I often hear that the attention span of folks is getting shorter.
I agree. If a video on Facebook goes longer than a few seconds, I scroll on… So, when I saw that “Judas” was 24 tracks and 1 hour and 44 minutes of duration, I wondered how I would pay attention for that long…
Do you love him, like him or loathe him? I reckon it depends in your perspective, your experiences and what media accounts you’ve read.
Somewhat like Judas. (To be clear: I am in no way saying one is like the other. I was making a point about perspective.)
LOTL described this album as “As the overall topic, LORD OF THE LOST detail the perception of the character of Judas Iscariot, known as highly diverse, and the so-called Gospel of Judas, a paper that’s said to consist of conversations between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot and casts a different light on religious history as it’s told in the Bible’s New Testament.”
Religion is fertile ground for artists, being able to tell a tale. In addition, as we all bring our beliefs to the table, we have an emotional connection with the subject matter. This is a double album, following the story of Judas Iscariot, traversing a story of deception into one of redemption. Following on from albums such as “Empyrean” and “Thornstar”, “Judas” is their seventh album and is a broad-ranging tale spread out over 2 albums. These are split into “Damnation”, the traditional story of a traitor and it’s beguiling villainy and “Salvation”, the soulful bravery of the gospel according to Judas.
With 24 tracks I attempted to show great restraint in my description of them, lest this review become as epic as a, well, LOTL album…
“Priest” opened with an ephemeral feel, including a female voice and low, choral voices. I was left with no illusions, that this was going to be an experience rich in religious imagery. Duh. Harms’s voice appeared, along with an intriguing bass pulse. Quickly, the premise of”Damnation” was front and centre, with Judas being “born to be a traitor”.
It was a restrained opening that soon gained momentum. The sonic depth gradually built, then fell away into an acoustic arrangement, which built yet again. This happened often in many of the tracks, but it never felt overdone.
“For They Know What They Do” knew what to do, skilfully utilising a chant throughout. It was quite beautiful in terms of melody. It was simple lyrically, but dynamically complex in terms of its instrumentation. This built abundant atmosphere, something that LOTL do brilliantly. This included a stunning piano ending.
“Your Star Has Led You Astray” lead me astray with its interesting stick percussion and heavily fuzzed effects. It was attention grabbing, which served to deepen my connection with the unfolding tale. One lyric piqued my interest – “a bullet with your name on it”. Did they have firearms 2 000 odd years ago? Nope, this is an example of contemporary ideas and topics being woven in to enrich the tapestry that is this tale.
“Born with a Broken Heart” utilised a gospel choir to get my heart connected and it used a strikingly different sound and tempo. This work had already utilised variety to ensure that each track didn’t merely bleed into the ones around it. It was an engaging arrangement, utilising the repeating of sounds and the choruses to add intent, with Harms continuing to build upon the narrative. This track felt familiar, borrowing from tracks on previous albums.
“The 13th” was an easy segway form the previous track, beginning with plaintive vocals. It was the tale of a tortured soul, aware of the gravity of an uncertain future. Harms’s vocals were showcased brilliantly.
“In the Field of Blood” made reference to where Judas is written to have hanged himself. This track was an authentic blending of metal and classical music. It was suitably reflective and I enjoyed the lyric “the tree in the distance: the end of my road”. Judas had accepted his fate, that he would be “dying on my own”.
“2000 Years a Pyre” was another shift in sound, uplifting in tone, despite the content. You can hear the demons, like insects, capering in the background. Harms’s screaming vocals signal the torture, followed by some epically evocative guitar work. It closed with some disturbing demonic sounds.
“Death Is Just a Kiss Away” rose with an exquisite piano and cello pairing, soon partnered by an organ. A large scale choir added an angelic element. It was rife with melancholic lament.
“The Heart Is a Traitor” began with heavy distortion and a powerfully timed pause, before sashaying into a pumping piece of metal. It allowed me to gain a perspective into the motivation of Judas. The different sound gave me a break from the twisted torment, despite it still being present in this track.
“Euphoria” shone forth with tinkling piano in a music box-like sound. The elegant lyrics had me paying attention. There was a gradual building of sound and complexity, giving a sense of hope.
“Be Still and Know” was far from still as it opened with distorted chords. This was joined by a choir and the other elements were added to form a complex and intricate sound. It ebbed allowed from this to simple piano and back again. It was somewhat unsettling. I knew that I was far from still.
“The Death of All Colours” began with slow vocals. There was a frighteningly deep voice in the background, that got even deeper! It set the stage well for the end of this section, rounding off “Damnation” with finality, absolution and having no regrets.
A long pause signalled the end of “Damnation” and that we were about to embark on a journey of “Salvation”.
“The Gospel Of Judas” thumped open, eloquently announcing the change of character of this Act. The chant of “Judas! Judas!” was infectious. This was urgent, operatic metal. It had me thinking that it would be right at home in on the soundtrack of “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
“Viva Vendetta” lived long through its simple acoustic guitar opening, before slipping into an ambient tempo with a looping syncopation that had my foot tapping. I enjoyed the lyric “Viva Vendetta, the redder, the better”. Harms growled for a section, with this serving as a powerful counterpoint.
“Argent” kicked off with a lone female voice and background reverberations that sounded as a prayer to the heavens. It built quickly into a faster pace, before falling away to less instruments and more storytelling. Like other tracks, it ebbed and flowed to build atmosphere and was rich in symbolism, such as “the silver of my heart” and “the arrow of the stars”.
“The Heartbeat of the Devil” had an opening that was as tough as Hell. Obviously! Clever percussion lent a heartbeat-like rhythm and the track was robust in sound. It was expansive in arrangement and it stood out somewhat against what had gone before. It was strong and engaging – this was significant mischief.
“And It Was Night” dawned with another thumper of an opening, connecting well to the previous track. I was pleased to have a break from the passionately plaintive air of some of the previous tracks – they were great, but like visits from my mother-in-law, a little goes a long way. This track added significantly to the story with a rock opera feel.
“My Constellation” shone with a simple arrangement to accompany Harms’s reflective vocals. It had a very interesting arrangement, particularly in percussion – a somewhat electro/ muted sound that popped up repeatedly. Harms’s voice displayed great power.
“The Ashes of Flowers” sprouted simple drums and an intriguing keyboard arrangement. This was soon joined by a piano, vocals and a male choir. Again, the arrangement was terrific, with the elements combined masterfully to provide emphasis and enrichment as the track went through different phases. It’s intensity snuck up on me.
“Iskarioth” had a heavy fuzz opening and a sense of urgency, it had me sensing the weight of this Act. It was a track about torment, deception and betrayal and it rollicked along. It left me feeling hurt and desperate for revenge.
“A War Within” rose with slow, beautiful strings. It soon built up to the evocative best that LOTL provides and it was an excellent showcase of Harms’s considerable talents.
“A World Where We Belong” belonged right here, with a robust opening, simpler in arrangement, but still significant in sound. There was lots to like here, with the track being grandiose in nature, the use of abundantly clever lyrics and a compelling desire to belong as it’s central theme.
“Apokatastasis” greeted me with a deeply reverberating layers of cello. I was immediately sad. The engineering on this track was sublime and it had me paying attention to discreet elements of each channel. I lack the words to adequately describe the beauty of this work.
“Work of Salvation” again opened with piano, but with unhurried vocals. A choir and deep cello soon joined, creating a deeply reflective and restrained mood. It served to poignantly anchor the premise of this Act, before gradually stripping back to nothingness…
Being the story of Judas, this work was obviously a story of pain, betrayal, faith and redemption. What surprised me was that often there were contemporary themes interwoven with the tale.
As a band, LOTL have continued to develop their sound and unity, with the result being an increased tightness and balance in their work. Their musicianship is unquestionable, as is their growth in their exploration of sound.
Another hallmark of this album was its pacing. The “Salvation” side had more upbeat lyrics and the music was more reflective, symphonic and hopeful.
This album is best consumed as a complete experience, as it demands your attention – this isn’t really “background music”. There were many twists and threads interwoven amongst the album that pulled it together tightly. I marvelled at the planning that must have gone into this work – laying out the tale in a compelling and coherent manner. This is “Game of Thrones” level planning…
“Judas” was delivered in a manner that is the epitome of contemporary gothic metal, epic and grandiose in scale and intent – just as the subject matter demands.
Given my aforementioned shorter attention span, did this hold my attention? Mostly. I was transfixed on many occasions, lost in emotions on others and found my attention wandering on others. All of that said, I think it’s too long…
Donald Trump. That’s it. Just seeing if you’re still paying attention…
But – in the right mood, I’ll do a Lord of the Rings marathon. This album is like that. If you have time and are in the mood, it is singular experience.
I enjoyed the musicianship, the lyrics and the engineering and that there were two discreet acts. Harms has no peer in being able to direct and compile epic tales of fantasy and thought provoking musical journeys.