EUROPE – War Of Kings

3folderStill to this day, when you mention the name Europe in certain circles, you get a smirk and a look that says “lame”. Some people actually says it out loud – that Europe is a weak and ridiculous pop band for teenage girls and children. The words “pop metal”, “poodle rock” and “no relevance” has been used. Ok, it doesn’t happen very often these days, but it does happen and it kinda shows how hard it is to wipe off an old reputation. Which in Europe’s case is not deserved! But when it does, I’m wondering, has the fact that Europe has reunited more than 10 years ago completely skipped those people’s minds? Or do they know that Europe are still around, but just assumes that they still play their AOR smelling rock of the 80’s and therefore hasn’t bothered to listen? I don’t know, but the fact is, Europe has since the reunion in 2003 turned into a completely different beast than they were in the 80’s. And just to make one thing clear, Europe has NEVER been a pop band, they have ALWAYS had the 70’s hard rock as a guide line when it comes to song writing, sonically they were just a sign of the times (sic!) back in the 80’s, using catchy AOR influenced melodies and producers that cut off the roughest edges off the music. But there is a difference in both sound and song structure between now and then and that has created a crack within Europe’s fan-base and separated (some) of the fans in two camps – one that prefers their 80’s stuff and one that prefers their new style. Well, there are three camps actually, the third being us who loves both. Me, for example had Out Of This World (1988) and Bag Of Bones (2012) as my favourite records. I write “had” because, now they have a new album out. One thing that differs from back when is that Europe now are a bona fide classic hard rock band, that are totally unpredictable, you really have no clue in which direction their next album will go in. But I think it’s safe to say that they never will go AOR / melodic rock again – but then again, what do we know? Their reunion album Start From The Dark (2004) shocked people. Back then all of us thought – and that includes me – that Europe would play it safe and release an album that sounded more like their past. They even used Kevin Elson (Mr Big, Journey, Night Ranger) who produced The Final Countdown (1986) again. But what we got was a heavy album, dark with clear Zakk Wylde influences from John Norum and tuned down hard rockers. I loved that album, but not everyone did. Same with the self-produced follow-up Secret Society (2006), an album that took on a more alternative route and where bands such as The Foo Fighters seemed to have laid ground for their influences. They kind of got away with it, but that album really split their fans into two camps. With their 2012 album Last Look At Eden, the band seemed to have come to terms where their sound should take them and it was clear that the wanted to play in the same league as their heroes – Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, UFO, Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, a sound that was refined by their last album, the Kevin Shirley (Joe Bonamassa, Journey, Iron Maiden) produced Bag Of Bones. If it was Shirley that brought in a bluesier sound on that album is anyone’s guess. So where do a classic hard rock band go from there? Repeat the formula or take yet a new step musically?

Well, this album’s title track pre-dated the release of the album with a really cool video, told us that Europe are still on their way, trying new paths, but remaining true to their new-found style of rock. The song comes on strong, like a “Last Look At Eden” on steroids. It’s an epic track that mixes said Europe track with Rainbow’s Rising era and Dio-era Black Sabbath and a melody so sticky super glue pales in comparison. One of the best tracks they have ever written, doubtless. After an opening like this, the only way is down, right? Wrong! “Hole In My Pocket” breaks loose like a wounded gorilla on the run, a tough hard rocker that would have fit perfectly on Secret Society – only better! “The Second Day” is a slow 70’s rocker that has a billowing sound that reminds me of “No Stone Unturned” from Last Look At Eden, but it sure isn’t a theft from themselves, no this tune is its own all the way. “Praise You” is a rockier kind of blues ballad, not that unlike Gary Moore’s blues stuff, a damn good song that is one of those that Gary – rest his soul – would have given anything to write himself – brilliant. “Nothing To Ya” might have borrowed the riff from Black Sabbath’s “I” (Dehumanizer, 1992) a bit too obvious, but this ballsy Deep Purple meets Rival Sons 70’s rocker stands on its own two feet. It’s a fantastic tune that really must have a place in their live set in the future. “California 405” opens with a The Doors-like intro, but quickly moves forward as one of those straight forward “drive-your-car-fast-with-your-soft-top-down-and-wind-in hair” kinda rockers. I love those and Europe masters this kind of song gracefully. With “Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Europe has created a real hit alert. It’s a very catchy rocker with its foundation in melodic rock like the later Joe Lynn Turner fronted Rainbow stuff. Awesome song and maybe they have a hit on their hands here. The brilliant “Rainbow Bridge” is a mix of Rainbow’s “Gates Of Babylon”, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and their own “No Stone Unturned” and “Last look At Eden”. Keyboard wizard Mic Michaeli totally owns this song and gives it a real kick with his middle eastern influence. One of the highlights of many on this album. “Angels (With Broken Hearts)” is a bluesy ballad that could have been on one of John Norum’s later solo albums, style wise. I’m not really fond of those, but with a singer like Joey Tempest and a band like Europe backing it up, the song has strength and pulls through like a charm. The band ends the album with a noisy rocker called “Light It Up” that crashes, booms and bangs but with a killer melody and catchiness. It’s the longest song on the album and ends with a real cool jam. For those who choose to get the deluxe edition gets an instrumental track called “Vasastan” (Vasastan lies in the middle of Stockholm, for all non Swedes), written by Norum and Michaeli. It’s a good song, reminiscent of Gary Moore’s “The Loner”, but if it’s good enough to spend extra money on, I’m not sure. I’d take it over “The Loner”, though.

To sum this album up, let’s just start with getting all the negative stuff out-of-the-way. And now that we’re done with that, let’s just state that Europe once again has come up with the goods. To put it mildly. Yes, folks, War Of Kings is in my book, Europe’s finest effort so far – and Europe are a band that never has released a bad record. When I heard Bag Of Bones, I thought that Kevin Shirley was the perfect producer for the band, the same with Tobias Lindell (H.E.A.T., Hardcore Superstar, Mustasch, Nubian Rose) when he did Last Look At Eden, but I must say that Dave Cobbs (Rival Sons) is their best choice of producer so far – this album sounds fantastic. He also has song writing credits on a few tracks. It’s no fluke that he has made Rival Sons sound like a million bucks. Joey Tempest’s not too masculine voice that he had in the 80’s is only a memory now. Tempest has more depth and foundation and manages to sound real rough at times, which only does him good. Drummer Ian Haugland and bassist John Levén is a steady rhythm section that doesn’t only hold a steady beat, but plays the songs – the way all the killer musicians of the 70’s did. But this album is very much Michaeli’s work. The guy is such an underrated keyboard player that never gets mentioned when there is talk about keyboard players. To me he belongs up there with, maybe not Jon Lord, but very well Don Airey and Ken Hensley and on here he is all over the place with arrangements that really lifts the songs – way to go Mic. John Norum also keep on impressing me with each new Europe album. I have shared my views on Norum in the past and not in a kind way. On Europe’s first three albums and his two first solo efforts (Total Control, 1987 and Face The Truth, 1992), Norum played with the skills of a true guitar hero, but somewhere along the way he lost it. In my ears he sounded bland and satisfied and in my book, he hit his all time low on Start From The Dark. But after that he shaped up and now, especially on the two latest albums, Norum plays better than ever. There’s a spark and attitude that I have been missing and now it sounds like he’s having fun – lots of fun – again. Today, John Norum is the guitar hero that Tempest always talk about from the stage and that also makes for the brilliance of the later Europe albums. Europe was once a melodic (hard) rock band with clear AOR tendencies, now they are a classic rock band, veterans with heart, soul, passion and musical skills for the top league and they have earned their place at the top among the bands they had as their heroes back in the day, band mentioned earlier in this review. This is a fantastic album and everybody with a love for hard rock, classic rock and metal should own it.

Jon Wilmenius (10/10)
Photo, band: Tallee Savage
Editing: Mattias Savage Wilmenius

Tracklist:

1. War Of Kings
2. Hole In My Pocket
3. The Second Day
4. Praise You
5. Nothin To Ya
6. California 405
7. Days Of Rock n Roll
8. Children Of The Mind
9. Rainbow Bridge
10. Angels (With Broken Hearts)
11. Light It Up
12. Vasastan

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6 comments on “EUROPE – War Of Kings

  1. Fantastic review! My copy won’t arrive until next week–at which point I’ll share my thoughts. Can’t wait to hear it!

  2. I just received this album today and I am already on my fourth listen. My first time through was admittedly a bit underwhelming—perhaps my expectations were too high. But with each subsequent listen the songs have come more and more alive—sonic details I missed here, lyrics I overlooked there, melodies that previously didn’t stick are suddenly embedded in my mind. It’s a far richer album than the excellent Bag of Bones and I’m in agreement that this is their strongest album yet. Final note: there was a time when I fucking hated the keyboards that proliferated each Europe album beginning with and following The Final Countdown. Now, I can’t get enough of Mic Michaeli (and he shines here).

    • Wow, man, that’s awesome.
      I know that a lot of people has called this album a grower and I agree even though I dug it from hallo.
      Thanks a lot for stopping by here, Chris.
      There is a review of Bag Of Bones as well in the Classic Rock section, if you’re interested.
      Peace.

  3. Great review Jon. I finally bought this one (deluxe ed) and I’m really liking it. Days of Rock N’ Roll is the best song I’ve heard this year. I got into them after seeing them live when when Start From the Dark came out. I was totally blown away by them so I’ve been following them since. Lost track a bit after Last Look at Eden but I’ve bought Bag of Bones recently and now this so I’m glad I finally caught up. Great stuff. Glad you pointed out Mic’s keyboard playing too. He gets so overlooked.

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