Heraclitus had it right.
The Greek philosopher and pioneer of wisdom once preached that “change is the only constant in life.” Without it, humanity cannot grow and persevere.
In other words, adapt or die.
Swedish rock band Europe will never be mistaken for Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or any Greek philosophers for that matter. They are what they are: a rock band hailing from Upplands Vasby (extra credit for finding it on the map.)
That’s not a knock on the five-piece that experienced a meteoric rise in the mid-1980s thanks to quite possibly the most famous combination of four notes in hard rock history, the instantly recognizable “duh-duh-duhhhh duh” that is ”The Final Countdown.”
But that was then. Times have changed. Thirty years ago when the band was releasing some of the most hook-populated songs in melodic hard rock, hairspray was being bought by the truckload and screaming teenage girls thought vocalist Joey Tempest was as hot at the Arizona sun. And it worked. Their lightning-in-a-bottle 1986 release, “The Final Countdown,” put them on the map, selling millions of copies worldwide. Anthems “Rock the Night,” “Cherokee,” and the ballad “Carrie” were as radio-ready as anything Bon Jovi — the kings of the era — was producing.
Follow-up albums “Out of This World” (1988) and “Prisoners In Paradise” (1991) had their moments but were nowhere near as commercially successful. The band took a 13-year hiatus, before re-emerging in 2004, proceeding to release four more albums in eight years.
Then it happened.
From it emerged a darker, deeper, yet still accessible version of Europe. Fans and critics alike hailed the first resultant album, 2015’s “War of Kings.” And while it was still Europe, this version had some teeth. Tempest, John Norum (guitars), Mic Michaeli (keyboards), John Leven (bass) and Ian Haugland (drums) did some touring on the album before sequestering themselves in the studio to create their latest installment, “Walk the Earth,” due Oct. 20.
Did the growth spurt continue? Was the musical makeover really a good thing? The answer on both counts is a resounding “yes.”
Just as hard rock aficionados prefer one iteration of Deep Purple over the other (Mark I with Rod Evans on vocals, Mark II with Ian Gillian on vocals, and David Coverdale on III), so will those who are familiar with Europe’s musical output. Make no mistake about it, “War of Kings” and “Walk the Earth” are not even in the same zip code as what the1980s version of Europe produced. This is Europe 2.0, a band that has shed its former skin. Some will like it, and some won’t. That’s life.
“Walk the Earth” was recorded at famed Abbey Road Studios in London with Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb (Rival Sons, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton). Straight out of the gate, the album rings with a sound steeped in the classic hard rock of the 1970s. The moody “Pictures” draws from another 70s icon — Pink Floyd — with its lush and orchestrated layers, opening with a simple vocal backed by an acoustic guitar and violin.
One of the album’s best songs, “Election Day,” features Tempest in his finest form. Yes, he sounds like Gillian more than Gillian himself these days, but that’s neither here nor there. Tempest still delivers the goods. Another obvious Purple parallel comes in the form of prominent B-3 Hammond organ in the mix, made all the more prominent thanks to the strong but complimentary rhythm section of Leven and Haugland. Ditto for the uptempo “GTO,” a straight-up power track with a grinding, meaty riff from Norum that is paralleled by Michaeli on the keys. Norum is let loose on this track along with “Haze,” which even allows Haugland a mini solo of his own on the drums. Other shining moments include the title track and the haunting “Wolves.”
Despite the grandeur and depth of the album, the band is not without its light-hearted sense, as is show in the album’s final track, “Turn To Dust.” The 6-minute and 52-second track is a mid-tempo journey/march of a tune that suddenly ceases out of the blue near the end, leaving the listener looking to see if the power has been cut. But after 15 or so seconds of dead air, a simple jazz/ragtime 1920s- or 30s-sounding piece with an upright bass and a horn section appears, ala Accept in “Fast As A Shark.”
“Walk the Earth” is a grower. At first glance, it’s a solid offering that does enough at the right times to always keep the listener constantly in check and interested. But it’s in listens two, three and four where the album really begins to shine.
With “War of Kings” and now “Walk the Earth,” Europe has forged a new creative path they can continue on for years to come. Their willingness and ability to adapt and accept the one thing that scares humans the most — change — is a lesson for all to take note of: stagnate and die, or grow and succeed. Europe has chosen the latter, and a brave new world awaits them.
“Walk the Earth”
Hell & Back Recordings