To say that Europe after their reunion is a watershed among their fans is the understatement of the year. Some fans simply adore their more seventies retro inspired hard rock with clear influences by bands such as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, UFO and Led Zeppelin while others hate it and only want their more AOR laden melodic rock of the eighties. And of course, there are those who think just the opposite. Me, I am a huge fan of both – I think that Out Of This World (1988) is easily one of the best albums they have ever made, despite the horrible production, but I also think that the trilogy of Last Look At Eden (2009), Bag Of Bones (2012) and War Of Kings (2015) are just as strong. Fact is, I gave their two latest albums the full monty here so I guess I favor their latest style. But with Europe, it’s the best of both worlds, I think. They’re a different beast today but no matter what era you prefer, everything they do comes out sounding only like Europe, which is quite impressive if you ask me.
Some people call Europe’s transformation from AOR rockers into a 70’s heavy rock act a metamorphosis, but I wouldn’t go that far. A natural progression, is more accurate. See, it’s not that strange the musical route that Europe have taken here. If you go back and read old interviews with the band, you’ll find them name dropping Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, UFO, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath as their big influences with bands such as Scorpions and Dokken added to that list so if anything, it’s more strange that that they didn’t start out playing that kind of music from the start. With that logic, it’s actually the AOR-ish music they played that is the strange choice here. Well, my thoughts only and be that as it may, like it or not, it’s the classic rock Europe that are alive and well today and no one should probably hold their breath for a return to their 80’s sound. With that said, Europe have a new album out and from this guy, the expectations are set somewhere around Mars – very, very high, that is.
They open the record with the album’s leading single, the title track. Make no mistake, this tune is worlds apart from stuff like “Rock The Night” or “Cherokee” with catchy rock riffs and radio-friendly chorus hooks but for some reason this classic rock pearl had me from hello. It’s catchy as hell, but it’s not catchy catchy, if you get my drift. The tune comes in a mid pace but with an addictive groove and a steady beat. The 70’s are all over the tune and it’s not hard to draw parallels to both Rainbow and Led Zeppelin, but with Mic Michaeli’s prominent organ, I also get a Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) feel and even modern-day Opeth comes to mind – Michaeli rules the tune with big conviction and self-confidence. The chorus is striking and memorable and I love the tune hard. Superb! Next up, “The Siege” hits like a ton of bricks. With a kicking groove, a fierce Hammond sound and a ballsy rhythm, the song is a slapshot that hits the net without hesitation. Sure, John Norum’s rhythm guitar could be lifted a bit higher in the mix but it’s of academic meaning and with John Levén’s fat bass lines, the song just can’t lose. Another winner!
“Kingdom United” follows with a heavy, pumping rhythm – classic hard rock with a slightly progressive touch. The Uriah Heep vibe turns up once again but never takes over and the vocal arrangement also brings Opeth in again here and there. But Norum’s Michael Schenker influenced solo brings out the contrast and the very memorable melodies turns this tune into another killer. The ballad “Pictures” follows and let’s be clear of one thing, this is no “Carrie” or “Coast To Coast” (thank God!). What we have here is a dreamy and floating slow number with a slight Beatles touch and a David Bowie “Space Oddity” influence. It’s quite laid-back with a gorgeous arrangement and beautiful melodies all over. It probably won’t be a radio-hit but that’s not its reason for being written either. Masterful! “Election Day” also brings up some prog touches but the groove is big here and the main melody is really damn catchy. There are some pop elements waved in which brings a lot of catchiness to the 70’s classic rock. A great tune!
“Wolves” is a sort of break-out song here. The guitars are a bit over-the-top distorted and I’m getting an alternative vibe from it. It’s dark, spacey and tuned down, very close to the grunge-laden hard rock of the 90’s but the 70’s influence is even more striking here. The somewhat spaced-out melodies even reminds me of The Doors at times. Still, there’s something very catchy about the tune and the chorus is even hummable. That said, this is so far from single material as it can get. I really dig the song, though. “GTO” rocks things up in a faster pace. It’s a pretty rough song with a distinct melody and an in-your-face sound. I think it’s a good song but not as spot-on as the rest of them. “Haze” provides us with a heavy-as-led Black Sabbath influenced guitar riff, a fat groove and Dave Cobb’s production is more evident here as Europe has more or less written a Rival Sons song here. Well, it’s not a clone but it’s impossible to not think of the Sons here. It’s a great song with punchy beat and some amazing melody arrangements.
Whenever you’re ready to have your nuts kicked in, then tune in to “Whenever You’re Ready”, a fast-paced, mid seventies inspired hard rocker that kicks up shitloads of dust, gets in your face, is on your case and rocks your world. It’s ballsy and robust but the orchestrated keyboards of Michaeli makes the song a bit more smooth – and bombastic. The chorus is also right on the money, catchy with a bite and no aim-for-airplay vibes at all. Great. Closing track “Turn To Dust” is a slower, prog-laden groover with a huge sound scape and a colorful keyboard orchestration that goes into Beatles psychedelia – and a heavy rock vibe that brings said band’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” to mind. It lies on the verge of being labelled a ballad, but if it is, it’s a heavy and robust one. Also, the abrupt ending of the song takes my mind back to the 60’s when bands just kept playing until there was no tape left. Very cool.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that those who dislikes Europe’s “new” style won’t find much to their satisfaction on this album – fact is, I think this album is even more far out than any of their releases of lately. Not only have Europe embraced their 70’s musical upbringing full-time here, they have also added some progressive elements to the mix which takes them even further away from their 80’s arena rock. This means that this album is even less direct than their previous records – and to tell the truth, I did like it the first time around but it really didn’t stick then. And that’s the thing with this album, it takes its fair share of spins to get into but when it sticks, it damn well sticks. In many ways, this is Mic Michaeli’s record. He has always been a really good player but he really shines on this album and he gets all the space to do so – especially when John Norum’s rhythm guitar is a bit too low in the mix, one of the album’s downers. With a stripped and raw production like this, I think producer Dave Cobbs (Rival Sons) could have given Norum some more room. He’s a great player and his chops are up here, but I’d have loved a harder punch from his guitar. As a whole, I don’t rate this as high as Bag Of Bones and War Of Kings – both masterpieces in my book – but it is pretty damn close. Another brilliant release from a world-class act!
More Europe reviews:
1. Walk The Earth
2. The Siege
3. Kingdom United
5. Election Day
9. Whenever You’re Ready
10. Turn To Dust