It seems Judicator can do no wrong; everyone of their albums seem to garner plenty of praise and high marks. Still, they’ve not really broken into the mainstream even of the power metal subgenre, though it’s likely their fourth full length The Last Emperor will mark that milestone. After releasing a couple of fairly overlong albums between 2012 and 2015 it’s cool to see a more laid back and concise approach, as The Last Emperor clocks in at around 45 minutes; not letting it overstay its welcome while also keeping things interesting throughout and lacking filler. The Last Emperor sounds much like a tribute or spiritual follow-up to main inspiration Blind Guardian’s 2002 album A Night At The Opera; full of melodic anthems and thick, layered vocals atop the pounding rhythms and, at times, slight progressive leanings while still lending from the earlier, speed and aggressively infused leanings of said German icons.
It’s a classically sounding record that has all the pomp and flair of a great power metal album, while still offering something fresh and interesting. So while the album starts out pretty strong with some nice tracks in the title track and Raining Gold, it really picks up around the middle with Queen Of All Cities, from where there is no going back. Dealing with The First Crusade it takes the listener to the Middle East and infuses some melodies that truly invoke the setting, notably in the intro of epic mid album piece Queen Of All Cities. Guitarists Tony Cordisco and newcomer Michael Sanchez bless this quest for the holy land with their mighty riff work and fleshy guitar tone. Add to that the catchy leads that delve into the epic scope more and more as the album progresses. The melodic lead guitars found on the album are without doubt part of its greatest strengths, as Cordisco and Sanchez just lets them flow with fury and with melodic precision such as Judicator hasn’t seen before. Then there are tracks like Antioch that just go all out on the almost thrash like intensity of the gritty riffage.
If the already Blind Guardian heavy inspiration weren’t enough, Hansi Kürsch lends his magnificent set of vocal chords to album highlight Spiritual Treason. He shares lead vocal duties with main vocalist John Yelland in this one track to bring it that little extra piece of epic, hitting the spot just right with melodic punctuation and a mighty chorus. The Last Emperor shows Judicator’s dynamics and is expressive without being an experimental, overlong drab, and with the songwriting on point just as much as the musical delivery of each member it carries the recipe for the Arizona quartet’s finest output yet, bringing plenty of power and a well told storyline through both evocative lyrics and densely well laid melodic pieces and intricate riffing. While it may not prove to be the power metal release of 2018 as some claim, it is still a damn good listen and an album that no fan of the genre should miss out on.
Standout tracks: Queen Of All Cities, Spiritual Treason, It Falls To Jerusalem