Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.
I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of James Bond or Vintage Clothing, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated historian and their knowledge of French Military Tactics. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or French Military Tactics. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
Today, I’ll be listening to 1986’s The Final Countdown, the breakthrough smash hit for the band Europe. Well, with all that Quiet Riot and Dokken and W.A.S.P what did you expect?
You know, I actually bought this album over a month and a half ago now but because I wanted to write an article about it, I’ve gone this long without listening to it.
I’ve more than had my hands tied with Dream Theater though. I finally did it, I finally got into Metropolis 2 Scenes From A Memory! – I don’t know what it is, but it sounds like a completely different record than it did when I first heard it. I hear so much more heavy parts, fun riffs and tasteful music than I did before. Maybe I should go digging into Opeth’s catalouge again with this new brain-space.
Anyway, Europe. I’ve always, always enjoyed the title track. Even before I even knew what Heavy Metal was. The title track is just one of those things that sticks in your head forever.
That is however, the absolute peak of my Europe knowledge. All I know is that they’re a Hair Metal/Pop Metal/80s Hard Rock band, possibly European and that’s their most famous song.
After some online research I learn that they’re Swedish, this is their third album. I see their singer is called Joey Tempest and I suddenly have vague memories on his name being mentioned on The Metal Hammer Podcast, which I used to listen to religiously when it was on (and have probably re-listened to every episode about four times each).
Back in about 2009, when I first started listening to it, I would always hear presenter James Gill going on about Hair Metal and 80s rock bands and never really know what to think. In my mind I couldn’t picture how anybody could enjoy that stuff. Now look at me. I wish more Metal fans would have a similar experience with Nu Metal. Its good to try new things.
After some brief sci-fi sounds, the main synth-hook comes in. Its automatic smiling for me then. I notice a countdown I never noticed before. Then the band kick in. Its actually quite a Maiden-esque little gallop, for a minute. There’s a very European, almost Stratovarius style feel to the quiet part of the song. Then there’s that huge chorus. I don’t care if it reminds me of sofa advertisements.
I never realized this song was sci-fi themed. Heading for Venus? So many lightyears to go?
Huh. Live and learn.
There’s a nice neoclassical sounding guitar solo that sometimes feels a little like Brain May and sometimes feels a bit like David Gilmour for the briefest moments.
The production really makes it sound like 80s TV. Joey’s voice is excellent, I could really imagine him singing Stratovarius material.
‘Rock The Night’ comes next. It’s the first non-Final Countdown song by them I’ve ever heard. Its quite a ballsy Hard Rock song, but with extra melody. The chorus is damn catchy. Joey’s vocals and the drum fills are really fun.
Sometimes I pick up tiny hints of Freddie Mercury in the vocals. There’s one of those great breakdowns where the crowd would clap along if it was live, then a very nice guitar solo indeed. I’m such a sucker for guitar solos. If you’ve ever read even a quarter of one of these articles you’ll know that already.
Is it weird that even though they’re singing rock the night, that this song makes me picture sunshine. Sunshine and surfboards.
‘Carrie’ comes next. It sounds like it might be a ballad. Yeah, its definitely a ballad. It actually reminds me a little of Dream Theater so far. Oooop, no. not anymore. Wow, this really sounds like a scene in either a prom or a football game in an 80s movie. I wonder if you were around in the 80s would you have heard this a lot too. Like how I’d hear ‘Boiler’ by Limp Bizkit a lot as well as just ‘Rollin’ but probably kids born now will only hear ‘Rollin’ when they start listening to music. I don’t know what to say about it really. It has a nice solo (awards for an original sentence there, me!). It reminds me of weddings. You could have the music video for this be similar to ‘November Rain’ and it would fit.
‘Danger On The Track’ comes next. Wow, it really really sounds like Dio. No the vocals, but the track. This sounds bang on like Sacred Heart and Last In Line era Dio music. The chorus is just a tiny bit too melodic even for Ronnie, but the verses are really reminiscent of his solo albums.
Also its good. Its very enjoyable. A strange mix of heavy and bright and clean. Literal pop metal. There’s a very Genesis-esque little key fill. Then an awesome Deep Purple-esque key solo! Then a guitar solo. Wow. Are they doing a checklist of things I like? Throw in double kicks for the final chorus and you’ve got yourself stars in my iTunes. Ah no, you missed out. But damn close!
Next up ‘Ninja!’ – I like how there’s an exclamation mark. Its not just Ninja, its Ninja! The song is a curious mix. Its faster than the rest in places, with an almost Kill Em All style Thrash riff hidden in there during the verses, under the glorious melodic vocals, but the pre-chorus is sort of MeatLoafy and then the chorus is weird. There’s a neat breakdown before the solo that remind me of Children of Bodom due to the keyboard tones. Then a great solo that’s more shreddy than the previous melodic ones, and the riff under it goes to the same pattern as the vocal pattern to Testament’s “Alone In The Dark.” Will Ninja’s come to claim my mind?
‘Cherokee’s intro sounds like triumph at American Football. The verses are that neat rhythm section driven. Ok, make that the chorus sounds like victory. “Trail Of Tears” you say? Man. What is it about Trails of tears? So many bands have a song called that; Nuclear Assault, Dream Theater, Testament… am I missing something here? Is that an expression or famous film or something?
Nice solo. Very clean and Queeny. Then a lovely synth solo that you’d expect from Genesis.
‘Time Has Come’ follows. Its starts like a 90s hip hop/pop cross over. I expect Tu-Pac’s ‘Changes.’ Then it turns into a normal ballad. Then some big hard rock parts come in. Hmmm. Its more like a Boston song now. Then it takes on a weird shape, sort of like one of Jethro Tull’s Crest Of A Knave era semi-ballads. I needn’t even bother mentioning the guitar solo, need I? Well, that kinda was a mention. But yeah. I recognize.. y’know that I’m getting at.
‘Heart Of Stone’ has a very Sunset Strip sounding riff. It has a nice chunky verse too. The chorus is so super catchy and clean that it sounds really unrealistic, if that makes any sense. Its not actually as strong a chorus as the rest of them on the record so far actually to be fair. It feels like a pre-chorus. I like the background riff to the solo.
‘On The Loose’ opens up with the most Metallic moment on the album so far. Its got one of those Judas Priest style riffs that W.A.S.P and Twisted Sister do, y’know like Motely Crue’s ‘Live Wire’? This is what it would sound like if Maiden did a children’s TV theme. In fact, it feels a bit like ‘Locked In’ off of Judas Priest’s Turbo album. I enjoy it a lot. This sounds like speeding headlights in the rain. The solo is really reminiscent of car chases in movies for some reason. For my money, this is the best song on the album so far, excluding the title track.
‘Love Chaser’ opens up with a synth line that feels like it might be the title track again, but then…it isn’t. It kind of feels very much like the title track. Its very, very similar. Almost as if the record company heard it and said…that’s awesome…try make two of them. Do you know what’s weird though, if you actually pay attention to the verse, its pure Heavy Metal. It sounds like Hammerfall could play it, its absolute Castles and Wizards Heavy Metal. I can totally imagine lyrics about the goblin king or whatever over the top of it.
Ok. Now the album is over. Well, it certainly sounded different from ‘Vomit The Soul’ and ‘Strike Of The Beast’ which are the songs I listened to before and after The Final Countdown. (I’m listening to ‘Strike Of The Beast’ now, you understand).
It was one of the most polished, slick, clean rock albums I’ve ever heard. The production makes everything so separate and spacey that it almost feels clinical and sterile. There was a lot of sounds I like from Power Metal though, the melodies and solos are mostly gorgeous, only the odd one here and there that is too poppy. It was quite good. Not great, but certainly a lot of fun, and it has the potential to be something that could grow on me. I didn’t outright hate it or anything.
It wouldn’t win my hypothetical best of 1986 award though, there’s some damn fierce completion for that thanks to the world of Thrash. I wonder what Europe did in 1988?
…and sorry to go off topic, but damn “Another Lesson In Violence’ is fun right now! I was never keen on this track before, but damn, its really doing it for me right now. Is this Paul Baloff’s time traveling way of killing the posers? Maybe.