The third album from the Swedish hard rock supergroup sees the ambitious prog of Marillion, the euro rock pomp of Europe, and the ‘80s vigour and earnestness of Survivor, Foreigner and Starship all feed the glamorous classic rock revivalism of The Night Flight Orchestra. There are dozens of bands trying to breathe life into the classic rock corpse but they all sound second rate when compared with Amber Galactic. Not since The Darkness’ 1993 magnum opus, Permission To Land, has this been successfully attempted. NFO would be as well-suited to headlining Download as they would to competing in the Eurovision.
The band was formed by Soilwork’s Björn ‘Speed’ Strid and David Andersson while they were on tour in 2007 and the music is a spot-on approximation of the pomp rock sound they are revivifying, but it is the vocals that really sell Amber Galactic. In the 21st century, this music shouldn't work but Strid is NFO’s trump card. We know from his work with Soilwork that he has a powerful clean singing voice but here he utilises it to its fullest extent. Reminiscent of Fish, Queensryche, and even Rob Halford, Strid is in his element with NFO. It can be no coincidence that Soilwork have been reinvigorated since he started work with this band.
The frontman is keen to point out that this is not pastiche and that their tongues are not in their cheeks, “As seasoned musicians, we’re taking this project seriously, although we might come across as slightly retrofuturistic at times, there's no irony involved.” That authenticity shines through, not only in the execution of the tunes but, in the adventurous approach to songwriting throughout Amber Galactic.
Kicking off with hard rocker, ‘Midnight Flyer’, Amber Galactic sets out its stall as a peer of Whitesnake, Guns ‘n’ Roses et al. The Halford-esque backing screams and Thin Lizzy twin guitar solo combine to create an environment where even the synth solo doesn’t sound ridiculous. The riff that starts ‘Star Of Rio’ and the soaring chorus sound like a remastered Journey tune co-produced by Let’s Dance-era David Bowie. The prog roots of recent single ‘Gemini’ crosses Marillion and The Cult, and it’s around this point of Amber Galactic that you notice every rocker in the room sharing open-mouthed glances. This is the album you’ve been waiting for since Def Leppard’s Hysteria.
By the time ‘Domino’ shimmers into life like a new chapter of Chess, you will completely have forgotten the band member’s death metal roots. ‘Josephine’ references Van Halen and Yes, while ‘Space Whisperer’ could be the new single from The Killers. ‘Something Mysterious’ has an ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ beat and a sultry, husky Bob Seger vocal. It's stirring and soulful in the vein of the best monster ballads. The sleazy stomp of ‘Saturn In Velvet’ closes things out and there's nothing left to do but press play again.
There is no indication yet whether they will embark on their first ever tour. Soilwork is the finest of melodic death metal bands but Amber Galactic is so good that you hope that Strid and guitarist David Andersson will concentrate on NFO for a while instead. This album is a reminder of a time when rock was celebratory. The band have stripped the misogyny from the carcass of hard rock and their 21st century take on prog, glam, and hair metal will make you believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll again.