By: John McLaughlin
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Released on July 17, 2015 via Divebomb Records
In 2008, Judicator vocalist John Yellend lost his brother to cancer.
The tragedy, understandably, took an incredible toll on both himself and his family, and in John’s own words from a Reddit AMA earlier this year, the trauma sat repressed inside him for years after the fact. It wasn’t until his bandmate, guitarist Tony Cordisco, sent him the music for what would become Judicator’s third full-length that he decided to fully explore the ordeal and bare his soul in front of the world. The end result is At the Expense of Humanity, an examination of the nature of life, death, and the human soul, all wrapped up tight in a package of obscenely awesome riffs.
As the third album in Judicator’s short-but-impressive discography, At the Expense of Humanity is a natural evolution of the band’s previous works. Where King of Rome was much more traditionally-minded, the follow-up Sleepy Plessow hinted at some progressive tendencies that are explored to greater depth on the newest album. Tony Cordisco has gone on-record as being a huge fan of Opeth, Steven Wilson, and Dan Swanö, and those influences result in an album that is both more varied and more structurally complex than either of its predecessors; you just need to listen to ‘Lucid Nightmare’ or ‘How Long Can You Live Forever?’ to see this exemplified, although it applies to several of the shorter songs on the album as well. Judicator doesn’t leave its power metal roots behind, though, and those looking to wreck their necks will find plenty of headbangable riffs, like those found in ‘Nemesis/Fratricide’ or the title track.
By far though, the standout performance of the album goes to John Yellend. His voice, comprised partly of Hansi Kürsch and partly of Riot’s Tony Moore, is delivered with incredible passion and purpose, which is not surprising considering the deeply personal subject matter of the lyrics. As a result, the vocals carry much of the weight of the album – an impressive feat, considering the quality of the music behind him, though the vocal melodies and Blind Guardian-inspired harmonies are crafted with just as much care as the riffs. Yellend’s performance becomes all the more impressive when you discover that the majority of the music was written before the concept came together; every note feels perfectly suited to the story, but knowing that the story was tailored to the music, rather than the other way around, drives home the brilliance of the vocal writing. Power metal, perhaps moreso than any other metal genre, can be made or broken by the vocals, and while the band would have no trouble succeeding with a lesser vocalist, the presence of a real powerhouse behind the mic does wonders for Judicator and for At the Expense of Humanity.
Horrible tragedy has long been known to result in moving acts of self-expression, and the poignancy of At the Expense of Humanity is built on how real the motivation behind it is. Even if you’ve never been in the position of watching someone slowly lose their life, the real-life turmoil dripping from the album is almost impossible to miss.
But, on the off-chance you don’t notice it, there’s still plenty to enjoy about At the Expense of Humanity. Because dem fuckin’ riffs, man.