In some respects, The Majesty Of Decay is familiar ground for JUDICATOR. The latest album from the American quartet is an hour of elaborate power metal with a progressive edge. The songs are long, intricate blasts of riffage, choral vocals and creative musicianship, all structured around a single theme. They’ve done this before; they’ve written epic records about Byzantine Emperors and the rise of Napoleon, so long-term followers might not immediately notice a difference.
But there is a reason why The Majesty Of Decay sticks out from JUDICATOR’s existing discography; this is a concept album where the entire storyline is a closely guarded secret. No one outside the band and their immediate families knows what this record is about. We know there is a grand idea behind it all, but they’re keeping the precise details vague.
That said, when singer/keyboardist John Yelland joins us for a chat, he lets slip a few titbits and gives us a general idea. We know that it’s very personal, and it functions like a sequel to their third album, At The Expense Of Humanity. That record chronicled John’s experiences when his older brother died from cancer, and The Majesty Of Decay covers similar ground. Death casts an imposing shadow, but crucially, this time it’s not solely a negative thing:
“At The Expense Of Humanity is a more ‘depressing album’, but I wanted to revisit subjects that flow out of it with this new one,” he tells us. “But more from the perspective of transforming the negative into something meaningful. It’s one thing to say ‘okay, this horrible thing happened and my life has forever changed’, but that doesn’t have to be negative. There’s always going to be something bad that comes with something so horrible, but so much of existence is touched by tragedy that I think in order to stay sane, we have to find ways to frame what happened in a constructive way. That’s what The Majesty Of Decay is about at its roots.”
As he describes it, it becomes apparent that while The Majesty Of Decay treads similar ground to its predecessor, it does so from a different perspective. At The Expanse Of Humanity was an album that stared death in the face and screamed with rage and futility, whereas The Majesty Of Decay reflects on it from a distance. John clearly misses his brother, but experiencing tragedy at such a young age has shaped him and his relationships with friends and family. There’s a line in Metamorphosis, the closing song, where he says: “having your heart ripped out can be a source of grace.” It’s the most potent lyric on the album; even the most horrific events can have positive ripples.
Keeping the particulars of the storyline hidden is a deliberate reaction to the earlier record too. As John tells it, leaving things vague was a way of making the listener the lead character and take the focus off of him. “I think a lot of people were touched by At The Expense Of Humanity, but that was very much my story. With The Majesty Of Decay, I wanted it to be more open to every listen. It’s multi-layered, there’s a definite concept going on but I don’t want all the cards on the table.”
If that’s left you thinking that JUDICATOR must be a very po-faced, intellectual group however, you’re likely to be surprised. The Majesty Of Decay is a dark and unforgiving record until it reaches the halfway point. As it crosses the line from Ursa Minor into Ursa Major, there’s a dramatic mood shift.
“We’ve very intentionally tried to frame the album as a mirror,” John says. “The first half is dark but then it transitions into light, that’s integral to the theme of the album. The first part is much more ominous and unforgiving, whereas the second is brighter and open and a lot more positive.”
Once you notice this crossover point, it becomes impossible to unsee it. Track one is a direct mirror of track ten, track two does the same with track nine and so on throughout the entire thing. As soon as Ursa Major kicks off with its galloping guitar riffs and upbeat lyrics about bears, the album becomes a highly entertaining jaunt through otherwise grim territory.
Framing it like this is highly appropriate too; JUDICATOR themselves have two sides. They deal with some pretty heavy ideas, but they also like to have a laugh. Look up the video for The High Priestess on YouTube and you’ll see several grown men having a right old time. Aside from the fact they keep doing boyband poses, there’s also an unexpected brass band section and references to The Notebook. Yes, The Notebook. A band who once wrote an album about the downfall of L’Empereur, have written a metal song which name-checks a classic romantic drama starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.
It’s very silly but in a roundabout way, this kind of authenticity marks JUDICATOR out from the power metal pack. The Notebook is a good movie, but let’s face it, it’s thoroughly uncool. The popular conception is that power metal bands should write chest beating songs about war, werewolves and whatever that last BLIND GUARDIAN album was about, but JUDICATOR don’t care. They want to express their true selves through stories and metaphors, and it’s resulted in a rich, multi-layered album about life, death and the nature of humanity. Sometimes life is dark and harrowing, at others it’s upbeat and jovial. And sometimes it’s no more than sitting on a sofa, watching two good-looking people fall in love by leaving one another letters in a time travelling letterbox. And who doesn’t love Rachel McAdams?
The Majesty Of Decay is out now via Prosthetic Records.
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