To the majority of American listeners, Europe only released one song in their long career. Only the fans will recognize how long they’ve been at it, and how far they have come from the ’80s anthem “The Final Countdown”. It took me a very long time to get to 2015’s War of Kings, their latest. I was there when “The Final Countdown” originally came out, and even though I enjoy that song in a nostalgic way, I was not ready for another helping of music that felt more in keeping with a Sylvester Stallone arm wrestling movie than 2016.
(“What about the song ‘Carrie’,” shouted someone from the peanut gallery. When’s the last time you heard “Carrie” used in an insurance commercial? Gettouttahere, wise guy.)
Fortunately, that’s not what War of Kings delivers. Instead, imagine a triangle. At each point you have Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Whitesnake. If there is a target Europe is attempting to hit with this album, it is dead center of this triangle, and they succeed quite well. Credit Mic Michaeli’s organ sounds for some of it, played with a full-weighted “lean in” not unlike Jon Lord would. Vocalist Joey Tempest has some weathered vocal chords by now, but the music uses them to great advantage.
The album certainly isn’t hair metal, and I hesitate to call it metal at all. It isn’t blues rock either. Instead, it’s just a classic-sounding hard rock release, more in line with FM radio in 1978 or 1979 than 1984 (or 2016, for that matter). Blessedly, other things that identified early Europe are gone too, such as the annoying penchant for intro ad-libbing. A lot of teenage kids got alcohol poisoning from drinking games where they had to consume whenever Tempest shouted “Oh yeah,” or “Alright!,” or “Uh-huh!,” or “Unngh!”
War of Kings certainly exhibits a more-mature degree of songwriting. None of the tracks are out to save the world, but they show off a band that is comfortable in its skin. The album is a terrific surprise, and is one of a rare breed — an instance where an ’80s hard rock entity has not only aged well, but has actually grown better than at their presumed peak of success.