There’s a nasty rumor – perpetuated by years of actually being true – that when an underground band signs to a larger, mainstream label their sound gets neutered; their wings are clipped and their teeth are filed down so as to not harm the delicate sensibilities of the commercial masses. Prosthetic Records have been defying this with excellent releases from the likes of Vile Creature and Rebel Wizard, just to mention two amazing releases from 2020 alone. So it should come as no surprise that Judicator, far from delivering a rote, by-the-numbers slab of historical power metal have put out possibly the heaviest, more glorious record of their careers with Let There Be Nothing. This is the benchmark by which I hold other bands who want to carry the label of “USPM” accountable in terms of power, majesty and killer anthemic riffs moving forward.
You’ve been warned.
It’s no secret that Nine Circles are huge fans of Judicator: we interviewed musical mastermind Tony Cordisco and lyricist/vocal powerhouse John Yelland back in 2018 when their excellent The Last Emperor was released, a record we found much to revel in. At the time of the interview Cordisco mentioned they were already hard at work writing the followup album, and influences stretched from melodic black metal to more progressive elements, à la Opeth and Porcupine Tree, all through the singular power metal lens Judicator have brought to every record to date. And the first listen of Let There Be Nothing definitely shows a band really leaning into the heavier side of the genre. Within the first minute of opening track “Let There Be Light” you get a lightning fast gallop worthy of the best of Iron Maiden before twisting into wicked progressive runs and licks that echo the repeated refrains a lot of extreme bands use to build mood and atmosphere.
This sense of aggression has been there since the band’s 2012 debut King of Rome, where it was even at times more pronounced and disparate from the other stylistic changes that would often arrive mid-song (check out “Riding Again” for a good example of the abrupt style shift). Hearing how Cordisco and Yelland took their myriad of influences and blended them more and more seamlessly from the debut to the following year’s Sleepy Plessow; from there to the dark, personal hurt of 2015’s At The Expense Of Humanity and glorious aforementioned The Last Emperor has been a revelation. With the arrival of Let There Be Nothing it feels like a summation of what the band have been trying to achieve from the very beginning.
So let’s get to those songs. Looking for those touches of Opeth Cordisco mentioned in the interview? Look no further than “Strange to the World” which right down to the swing of the opening riff feels like a lost cousin to My Arms Your Hearse. There are so many moments in Let There Be Nothing that shine, from the borderline blast beats on “Tomorrow’s Sun” to the double blast of epic metal on late tracks “Amber Dusk” and “Way of the Pilgrim.” Judicator have never been afraid of laying it all out on lengthier songs, and the way the aforementioned songs move from traditional power metal attacks to more progressive and thrash/death elements speak to how far the band’s ability to weave their influences into the songs have come.
But punchy works just as well: single “Gloria” is – pardon the sloppy joke – glorious. And it’s here we have to give copious amounts of praise to John Yelland, who continues putting his incredible range to incredible effect. Whether it’s the anthemic chorus of “Gloria” or the way he can evoke an army of moods and tones with a quick change on powerhouse closer “Let There Be Nothing” he’s one of the premier vocalists in the genre right now, and shows how you can carry the traditional elements of power metal and make it, well…metal AF.
Every release from Judicator continues to improve upon the last, and Let There be Nothing feels like they’re at the top of their game, which leaves the question: where can they go from here?
The last lyric from the title track says it all: Ever marching on…