The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast)

The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast)

Sometimes old school is the best school...

From the space-metal overture that heralds the start of opening track Midnight Flyer you’d never guess what was coming next. But somehow, this rag-tag fugitive fleet of heavy metal survivors, naming themselves The Night Flight Orchestra, have come up with just about the finest slice of heavy Yacht Rock you’ll hear in this or any other year.

They’ve come close a couple of times before, but never has this collective been quite so devastatingly effective as this. Vocalist Björn Strid, never normally known for the subtlety of his approach, turns in a spellbinding performance of amazing versatility and finesse, whilst David Andersson’s guitar is at times what can only be described as Lukatheresque. This is indeed what we want.

And yet it nearly doesn’t come off. Midnight Flyer and Star of Rio are almost too heavy for the casual observer lured by tales of AOR boulevardiers and attendant dustcoat-toting mayhem. It is melodic for sure, but the fast-paced drums of Jonas Källsbäck which propel these two tracks bring to mind the stadium metal exuberance of Starz or, at times, Kiss rather the sleek and slinky rhythms of the West coast giants one associates with ‘classic’ AOR.

Gemini starts off at similarly breakneck speed but the inherent melodicism of the vocal and the pure class of the entry to the chorus override any worries the listener might have. From here on in it’s a wild ride of late seventies/early eighties indulgence – the duelling keyboards and guitars are executed so faithfully it’s both frightening and energising – and it tastes oh so sweet…

Next track Sad State of Affairs hits that Kiss groove again, with added Mott the Hoople barrelhouse keys and Strid’s most self-assured vocal thus far putting the icing on the cake, another wonderful chorus hitting all the required spots and sending the hairs on the back of the neck into priapic overdrive. And that’s without Richard Larsson sending matters into the red with his Michael McDonald-inspired keyboard insertion just before Andersson’s storming solo…

But this is just the opening act in a play that has a long, long way to go, and the highlights are yet to make themselves known to us. The next triumvirate of tracks will utterly knock your socks off if pomp rock gets you hot under the collar like it does me. Oh yes they will. Strap yourself in…

Jennie is first up, a delirious melange of all your delightful late seventies radio rock heroes rolled into one inspirational passage. Chicago, Boston, The Motors, Queen, they’re all there, and yet The Night Flight Orchestra sound like none of these people; In fact, save for their UK counterparts Cats in Space, they really sound like no one else currently treading the boards that wasn’t actually extant when this sort of music was at its height. Domino is pure audio nirvana, distilling everything that made Toto such a compelling proposition yet taking that formula beyond via the good offices of what is one of the finest choruses I’ve ever heard. This is utterly, utterly mesmerising stuff and you’ll never want it to end, I guarantee you.

But wait, that’s not all. Domino might well leave you feeling spent but the feelgood intro to Josephine will have you up and out of your dancing pants again with its talk of Stevie Nicks and nods to Andrew Gold , Christopher Cross and that man McDonald again. Christ on a bike this album just won’t stop – not that you’ll want it to – delivering time and again like the greatest hits and memories station you ever heard. Andersson’s solo here is the best yet, offering a huge whiff of REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath to your nostrils before Larsson’s back with yet another sublime keyboard intercession.

After this, things revert slightly back to where we were earlier on in the album, the heavy Space Whisperer seeming like a companion piece to the album’s opener with it’s double time snare, but even here the band can’t help but guild the lily, with Larsson adding some Benny Andersson-styled piano flourishes with almost mischievous glee. Why? because he can…

Something Mysterious brings things down a bit, borrowing the start of Survivor’s Burning Heart before blossoming into a classy piece of semi-balladic radio rock; Strid delivers a perfect vocal here, never over singing yet imparting real colour and feel in superb fashion, drawing the listener in before handing over to David Andersson, who delivers a classic guitar-solo-you-can-whistle of the sort you thought they just didn’t make any more. Final Track (on the ‘basic’ version of the album at least – there are a few bonus tracks scattered over different versions) Saturn in Velvet takes things home in stratospheric style, fluttering pomp rock keyboards referencing names like Alan Parsons and John Miles before the song develops into a hard hitting pop rocker in the mould of names of the calibre of City Boy and Starcastle. It’s a superb way to end a superb album, but I’m willing to have a little bet here that this won’t be the end and you’ll simply want to go back to the beginning and do the whole thing again. And why not? Amber Galactic is that kind of album. By which I mean almost perfect. Definite album of the year material…

The Night Flight Orchestra will release Amber Galactic through Nuclear Blast on May 19th.

Scott Adams

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