Summer 1989. My buddy Bob showed up at the door.
“Mike!” he began. “They have a Europe album you don’t have down at Sam the Record Man. You should get it, but it’s only on record.”
I knew Europe had albums prior to The Final Countdown, but I had never seen nor heard them. Since my primary format was cassette back then, I passed on the vinyl version. A few weeks later, Europe the album showed up in the new Columbia House catalog, so I ordered it on tape. I had reasoned out that this was their first album, but the 1989 date on the back made it look like a new release. In fact Martin Popoff even reviewed it as such in Riff Kills Man!, stating that the poodle hair and keyboards were “gone” and replaced by sheer heavy metal. He’s right about the heavy metal, even if he had the order of the albums wrong. Europe resembles the band of “Carrie” and “Rock the Night” only superficially. This is a metal album, and a damn fine one at that.
The regal, thunderous riff of “In the Future to Come” should warn away anyone expecting power ballads. This speedy UFO/Priest hybrid certainly took me by surprise. Singer Joey Tempest’s voice was not the soulful powerhouse it would later become, but he was just a kid at the time. The metal here is pure: no frills, no excesses, just steamhammer rhythm and a howling lead singer. Throw in some ace John Norum guitar work and you have something to talk about. His double-tracked solo might be reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.
“Farewell” is straightforward heavy metal, on the hard rock side of things. Some may be off-put by the flat lead vocals, but I say, “Hey, it’s rock n’ roll.” The song slams and the chorus is memorable enough for me. Then “Seven Doors Hotel” changes the scene with a haunting piano opening…but it’s merely a fake out. The speed metal riffing and wailing Norum are back. Norum makes his Les Paul howl like Joey does at the microphone. Even though there’s some neoclassical finesse to some of the music, I hear a bit of Phil Lynott in there too.
My favourite song then and now is probably “The King Will Return”. The lyrics aren’t very good, but English wasn’t Joey’s first language. I still enjoy the words, as it’s one of those medieval story-telling songs that I’m a sucker for. This softer song is still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone. Side one was closed by the Norum instrumental song “Boyazont”. I don’t know what a “boyazont” is, but who cares? Norum instrumentals are usually ballsy and catchy, and this is no exception.
The second side is commenced by “Children of this Time”, which continues much in the vein of songs like “In the Future to Come”. Then for a respite, “Words of Wisdom” has an acoustic verse. That doesn’t make it a ballad! No, this picks up speed for the chorus and continues to storm the gates of Valhalla like the rest of the album. It’s a bit slower in pace, but the drums still hit like hammers while Joey howls at the thunder. I think I can even hear timpani. “Paradize Bay” (not sure why they spelled it with a z) is one of the album’s strongest cuts. It’s a relentless battering ram with a chorus that hints at the grandness of Europe in the future. Norum’s solo is sloppy but delicious. “Memories” then closes the album on a frenetic note. There are plenty of “woah woah” vocals to go around, and drummer Tony Reno seemingly pulverizes his kit. There’s another voice singing with Joey on the outro of the song; is this John Norum?
This album was self produced, and as such it sounds very raw. But heavy! Not all bands who self produced early in their careers managed to get results as good as those on Europe. For 1983 and just a bunch of kids, this is damn fine work! And it holds up. It’s a headbanger.