Hungarian power metal band Wisdom are one of those unique groups that aren’t only able to maintain a solid and consistent aesthetic identity across multiple records, but also continue concepts and composition techniques. All of their albums contain references to an enigmatic, nomadic figure they refer to as “Wiseman,” and every one of their songs are based on a single famous quote. They also tend to base many of their lyrics (especially choruses) on epigrams and adages as well. Judas fits into the rest of their cannon seamlessly. Originally released on Soundholic Records on April 4th 2011, Wisdom‘s vast, bombastic power metal album Judas will finally see a worldwide release through NoiseArt Records on August 24th 2012. The re-release includes a bonus track, “All Alone,” off of their 2007 EP At The Gates.
The strongest point on this record is also, strangely, it’s greatest weakness. Before the release of Judas, Wisdom‘s future was uncertain, as they parted ways with longtime vocalist Istvan Nachladal in 2008. They took their time looking for a suitable replacement, and definitely found the right man in Gabor Nagy. He fully commits to the aesthetic and vision of Wisdom, and suits the band’s songwriting style very well. His clear, almost crystalline high end soars above the instrumentation, sweet and effortless; but when he sticks to his lower range, his voice takes on a robust, muscular quality while losing none of its suppleness. He’s an exceptional talent and his style is perfectly suited to the writing on Judas.
And then, mixing and production choices took this great vocal asset and turned it into one of the most grating aspects of the record. Nagy’s vocals are placed front and centre, and much too loud in the mix. Vocals often end up being the centrepiece on power metal records, often duking it out with the intricate, impossibly fast guitar solos for the most striking feature on a record. On Judas, the production makes that choice for the listener. So eager to show off Nagy’s skills were Wisdom that they do so at the expense of the balance of the rest of the record. I also think technique of creating layer upon layer of vocals is over-used throughout the record, again placing too much emphasis on Nagy’s contribution while at the same time obscuring the fine points and distinct features of his voice.
If one can get past the series of missteps that characterize the vocals, Judas is a solid record for those who like their power metal performatively over-the-top without becoming to techy or prog in the process. The emotional and philosophical scope of the album is vast, and the songs all have a matching amount of pomp and circumstance woven through them. The song structures are appropriately palatial to match – the ten tracks on Judas clock in at a lordly 40 minutes of grand, sweeping musical vistas.
Wisdom continue their familiar trope of basing each one of their songs on a popular quote. Their source material is drawn from many cultures and historical periods, and they’re as likely to cite a Roman general as a Romantic poet. Perhaps the strongest song on the record, “Heaven and Hell,” is based on a line from Dante Alighieri’s famous epic poem, Inferno, a part of the inscription that supposedly hangs above the gates of hell: “abandon hope, ye who enter here!” Using the words of another to convey your own feelings and narratives is a tricky game, and more often than not the lyrics come across as the philosophical equivalent of a mix-tape. The tactic does function to effectively anchor each song to a big idea, however, and in this way is a rich and artistically valuable constraint – a quality that Wisdom perhaps need a bit more of.
Power metal often walks a very fine line. The finest, most sublime incarnations of the genre are always those that push the envelope of grandness, whether that be in the form on a fantastical narrative that shapes the record or intense, nearly-overwrought musical performances, while managing to stop just short of descending into the ridiculous. Power metal is a baroque art form, revelling in the extremes of intricacy and ornamentation, rejecting spartan restraint [Translation: power metal guys are wankers – AMG]. Wisdom have not achieved that perfect balance of too-much-yet-just enough with Judas. They exceed the mark is some areas, and don’t push far enough in others. However, while that have not produced an extraordinary example of their genre, what is here is flawed but enjoyable, an valiant attempt in the right direction.