If there's any band that captured the cheese and excess of 80s glam metal to the highest degree, it would have to be Swedish rockers Europe. The act responsible for the incredibly bombastic The Final Countdown record, whose songs have been featured on countless commercials and still get consistent radio airplay to this day, Joey Tempest and co. were not afraid to make their flamboyant image and stage presence a key element in their performances and overall impact on the masses. Love them or hate them, Europe took the world by storm. But where would they go after making record after record of fun excess and synth-ridden hair metal cheese? Well, getting more serious would be a nice route to consider… and that's exactly what they did.
Europe went on hiatus around 1992 after the decent Prisoners in Paradise, but after over a decade of compilations and a temporary reunion, the official reunion finally came about in 2003. But once their comeback record Start from the Dark was actually released, people knew this wasn't the same Europe they listened to years ago. The overall sound was much more subdued and dark, and the elements of glam metal that popularized the band were replaced with a more straightforward metal/hard rock mix. Little did we know that Prisoners in Paradise would be the last glam-oriented album to date by Europe; ultimately, their new album War of Kings doesn't change this fact.
Joey Tempest stated that the band's biggest influences for this album were Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, and he definitely means it. The entirety of War of Kings is slathered in bluesy midtempo metal anthems with crunchy guitars and a dark overall vibe surrounding each tune. Right from the strong title track that opens the album, the riffing is much more thick and slow than in your usual Europe record, and even the faster songs like "Hole in My Pocket" and "Light Me Up" maintain the same groovy guitar work and Whitesnake-esque blues-based songwriting. As for the vocals, though, Joey's work sounds closer to Ronnie James Dio during his 70s/80s heyday. It's actually really nice to hear his rawer side when combined with his typically charismatic power metal-influenced wails, and gives some nice variety to each performance.
However, it's not long until the problems start to crop up. War of Kings is very consistent, but perhaps too consistent. I know this is the band's tenth album, but are they just going to play it safe for the rest of their career? Do they expect their fans to believe that not taking any risks or experimenting with a few other sounds would be just fine? And that's the problem. There's no denying that things get very homogeneous and boring around the middle, the blandness pretty much peaking when "Praise You" and "California 405" rear their heads. It's sad too, because the album's best song "Nothin' to Ya'" is sandwiched right in between these tracks so some individuals may not even end up listening to it. But "Nothin' to Ya'" represents what this album does best, and that's the mixture of metal and blues that's characterized much of Europe's later work. They come off as their most inspired when playing in that style, and it's also the reason that their softer and more toned-down songs tend to fall flat. If you do want to check this album out, I'd suggest the title track, "Hole in My Pocket," "Light Me Up," and "Rainbow Bridge" as the best listens here. The other stuff is fine, but generally ranges from middling to flat-out boring. But this isn't the worst thing Europe's released… consider it a mild success, I guess.
(Originally published on Sea of Tranquility)