Posts Tagged ‘ Mic Michaeli ’

Album of the Week 10-2015: Europe – War Of Kings

With the days of ‘The Final Countdown’ far behind them, Europe these days focuses on surprisingly strong contemporary Classic Rock. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s exactly what they do. Their sound is closer to their original influences of Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, UFO and especially Led Zeppelin than anything released in their glossy keyboard laden Hard Rock heyday in the eighties, but always with a production and heaviness that is very much now. And although I am a fan of eighties Europe, ‘War Of Kings’ is more evidence that post-reunion Europe is more consistently strong than their fine earlier output.

Three years after its original release, I still don’t know if I quite like the stripped-down, almost bluesy approach of previous record ‘Bag Of Bones’, despite the presence of a couple of a few fantastic songs. ‘War Of Kings’ has a similarly dark tone, but keyboard player Mic Michaeli’s stronger presence adds some melancholic flourishes that contribute strongly to the album’s character. That doesn’t mean the album doesn’t rock – it does, quite explicitely – but it’s a more subdued type of Rock than those who only know the band’s exuberant classics may come to expect.

Prior to the release, only the title track that opens the album had been published. While the Prog-meets-Doom sound of that song does provide an adequate image of what the record sounds like in terms of atmosphere, it may suggest a more Black Sabbath-ish vibe than the album actually has. Compositions do follow the song’s formula: the basics of the songs are laid down by drummer Ian Haugland, bassist John Levén – whose role as a songwriter seems to be growing over the last few years – and guitarist extraordinaire John Norum. Michaeli often gives the songs their distinct color and Joey Tempest’s voice is slowly aging, but used effectively.

Halfway through the we reach the back-to-back highlights. Sure, the first couple of songs are strong without exception, especially the atmospheric ‘The Second Day’. However, the album hits full steam with the dark and desparate ‘California 405’, which doesn’t exactly sound like anything Europe has ever done before. ‘Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is more familiar due to the obvious Ritchie Blackmore-isms in its neoclassical Bluesrock sound and as such is one of the album’s highlights. The mystical ‘Children Of The Mind’ is another pleasantly surprising midtempo stomper and ‘Angels (With Broken Hearts)’ comes closest to a classic Europe ballad, but has too much of an awesomely gloomy Blues vibe to be compared to the kitschy likes of ‘Carrie’.

In a way, Europe’s music is maturing along with its members. I’m not quite sure where in the midlife crisis cycle ‘War Of Kings’ fits due to my limited age, but Joey Tempest and his men seem to be very comfortable with it. Fans of John Norum may be a little disappointed by the relatively small number of solos on here, but he does get his moments to display why he is one of the world’s greatest Rock guitarists. Especially near the end; ‘Light It Up’ and – if you get the limited edition – the instrumental ‘Vasastan’ will serve die-hard Norum fans. And as a band effort, ‘War Of Kings’ may even be Europe’s strongest album yet.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘California 405’, ‘Children Of The Mind’, ‘The Second Day’