint when John Yelland’s voice remains reliably strong and the vocal lines on songs like “Take Up the Cross” are this catchy. Do I even need to elaborate on how awesome it is to hear Hansi Kursch himself sing on “Spiritual Treason?”
With this being said, the second Judicator album to feature a full studio lineup, it’s nice to see the other musicians get the job done so well. The guitars often present themselves on equal footing with the vocals, providing a steady flow of rapid fire chugs, raging whirlwind leads, and occasional acoustic interplay on “Antioch.” The bass guitar even gets a few spots to shine on “Queen of all Cities,” a move that’s especially enjoyable considering how their source of inspiration hasn’t released a song with an audible bassline since the 90s.
As someone who wishes that King of Rome had been more polished, it’s neat to see Judicator offer a new album that seems to be a revamp of that style instead of a full re-recording. I’m pretty sure that the band had no intention of doing so but even if they did, The Last Emperor is grandiose and well written enough to not only stand out but come out superior. Thinking of it as mere Blind Guardian worship is selling it short but it’s sure better at it than Savage Circus.
“Take Up the Cross”
“Queen of all Cities”