At the rate that they are now cranking albums out, it’s a misnomer to continue referring to THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA as a side project. With the newly released “Aeromantic” — their fourth record in five years — vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid has worked on twice as many records from this project during that time frame as his “main” band SOILWORK, and you have to combine the studio output of ARCH ENEMY, WITCHERY and SPIRITUAL BEGGARS to exceed that number for bassist Sharlee D’Angelo. It’s hard to complain about the time spent on this endeavor though when the collective continues to capably replicate the warmth and comfort of the most enduring favorites from the 1970’s stadium-rock explosion and turn-of-the-’80s soft-rock boom.

Strid has shown a strong ability to juggle soothing croons and sing-for-the-stars rock shouts on the project’s previous records. “Aeromantic” sees him firmly belting it out so those in the cheap seats could hear him even without a microphone. His performance is bolstered by beautifully layered backup vocals from Anna-Mia Bonde and Anna Brygård, whether it’s on hard-driving rockers like “Servants of the Air” and “This Boy’s Last Summer”, or pulse-pounding disco-rockers such as “Transmissions”. While the balladeering is kept to more of a minimum on this record, Strid soars with such a presence that he still generates one of the best vocal performances of his career.

Guitarists David Andersson and Sebastian Forslund provide another pair of performances that evoke the catchier riffs of the sounds they pay tribute to, and D’Angelo provides a rumbling bass performance that is galloping from the early moments of “Aeromantic”. Andersson and Forslund especially shine on the tropical pop-ballad “Curves”. The piano-driven number already endears itself as an earworm thanks to Strid‘s raspy vocals and percussion work that evokes Elton John‘s attempts to adapt to the ’80s, all before Andersson and Forslund bring it home with a pair of sensitive-guy blues-rock solos that would make the perfect last-call soundtrack at any Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s.

Keyboards and synthesizers have become a more prominent part of THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA‘s overall aesthetic with each subsequent record. That integration culminates on “Aeromantic” with what truly may be the biggest star-making performance on the album. John Lönnmyr does a large bulk of the heavy lifting, stepping into the keyboard seat to showcase a chameleon-like display of diverse rock sounds. Lönnmyr displays a mastery of ornate prog-rock orchestration and piano-balladry, but his most outstanding moment is the haunting Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera-worthy synth-intro to “If Tonight Is Our Only Chance”. Another outstanding piece of instrumentation comes from guest violinist Rachel Hall, as she plays out the second half of “Transmissions” in the band’s best tribute yet to the ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA records that serve as a source of the band’s inspiration.

THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA figured out their sound early. The goal from the beginning was to pay tribute to the commercial rock that inspired the members’ love for music, no matter how overtly heavy their own musical output became as adults. It’s a formula that shouldn’t be anything more than a mildly amusing diversion. The group’s mastery of the songcraft though has resulted in albums that are worthy of shelf space alongside original classics from acts such as JOURNEY and TOTO. “Aeromantic” is another reason why there are no complaints that this has become a prolific project for its members.
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