Night Flight Orchestra have rapidly escalated from “modern metal dudes pretending to be classic rockers” into something far more authentic and interesting. Their 2012 debut Internal Affairs was a shockingly good burst of late-1970s glory, especially considering the Soilwork and Arch Enemy members involved. 2015’s Skyline Whispers took the band’s sound into the synth-heavy ’80s, resulting in heavy rotation in the AMG office and a spot on my own Top 10(ish) list that year. Further solidifying their legitimacy, NFO recently signed a deal with Nuclear Blast, leading to the release of their 3rd record Amber Galactic.
Album opener “Midnight Flyer” is, quite bluntly, a fucking jam. Building from a suspenseful keyboard intro, the track eventually gives way to one of Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s finest vocal hooks, followed by a dizzying arms race of guitar and keyboard solos. “Gemini” is also a flawless victory, with crisp Police guitar tone and an infectiously fun vibe (not to mention an absolutely perfect video accompaniment). The more laid-back “Domino” cuts it pretty close to Toto‘s “Africa,” but gets by mostly on the pure audacity of writing a song that sounds like “Africa.”
The rocking “Star Of Rio” features gratuitous use of both female backing vocals and hand claps, so you know it’s gonna be awesome. “Josephine” is a blast of pure ’80s pop-rock, with keyboardist Richard Larsson delivering some excellent piano work. Strid grasps for the heartstrings on the ballad “Jennie,” ending up somewhere between Supertramp and perhaps Frank Stallone (side note: this song would have been perfect over the closing credits of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando). As the above paragraph may imply, NFO‘s influences range far and wide, which sets them apart from the legions of throwback bands who think “classic rock” begins and ends with Zeppelin or Sabbath.
Not every song hits it out of the park, though. The more mid-paced “Sad State Of Affairs” never really takes off, and the Billy Joel-isms during the song’s bridge are maybe a little too obvious. Raw garage-ish rock is not exactly in NFO‘s wheelhouse, causing “Space Whisperer” to fall somewhat flat. Closing track “Saturn In Velvet” is the album’s requisite epic/long song, but seems to just be a very lengthy disco track, rather than a multi-tiered prog journey. Moreso than the band’s two previous records, Amber feels front-loaded with the best tracks, with the quality declining just slightly towards the end.
Unsurprisingly, NFO‘s musicianship remains top notch. The piano and synth work is outstanding, and the band’s rhythm section delivers the groove without ever distracting. Strid’s voice sounds a tad more grizzled than in years past, but he’s still going all-out, fully committed to his transformation into a legitimate rock singer. For my money, though, the standout performance belongs to guitarist David Andersson, who can seemingly channel any style or genre convincingly, while also adding his own touch.
Picking up right where Skyline Whispers left off, Amber Galactic echoes the transitional late ’70s/early ’80s rock. Or as Strid himself puts it: “We sound like cocaine.” While I still hold a soft spot for the more vintage stylings of the band’s debut, Amber Galactic seems to solidify the band’s sound and intentions — and if the songs are this good, I won’t complain. Regardless, it’s doubtful that you will find a better party record than Amber Galactic this summer.