Back in the mid eighties, when I stumbled onto rock music, there was a genre that was frequently mentioned that seems to have vanished in the decades since and that's pomp rock. I haven't seen that term used in forever but the genre is still being played to this day and by few better than the Night Flight Orchestra, who emphatically explore it on this album, which is a direct sequel to their 2020 album, Aeromantic. Pomp rock is a particular flavour of melodic rock that's perfect for arena crowds because of its strong hooks and particularly its driving beats and prominent keyboards.
The usual suspects spring quickly to mind as comparisons, especially early on with the purer pomp rock tracks in the first half that scream Journey, Boston and Jefferson Starship. I heard Demon as well, especially on Violent Indigo, but that's accidental as this is such a quintessentially American sound; it's coincidence that Björn's Strid's voice has a similar clean rasp to Dave Hill's. Some songs are more like Journey, such as Burn for Me, while others, like How Long, really channel the Mickey Thomas era of Jefferson Starship. There's even some Alan Parsons Project in Change, because the NFO are channelling the entire era rather than any particular band.
And that's why, as the album runs on, we start to realise that it isn't just pomp rock. In fact, it isn't even just rock, because there's pop here too and all those seventies genres that were so obviously explored on Aeromantic. They're more combined here, so there's no clear dividing line between a more rock side and a more disco side, but the first half is definitely more rock and the second does shift more and more into pop, soul and disco. However, there's rock on the second side as well and disco on the first, the tracks blending in both directions. You Belong to the Night is Abba-esque disco meeting arena rock, but Midnight Marvelous is arena rock giving way to disco. I liked Aeromantic but I think I like this more because of that closer fusion.
It still surprises me that a band who sound like this would have such roots in metal, because this is a long way from what Strid and guitarist David Andersson play in Soilwork, or bass player Sharlee D'Angelo plays in Arch Enemy and Witchery. That extends to new fish John Lönnmyr, who joined in 2020 after Aeromantic; he also plays for melodic death/groove band Act of Denial, among others. It's refreshing to realise that musicians like these heard and clearly still have a passion for a band as utterly different as Cheap Trick, as that's who's channelled on the album closer, Reach Out, let alone whichever disco outfits they're emulating.
I know Cheap Trick but have almost zero depth in disco beyond my guilty pleasure of Boney M, so I couldn't tell you to whom they're paying homage on Chardonnay Nights. If we didn't catch the nod to disco on Midnight Marvelous, it's impossible to miss on this one, however much the melodies in it still remind of Mickey Thomas. I'm surprised they passed on the obvious opportunity to call this song Chardonnay Night Fever. I wonder how much the drums signal the direction, because it feels like they shift down a scale from analogue drumsticks on drums to digital electronic beats as the songs shift from rock to disco.
I often review albums that I highlight to my youngest son, especially on the thrash metal side, but this is one that I'll highlight to my better half, as she grew up in the States listening to most of the influences the Night Flight Orchestra obviously have. She probably saw most of them live and can probably tell me which funk and disco bands can be heard in the NFO sound too. Being English, I'm lacking in that era of American music, having largely grown up on homegrown bands instead, but hey, the Night Flight Orchestra aren't American either, even if they sound like it. They're from the Swedish town of Helsingborg, so I'm fascinated by how they first heard all this stuff. Certainly they know it well.