Review Summary: Judgement Day does a good job combining classical and metal, but sounds much better when they're doing their own thing.
There's an unquestionable relationship between classical music and metal, just ask Yngwie Malmsteen. Replace the guitars with violins and some tunes would be indistinguishable with something Motzart would call "Allegro." The trend in recent years seems to be to expose these similarities, what with Metallica releasing their live album backed by a symphony, and band like Apocalyptica throwing out the guitars altogether and playing chugging sixteenth notes on their cellos. Judgement Day fits in with the latter group more than the former, but really they're much better than Apocalyptica. Their music is much more diverse and they seem set on making art rather than a novelty. Just look at the liner notes and how they created the album artwork. Even the packaging (which is what drew me to the album in the first place), a cardboard "book-like" arrangement screams that this is a band that demands to be take seriously, and for the most part they deserve it. A good portion of the music is high quality, well performed, emotionally charged, and knows how to make what they do sound good... the rest of it borders on obnoxious kitsch.
Take the opener "Cobra Strike," for instance. You've got repetitive metal riffs coming from a violin and cello, double bass pounding away in the back, and a general feel that they're doing for metal what Ben Folds Five did for punk. But then there's a quite good middle bit with a classical/ Spanish feel to it. It's not a bad song, per se, but it's cheesy and a bit overwrought. The same goes for "Zombie Rodeo Clown" and "Klagenstuck" which, make it sound very much like this is nothing more than a novelty crossover group.
It's when the band drops the notion that they have to sound like some sort of fusion group and do their own thing that the album really shines. Songs like "Peacocks/Pink Monsters" or "Mark of Vishnu" are excellent. They're more melodic, less concerned with blazing tempo so much as creating well crafted song, but at the same time have that dirty, heavy feel that makes differentiates this from the likes of Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma. Or you have songs like "The Constant" that have lyrical melodies strung over double time drumming. It emphasizes just how diverse these guys are. Despite it's occasional cheese, the band never sounds awkward together, out of place or out of sync. You don't have a metal drummer banging away under some wimpy strings or a sense of faux-heaviness. When it's heavy, it's heavy.
They really come into their own at the end of the album. "Excelsior" slathers on the reverb, and serves as a reminder that violins can sound nasty and distorted without pedals. "Improvisation" is just that and shows the band doing something completely different. For the first part, it's an ambient drone, and sounds very much like post-rock. Initially, drums are completely absent, the rhythm carried by the first instance of pizzicato we've heard thus far, building into a repetitive jam. Really, it's not their best effort by far, and melodically goes about as far as you would expect a jam session like this to go, but it is one of the most unique songs on the album and makes it quite clear that this is not a one-trick band. Album closer "Genosha" is a nine minute rocker, and ends on a high note, mixing distorted and dissonant violin soloing with an incredibly powerful chorus before winding down into an uptempo, but lyrical decline, laying chords and drones over a repetitive melody and incredibly tasteful drumming.
Although a mix-up like this seems like pure novelty at first, this band could really be great. There are some incredible ideas on here. They know how to use their instruments for what they're typically used for and they have no fear of experimenting. What holds them back are the moments where they feel necessary to remind the listener that "look, we can play metal AND classical and do it at the same time!" resulting in a high quality, but also highly flawed disc.