Artist: The Night Flight Orchestra
Album: Amber Galactic
Label: Nuclear Blast
Although The Night Flight Orchestra features well-known members of Swedish bands like Soilwork and Arch Enemy, it’s a far cry from a melodeath supergroup: instead, the members are channeling their love for classic rock and AOR. I have to admit I’m not familiar with TNFO’s previous work (except some of the members’ famous main bands of course), but Amber Galactic is their third album, so clearly the project has some degree of longevity already and isn’t just a one-off gimmick. As someone who likes a bunch of bands with an old-school spirit and found the preview tracks interesting, I decided to try out the record.
It feels like most retro bands focus either on the 70s or the 80s, but never both decades. However, The Night Flight Orchestra marries rock music from both decades seamlessly and in a fresh fashion. For example, “Sad State of Affairs” kicks off with a riff that would be at home on an early KISS album, while “Domino” is like a modern-day take on Toto’s “Africa” – bongos and all. “Space Whisperer” is a heavier track, and the closer, “Saturn in Velvet”, touches on prog territory with its more ambitious structure, just like the opener “Midnight Flyer” with its fast solos. The ballads are also well done; my favorite track at the moment, “Jennie”, has a majestic sound and a chorus to die for. “Josephine” makes me think of Journey’s hits and culminates in brilliant interplay between guitar and synths, and “Something Mysterious” is a tune Whitesnake would surely be proud of.
Björn “Speed” Strid has a powerful rock voice and wide vocal range, belting out high notes with enviable ease like Graham Bonnet of Rainbow back in the day, but also knowing how to be gentle, as proven by the falsettos of “Jennie.” Bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Jonas Källsbäck lay down sweet grooves, and the axe tandem of David Andersson and Sebastian Forslund provides the record with memorable riffing on the likes of “Star of Rio” and the video track, “Gemini.” However, keyboardist Richard Larsson is the hero of the band in my eyes, as his playing elevates the songs and adds a lot of color into the music, whether it’s the honky-tonk piano of “Sad State of Affairs” or the glorious synths of “Midnight Flyer.” For better or worse, keyboards are usually the instrument that makes it clear which decade a song is from, and in that sense Larsson has definitely nailed the sound choices, as they are always appropriate for the vibe of each tune. Some of the spacey sounds also tie into the record’s theme – Strid has described it as, “a relationship drama set in space,” and there are female spoken word parts (at least) in French on a few tracks also adding to the thematic feel. Although I haven’t been able to read the lyrics and hence don’t know what they’re exactly about, on a musical level this conceptual approach makes the record feel like a captivating journey and more than just the sum of its parts.
By the end of my first listen, I was thinking “why in the hell have I not listened to these guys before?” Had this album been released in the early-to-mid 80s, I’m sure it would’ve been a smash hit, as the songs are infectious like a virus, and the playing has enough energy to fuel a spacecraft. The Night Flight Orchestra quenches my thirst for super-melodic rock with slight hints of heaviness and prog that, out of modern bands, only Nightingale has managed to satisfy until now – Sweden is clearly the promised land of AOR! Amber Galactic is slightly tongue-in-cheek and the cheese factor is high, but unlike Steel Panther, it doesn’t come across as a parody or joke – you can tell the members of The Night Flight Orchestra have poured their hearts into the music and their passion for classic rock shines through genuinely. I don’t want to hand out 10’s too often and want to save them for what I expect to become timeless masterpieces, but this record succeeds damn well at what it’s set out to do and is one of the most fun releases I’ve come across lately, so a 9 is definitely deserved.
Rating: 9/10, 4½ stars
1. Midnight Flyer
2. Star of Rio
4. Sad State of Affairs
8. Space Whisperer
9. Something Mysterious
10. Saturn in Velvet