Sound — 8
The members of Europe have been subject to an interesting (almost consistently alternating) stylistic journey over the course of their career. What began with their roots firmly placed in hard rock territory on albums like the band's self-titled debut and "Wings of Tomorrow" went on to evolve into the synthesizer-propelled approach found on such staple releases as "The Final Countdown" and "Out of This World."
After a prolonged period of thirteen years between new albums, Europe returned in 2004 gallivanting an active rock sound unlike anything previously presented on "Start From the Dark." In many ways, this symbolized a rebirth for the hard rock unit that progressed into such later albums as 2006's "Secret Society" and 2009's "Last Look at Eden." Seemingly out of nowhere, the members of Europe caused longtime listeners somewhat dismayed by the band's dramatic change to do a double take upon the release of their blues rock-based 2012 studio effort "Bag of Bones," and yet nothing could possibly prepare rock advocates for the performance that is showcased on Europe's latest installment, the newly released "War of Kings."
Having provided a brief runthrough of the band's constantly evolving sound, who could have predicted that Europe would revert back to their roots by introducing a dominating hard rock effort that could easily stand toe-to-toe with their first two releases? "War of Kings" achieves this same feat early on with the album's title track, which presents a ferocious Deep Purple attitude due to the song's choice incorporation of brooding organ work ala the late Jon Lord that towers above the crunching chord progressions of John Norum. The only aspect that could draw your attention away from this pairing is the commendable vocal performance of mainman Joey Tempest, who despite now having a somewhat deeper voice than what's presented on the earlier albums still manages to reach some compelling high notes.
"Hole in My Pocket" has a similar attitude that's set to an adrenalized pace directed by crashing percussion and brooding bass lines. "The Second Day" has a moderate Led Zeppelin feel to it that can perhaps be attributed to Norum's Arabian arpeggios, whereas "Praise You" brings the pace down to power ballad territory while still delivering quite the melodic punch. "Nothin' to Ya" and "California 405" reintroduces the Deep Purple-characteristics found earlier in the album, just as the album reaches another highlight in "Days of Rock 'n' Roll." Centered around a guitar harmony one might expect from a new Ritchie Blackmore riff on a theoretical Rainbow reunion album, this track is easily one of the best songs that the members of Europe have released in the past decade.
A grooving hard rock attitude heavily reminiscent of early Dio is presented on "Children of the Mind," while the Led Zeppelin similarities return soon after on "Rainbow Bridge," a song centered around Middle Eastern synthesizer arrangements and the engaging lyrical execution of Tempest. "Angels (With Broken Hearts)" is an overtly emotional bluesy ballad that takes the album to an entirely different place altogether, before the upbeat energy resumes with the energetic "Light Me Up." The musicianship of Europe proudly concludes the album on the instrumental "Vasastan," which once again features some exceptional guitar work from Norum.
Lyrics — 8
Lead vocalist Joey Tempest has been belting out the lyrics to "The Final Countdown" for nearly thirty years now, so the fact that he doesn't so frequently throw out a primal scream or two like he did on such fan favorite selections as "Carrie" and "Superstitious" on Europe's most recent effort isn't entirely surprising. That being said, the emotion that Tempest does deliver in his vocal performance throughout "War of Kings" is rather commendable. While some moments may not be as exciting as others, it's during songs such as "Days of Rock 'n' Roll" and the title track "War of Kings" that he fully takes his position at the helm of this long running rock vessel.
Overall Impression — 8
For the members of Europe to go from regularly releasing active rock efforts to going full circle with one of their finest studio albums of their career is no small achievement. The fact that a band most readily known for their glam metal years were able to pull off this same feat nearly four decades after their formation makes the exceptional performance found on "War of Kings" all the more standout.