Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Album Review: Night Flight Orchestra - Amber Galactic

I don't consider myself a metal fan, even though I listen to and enjoy a fair amount of metal. The reason I don't do that is because, when I look around and see the throngs of fans who listen to nothing but metal, and who consider anything less than metal to be weak, I simply am not one of them. I couldn't imagine listening to nothing but metal, and apparently many of the musicians can't either. While, for instance, I can appreciate what Soilwork does, there aren't that many times I want to get screamed at for half of every song. Apparently Bjorn Strid feels the same way, because in between Soilwork albums, he's been getting together with friends and pumping out 70s and 80s inspired rock under the guise of The Night Flight Orchestra.

I never covered the band's previous albums, but I did hear enough of them to be mildly intrigued by what I heard. Bjorn is an obviously talented singer, and the throwback aesthetic works for me, but the project had the slapdash and thrown-together songwriting I would imagine for a group that doesn't get ample time to put their records together. Will this time be different?

"Midnight Flyer" kicks things off by telling us exactly where the heart of this album lies. The sound is pure 80s Journey, just as cheesy as you remember. The synths aren't as ridiculous as they could be, since this is meant to be an homage to that time, but there is plenty to politely snicker at. That's how the 80s were.

What I find interesting about this group is the difference in how I perceive Bjorn. In Soilwork, his melodic choruses are the strongest parts of the songs, punchy and delivered expertly. He is obviously the same singer, but he sounds different here. Whether it's the nature of how the album was written and recorded, or if it's the law of diminishing returns, but he never manages to hit those melodies as hard as he does in his main gig. These songs are enjoyable, but for being melodic hard rock, they feel like they need to have bigger hooks.

Then again, having experienced the late 80s that this record is mimicking, those were not days filled with that kind of songwriting. The Night Flight Orchestra masterfully apes that period of time, with "Domino" in particular bringing back nearly lucid memories of my childhood. Even now, hearing songs from those days on the radio, it strikes me how few of them have great melodies and hooks. Back then, the songs got by on quirks and the lack of pop and rock crossover. In that respect, "Amber Galactic" fits right in. Too well, I would say.

"Amber Galactic" is pure 1988, for better or worse. For what they were aiming for, this record is scarily accurate. If you told me these songs were written back then, I wouldn't bat an eyelash at you. However, that period of time hasn't aged well, so while the band has to be applauded for their skill at putting on the sonic image, I can't let the album pass by without saying I'm disappointed they didn't update the songwriting with a bit of modern melodic flair. I miss the choruses I know Bjorn can deliver. They're all that's holding "Amber Galactic" back from being a perfect time machine.... to a time I'm not sure anyone wants to revisit.

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