Judicator – The Majesty of Decay Review

When we last saw Judicator grace these hallowed pages, ‘consistent’ was a word that could have been aptly used to describe the band’s situation. For the second time in as many years, they were releasing a historically themed opus of quality power metal tunes with the exact same lineup, and Let There Be Nothing nearly matched The Last Emperor’s brilliance. It seemed as if Judicator had found a winning formula that placed them at the front of the modern US power metal pack, but little did we know that change was coming. Shortly after the release of Let There Be Nothing, founding guitarist/co-vocalist/songwriter Alicia Cordisco left the band, leaving many (read: me) wondering how the band’s sound would be impacted going forward. Add to that the announcement that the band’s 2022 album would be eschewing history to focus once again on the intensely personal subject matter of their 2015 release At the Expense of Humanity—an album that beautifully and tragically described the battle that vocalist John Yelland’s brother fought with cancer—and the future seemed even more murky. So I stopped trying to speculate, and simply gave The Majesty of Decay a listen. And what did I hear?

My first listen of The Majesty of Decay brought both a sense of familiarity and one of progression and exploration. While Judicator in 2022 still sounds like Judicator in all of their Blind Guardian-esque power metal glory, The Majesty of Decay sees them exploring said power metal through a lot of different lenses. If you haven’t yet heard the lead single, “The High Priestess,” you’re in for a bit of a shock. Sure it’s a rousing power metal tune, but it’s bolstered by organs and a brass band to provide what the band says is ‘our best idea of what it would look like if Tom Jones did heavy metal.’ This statement might put a frown on some of our readers’ beautiful faces, but I shit you not, I think it’s one of the best songs of 2022. The purposely goofy video for the song—it might be one of my favorite music videos ever—belies its heartbreaking subject matter, and the lyrics have become a source of inspiration for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m a father of a 12 year-old-girl who’s frantically trying to become an adult, but the song’s chorus of ‘all the days I lived my life, I never knew… precious moments I let slip away…’ cuts me straight to the heart.

But don’t let the bizarreness of “The High Priestess” dissuade you from trying the whole album; The Majesty of Decay is as varied as it is brilliant. “Daughter of Swords” and “Ursa Major” are fairly standard Judicator tunes. Their seemingly simple power metal surface is undergirded by intricate, progressive guitar work, and they should please longtime fans. But then you have tracks like “Ursa Minor” and its melodic black metal riffing, the doomy and gloomy “From the Belly of the Whale,” and the proggy, symphonic majesty of “The Black Elk” proving that the band’s sound can’t be easily contained within one or two genre tags. Epic closer “Metamorphosis” busts out the conga drums and a saxophone solo (which I usually hate) to end on a relatively uplifting note, but I find its predecessor, the penultimate “Judgment,” to be the most excellent number on display here. The latter’s tragic theme is juxtaposed with bombastic power metal, and it joins “The High Priestess” as a Song o’ the Year contender.

The central theme is what elevates The Majesty of Decay to an even higher level than its already stellar music could on its own. I don’t fully understand it all even with the provided lyrics, but the story presents themes like fear, loss, regret, faith, redemption, and salvation, and the quality of the music matches it at every step along the way. New guitarist Barlow Lemus (NovaReign) shows impressive shred ability but can also play with incredible feeling and restraint when the music calls for it, and Yelland’s voice mixes with the backing vocals to create moment after moment of resplendent glory. The whole story may last an hour, but I’ve found it easily replayable. The record is less dependent on standout tracks than the band’s recent efforts, but I love something about every song on here. And “Daughter of Swords,” “The High Priestess,” and “Judgment” are simply world-class.

After losing the brilliant guitar work and songwriting of Cordisco, it would have be easy for Yelland and co. to play it safe here, but they gambled, pushing Judicator’s boundaries further than they have ever reached. And the gamble paid off. The Majesty of Decay is simply one of the best power metal albums released in the last few years, and potentially, my favorite Judicator yet.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: judicatormetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/judicatormetal
Releases Worldwide: November 22nd, 2022

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