May 18, 2015 Europe – War of Kings (Album Review)
In Stockholm, Sweden, back in 1979, vocalist Joey Tempest and guitarist John Norum began their Rock-n-Roll journey under the name Force. Winning a national talent contest in 1982, the musicians changed their name to Europe and went on to release their debut self-titled album in 1983, followed by Wings of Tomorrow in 1984. Working hard on crafting their sound, Europe rose to international acclaim when their third album in 1986, Final Countdown, literally exploded onto the thriving “hair” Metal scene of the ‘80s. Bringing a polished, melodic sound, and adding shimmering keyboard elements, would prove to be a game changer which influenced other artists in the scene to begin tempering their grit with synths and melodies that are more involved than the simple gang-bang style vocals that were the norm at the time.
Following a lengthy hiatus, minus a brief reunion in 1999, Europe returned to recording in 2004 with the album Stars From The Dark, and have been going strong since. Much like any band with the veteran pedigree of Europe, there has been a share of lineup change; most notably bringing in guitar player extraordinaire, Kee Marcello, to replace John Norum during the band’s peak. Norum, dissatisfied with the commercial direction the band was heading, left in 1986, but returned for good in 2003, helping Europe return to the more stripped down, Hard Rock approach. Now in 2015, they sport their classic lineup of Tempest (vocals/guitar), Norum (guitar), John Levén (bass, Mic Michaeli (keyboards), and Ian Haugland (drums). Three years removed from the impressive 2012 album, Bag of Bones, Europe returns with their tenth overall studio album via UDR Records, entitled War of Kings, as of March 10th.
On the band’s latest album, they eschews the crystalline clean production of their early material and the modern Rock elements of the mid 2000s. Instead, Europe picks up where they left off with Bag Of Bones and delivers a collection of raw, classic, heavy Rock tunes in the vein of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, but with the signature vocal delivery of Tempest. This is immediately apparent on the title track, “War Of Kings;” a chugging, ominous Blues/Rock number that combines Iommi-like riffing with Jon Lord’s inspired organ grinding. The second track, “Hole in My Pocket,” treats the listener to a skronky guitar riff by John Norum and shows off Tempest’s more gravel inflected vocals. Adding to the classic Rock dynamics are the Blues vamp of “Days of Rock and Roll” and the almost Kashmir-esque sounding “Rainbow Bridge”. Even the sole ballad, “Angels with Broken Hearts,” is delivered with an intentional, airy ‘70s vibe.
Europe has not completely abandoned their signature epicness from the past in place of this more earthy approach. Track three, “Second Day,” contains much of the elements of their early grandiosity. The mid-paced groove of “California 405” moves from its sparse verse sections to a wide open, somber chorus. Particularly compelling is the sinuous riffing of “Children of the Mind” which, combined with some generous keyboard interplay, gives a respectful nod to the heavier Progressive Rock sounds from the ‘70s. The eleventh track, “Light Me Up” is a good-time rocker with fuzzy guitars and heavy on the Blue vibe. The album closes with the haunting instrumental track “Vasastan,” which one might assume is a tribute to the Swedish city of the same name.
Those who remember Europe from their youth, with their perfect power ballads like “Carrie,” the guitar solo of “Superstitious,” from 1988’s Out Of This World, or the massive air-wave saturation “Final Countdown,” from the album with the same title, may find the band’s recent direction to be somewhat of an over-correction of sorts. Still, a band that has been around for more than three decades has earned the right to change and evolve however they see fit. The band sounds comfortable in this current direction and none of the tracks from this recent offering feel forced or contrived. Ultimately, War of Kings marks a solid release for these Scandinavian rockers, and while some might miss the sparkly sheen of their early works, or the punch of the Kevin Shirley produced Bag of Bones, listeners could certainly do worse than looking for a fix with some extremely solid, melodic Hard Rock. CrypticRock gives War of Kings 3.5 out of 5 stars.