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FLY BY NIGHT: METALSUCKS GETS INTO SOILWORK SINGER’S AFFAIRS

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Sometimes a new oddball record makes better sense with the benefit of a little context. Sometimes two hot, donged out metal dudes get all baked and embark on a journey to gather that context. Sometimes they publish the results on MetalSucks.net. Sometimes you read it lol. 

THE TOPIC Internal Affairs, the debut album from Soilwork/Arch Enemy hard rock side project Night Flight Orchestra (listen along here)

THE TOKERS MetalSucks co-Editor-In-Chief Vince Neilstein, MetalSucks Senior Editor Anso DF

THE TRIP Two horny Soilwork fans on the trail of a Soilwork side project’s elusive, endearing charm

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ANSO DF
 Say dude, I was taken with the Night Flight Orchestra project from the moment that Soilwork singer Bjorn “Speed” Strid first mentioned it back in 2009. When did you get excited about it?

VINCE NEILSTEIN I’m fanboy-ish when it comes to Soilwork (and I know you are too), but this one flew under my radar until I got the press release about Internal Affairs‘ pending release. I wasn’t in the Kool Kids Klub like you and your Night Flight Orchestra boner way back in ’09.

But who could blame me for tuning it out these past three years? Strid attaches his voice to so many other projects — both his own bands and those of others — that I was skeptical that Night Flight Orchestra would be any different. I mean, they all kinda sound like a heavy, mechanical version of Soilwork, right? But I couldn’t resist checking out NFO and I’m so glad I did. “West Ruth Ave” had me hooked right away — it wasn’t what I was expecting at all — and I then proceeded to listen to it four times in a row.

ANSO DF Hey, I am member of no clubs with that acronym and I totally object to that characterization. And really, the album’s announcement — back when it was planned as a Strid solo album — was directly referenced by me on MetalSucks in 2010 (here) but okay I think I get it: You don’t read my stuff, contrary to your impassioned pillow talk lol.

VINCE NEILSTEIN Au contraire, I am jealous you knew about this project way back then and I’m embarrassed to have missed when you wrote about it.

ANSO DF Oh I see. Sorry for snapping at you. As I daub these foolish tears, I’ll ask you this: To fans, would Internal Affairs be more enticing as a Strid solo album — and not as the work of a side-band in which the extent of Strid’s participation is harder to determine or be aware of? Did he make a poor marketing decision?

VINCE NEILSTEIN I like that this band has its own name and identity and isn’t just a Speed Strid solo project. Solo projects can seem self-indulgent and rarely are any good. You’re very right that it’s difficult to assess Strid’s level of involvement since it’s not called The Speed Strid Orchestra. Maybe the answer lies between the lines: If the other members of NFO didn’t have any real input and were just hired session hands, Strid might’ve called it a solo project. And maybe it’s their contributions that made this album great instead of simply good.

I mentioned earlier that Strid’s name and voice is attached to a number of projects outside of his day job in Soilwork. Have any of those (besides NFO) really caught your ear? Do you agree with my assessment that they’re all kind of same-y sounding?

ANSO DF I bet I’d agree — you and I agree a lot — but no Strid stuff outside of the Soilwork domain has reached me until Internal Affairs. That’s cuz Soilwork is prolific, so I am never Strid-starved. But we agree that NFO is a non-Soilwork record that demands Soilwork-level attention.

You mentioned getting “hooked” on at least one Internal Affairs jam, which is no doubt the goal of such smooth, listenable, and super catchy radio rock. But at 64 minutes, is Internal Affairs too long? Do you think Strid and crew might’ve trimmed a song or two, and saved some for a Tusk-sized follow-up? Conversely, in Strid’s shoes, would you refuse to cut any specific jamz?

VINCE NEILSTEIN Internal Affairs isn’t overlong. Every song’s got something to it; there are no skippers. It’s a real long-player, one true to the era of rock music it summons. I’m glad Strid packed this album and saved none of these songs for a follow-up; who knows when NFO will have time to get together again (especially given how long this one took) and how their approach will have changed by then? Would you cut any songs?

ANSO DF Tough one. But 64 minutes is a long time, and my wish for a more compact Internal Affairs got its start via Strid’s list of influences for the record: Boston, early Steely Dan, middle Alice Cooper, early Aerosmith, and a few more. Unlike NFO, those awesome fuckers never clocked an hour-long record (though like NFO, none shied from the seven-minute superjam). So my expectations were busted a bit. It’s like NFO also stands for Never freaking Over.

So to fans of the short, deadly ’70s rock album, I suggest a snip after the eighth track — that’s your Internal Affairs. Set aside the final five jamz cuz you will inevitably max out and need a fresh load. That’s your bonus EP!

I now ask a question for which I hope your answer is carefully considered: My friend, do u love Steely Dan?

VINCE NEILSTEIN I once got really into the Aja record. I think I discovered it via a recommendation from AllMusic.com. (This was before Pandora and Wikipedia.) And though I’m no Steely Dan expert, I totally get why you mention them in the same breath as NFO. My first thoughts about Night Flight Orchestra’s influences were ’70s and ’80s AOR like REO Speedwagon, Styx, and even Journey (without the cheese). And, as you said, Aerosmith. Totally feeling the Steely Dan stuff on the more funky Internal Affairs tunes too, though.

Do you love the way Strid’s voice sounds on this record or what? His clean singing is always silky and smooth, but I love the way it sounds on Internal Affairs even more; a listener can detect little imperfections (no AutoLabonte!) which only makes it more endearing.

ANSO DF Yes I love! The NFO guys come from bands that make laser-precise, suprahuman metal music, but the sound of Internal Affairs — Strid’s vox included — is a nice nod to the warm and the mortal. Yet they could’ve been even bolder, more trusting in their ability to nail takes, to get airy sounds, and to y’know swing — and still avoid turning Internal Affairs into a gimmicky genre tribute or a game of hipster dress-up. In other words, modern but loose and classic, kinda like Spilt Milk by Jellyfish or Dangerman’s album. So hey let’s launch a Kickstarter to get Andy Sturmer and Brendan O’Brien for NFO’s sophomore album.

VINCE NEILSTEIN I’d want a “songs” guy, a producer who’s not afraid to get down and dirty with arrangements and composition, even almost as a co-writer at times. Bob Marlette, Rob Cavallo, Butch Walker, even Nikki Sixx — guys like that! Get those songs razor tight, those transitions seamless, and let someone else worry about the tones. And then get Adam Kasper, the guy who mixed QOTSA’s Songs for the Deaf, to give it that ’70s mute-sounding warmth. That would be the titties!

ANSO DF Yeah dude, big titties! Oh wait — how about guitarist Peter Svensson of The Cardigans? That dude’s a superpro just waiting for the right metal challenge.

But hey back to Steely Dan: Recently I was all high and imagining the NFO concert set. I figure Strid and crew should be unafraid to play a few covers. It’s good context for the NFO stuff, and good fun for metal guys to guiltlessly boogie to superjamz of yesteryear. So after some intense wall-staring, I’ll vote that NFO opens their as-of-now totally hypothetical shows with a performance of “The Royal Scam” by Steely Dan. It’s a perfect tone-setter, a New Orleans funeral march with bitterly dark lyrics. The classic jam needs only one tweak: I imagine the chorus’s husky backing vox reassigned to abrupt, distorted guitars, but otherwise “Scam” would represent an eerie, muted easement into live NFO fun. I boner at the thought!

VINCE NEILSTEIN I’ve wondered who besides us sexys will enjoy listening to this stuff. It seems that the target is a demo that grew up on NFO’s forebears — but those people are nearly unreachable by today’s metal scene (and certainly are beyond the grasp of Coroner Records, a small record label in Italy). The marketing campaign relies heavily on the Soilwork and Arch Enemy connections — and why wouldn’t it? That got me to pay attention. But the gap between the NFO sound and the Soilwork/Arch Enemy sound is so great that melo-death fans might be instantly turned off.

Still, I’m encouraged by positive feedback (for once!) in the MetalSucks comment section (hereherehere). Metal people really seem to like it, and I imagine that they are fans of Soilwork, Arch Enemy, and even more brutal stuff. Maybe NFO could cross all sorts of boundaries via its barrage of infectious hooks, like Baroness and Ghost.

So, what do you think is the audience for Night Flight Orchestra? Do you think this project has any chance of success in the metal world or will it be only an interesting footnote that some folks enjoy?

ANSO DF I’ll join you in optimism and here’s why: Metal people appreciate virtuosity and depth. So fans of Strid and NFO bassist Sharlee D’Angelo’s other bands are primed for Internal Affairs, a thrilling demonstration of fluency in and expansion of a near-dead idiom. And it’s only a small leap that’s asked of busy, reluctant heavy music listeners by this album: It rocks great, sounds special, no tricks, no bullshit. Perfect for dudes like us.

But the key is that Strid and D’Angelo are present to coax metal ears toward a smoother, snappier world; metal dudes can grant them trust, even if it’s just a minute’s worth. That’s all it takes to get addicted to NFO. But without the credentials of its creators, Internal Affairs might not have legs.

But that’s just for metal people. Think of the huge audiences that embraced Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley without awareness of those artists’ less-marketable genre work in cheeky Brit pop and chart-proof hip hop, respectively. Likewise, NFO might hurdle right into the yards and trucks of a million wistful dads, guys who remember “when music was good.” That would take super-money and mega-luck, so yeah, let’s keep our pants on for now. But Internal Affairs has the appeal to do it.

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Ah yes, we’ve reached the conclusion — or at least the suspension — of MetalSucks thoughtful double-examination of Night Flight Orchestra’s Internal Affairs album (available here). Is NFO a sleeper hit to be, or another cute oddity that soon will slip from our consciousness? Will there come an Internal Affairs II, or have NFO’s creators fully exorcised their smooth ’70s hard rock demons? Crank it or yank it? What do you think?

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