FLIGHT – Ready To Take Off!
January 4, 2019, 6 months ago
Despite the spacey innuendo, including an intergalactic craft that adorns the cover of A Leap Through Matter, the Oslo based outfit's sophomore effort, Flight are down to Earth: inhabiting a ‘70s hard rock vibe, intertwined with the best moments of the NWOBHM. Notice I never specifically mentioned the words "Heavy Metal", as that might give the wrong impression, yet their fanbase is decidedly metalheads. Jonas Bye (bass) agrees, "Definitely, but describing us as NWOBHM could be even more misleading. Most of the time a genre name doesn't really cover a band as a whole, so being strung up with the specifics of genres is mostly a waste of time. We use the term 'heavy rock' a lot for our style, it has a bit of both, and it doesn't have set connotations as 'heavy metal', 'NWOBHM" and the like. It fits a broader spectrum. That being said, I don't feel that it's odd at all that our listeners are mostly metalheads, they’re picky about their music, so I'd say it's a good thing," he laughs, before continuing. "It's the same thing with bands as Ashbury, Winterhawk and even Hällas to name a newer band. They all play a lot of metal festivals, but I wouldn't describe any of those bands as heavy metal. It's just something in those bands that speaks to the listener. Or to put it this way; try to find someone who's heavily into NWOBHM who doesn't like B.Ö.C."
OK, so genre adjectives can be limiting. In some other interviews, vocalist/guitarist Christoffer Bråthen has made allusions to Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny album being an impetus. "I think I had tried to listen to that album for a long time, but never really enjoying it," begins the singer. "After I had taken a break from it, I felt an urge for heavy music that also had a strong emotional, melancholic vibe. I remembered Sad Wings was exactly that. I went to the forest and walked around for some hours, just listening to it over and over. The beautiful autumn forest and that album, together, gave me (looking back) what I can only describe as some sort of a religious experience. The clarity of the sound together with its heaviness seemed to reflect the clarity of the nature around me and my internal struggles at the time. This went on for months, and the inspiration for Flight came instantly."
Understood, as there's little direct musical lineage to said disc. If forced to make a comparison, would opt for the accessibility of the Def Leppard debut, or High & Dry. "The early works of Def Leppard is really good," contends Bråthen, "but it has never been a conscious influence, although I can definitely see what you're getting at. I think we used (Judas Priest's) Sin After Sin as a loose guide for how we wanted the sound on our debut just because it has a great sound and all the details are clear. I wouldn't say we got there with the (eponymous '15) debut, but we did on the new album. It doesn't sound like SAS per se, but it has a clear and open soundspace, where it's possible to add depth to the songs and have it all stand out quite clear."
For old-timers, like myself, the songs capture the simplicity and rich guitar tones of a bygone era and that's what make it so enjoyable. It isn't a jumble of tons of noisy tracks, rather enough separation for each of the instruments to breathe. "Thank you that was definitely a goal of ours. Gibson V and JCM 800 on the debut, and Fender Strat and JCM 800 on A Leap Through Matter, with the pre-amp knob set to about 5-6. If you listen to Thin Lizzy and bands like that you'll notice that they barely have gain on their guitars, compared to a lot of newer heavy bands at least. We wanted something like that. It gives a lot more dynamics to the playing and intricate details aren't lost in the noise. I think it's quite easy these days to get saturated from all the distortion that is used in heavy music, and it's easy to use more than necessary, so it's important to take a step back in that regard. It would be boring if it was only old people playing heavy rock. An example is seeing a classic band like Judas Priest or Saxon live these days, contra a younger band like Enforcer. I feel the old bands are there just to go through the motions, while the young(er) bands still has something to prove and the energy to prove it with. If that makes sense? Of course this isn't a black and white issue, but overall that's the feeling I get personally. Back to your question, I think a lot of kids are drawn towards rock with its rebellion and tough image, and it's a genre that stays with you when you've first attached to it. It's going to be interesting to see how or if this changes in the future though. A lot of the music currently on radio and TV isn't based on actual instruments, and the amount of music instrument shops closing down now is a consequence of that. Why would you get the urge to pick up a guitar after seeing Ace Frehley with his smoking Les Paul if all you do is listen to computer rhythms on Spotify? There hasn't been a lot of new young bands from our area the last few years either. Although this seems to be the case, it's not something that affected our (younger) generation much."
Although just album #2, the Norwegians have made a conscious effort to not to simply slap down a bunch of tracks, so they can get on the road and party. As a matter of fact, just the opposite, seeking to have their craft sound as good as possible. "The live experience isn't what Flight revolves around," confirms the guitarist. "We do our best to create the best music we can, and by doing that we've pretty much made an album that we can't replicate very well live as a four piece as there's too much stuff going on to give an accurate (onstage) rendition." That said, they HAVE played a handful of dates, in their hometown and the odd festival appearance, but it's not a priority to change. “It’s pretty easy from my point of view," says the four-stringer. "The first album was made with the band wanting to play live. The second was made to make the best album we could. The second sounds better."
Since it seems unlikely most of us will see Flight any time soon, let's delve into what makes A Leap Through Matter so special. It opens with aptly entitled (albeit atypical of the remainder of the disc) "Arrival", the sort of driving rock/jazz synthesis that the Dixie Dregs perfected. "I haven't heard that, but I'll check them out," promises the vocalist. "Fun fact: The initial demo of 'Arrival' was made when I was like 15 years old, on the computer. I was just playing around on Guitar Pro without a guitar, plotting in tabs and notes without a plan to see what was going to happen. The first version of 'Arrival' was just one of those creative explorations." Lengthy instrumental passages, with lots of guitar interplay, appear in several of the current works, none moreso than "Reviving Waves". Wondered how Flight goes about creating songs: vocals to fit the music, or vice versa. "No set patterns," offers Bye, "although I fall more into that trap than Christoffer does, I think. Reviving Waves was set to have a longer instrumental part from the beginning of its life, but we extended the first instrumental part (the one before the lead guitars kicks in) a lot during one rehearsal. It's started as a typical A-B-A-B riff alternating between A and E and less repetitions, but we added the Rush-esque tail and all these different transitions to it and it grew and became a whole another thing." "No set patterns here either," agrees Bråthen. "Suddenly the lyrics or vocal melody comes and then the riff is written around that, but usually things are made on guitar and then the lyrics come right after. Or on some, like 'Traveler' and 'Lions Den', the lyrics and most of the riffs are pretty done right away, but I took like two years to find how the vocal melody should be."
Interesting example, as newbie “Traveler” recalls “Lion's Den” (off the debut), so were all these tunes written exclusively for A Leap Through Matter, or did some older ideas resurface? That's a quite interesting call," says Jonas of my comparison. "I think those songs are the only songs on each record that were written as a collective effort between Christoffer and me. And Kristian (Ingvaldsen, guitar) plays the intro lead on both songs. I've never thought about that until now to be honest. Personally all the songs credited to me were written for this album, I like to write with a specific goal in mind, and I grow restless if I have stuff I can't use. I know Christoffer had a bit of material written at the same time as the debut that made its way onto this album." Explains the multiple versions the band tries out, of each composition, before settling on a "finished" song. "Some songs had major overhauls, even in the rehearsal period", confirms Bye. "We must have gone through four or five different versions of 'Traveler', all based on the same basic idea, but evolving until we had something that had a nice flow and connected the different parts." "Usually one of us has most riffs for a song and also the order of the riffs," elaborates the guitarist. "At rehearsal, we may find out that the order should be a bit different, and maybe the song seems boring or something, so it feels like we need another part to liven it up. After a few (more) rehearsals, you may find that almost half the song is now different, and maybe it has actually become two different songs. This was what happened with 'Traveler' and 'A Leap Through Matter', for instance. So sometimes it's just minor tinkering (we tried a lot of different drum beats for 'Pendulum' before we settled on the standard one) and sometimes it's bigger changes: the order of the riffs (and the riffs themselves) in 'Pendulum' were very different by the time we were satisfied."
Bråthen claims influences from the initial Journey album and Steely Dan, surely not the usual rock/metal touchstones. The singer-guitarist attempts to explain how each contribute to Flight. "You can imagine an author being inspired by Tolkien to write books because one likes his style and maybe he opens some doors into the art, without the inspired author writing fiction at all. I guess that's the way I am influenced by those bands. They have a style of playing, a way of combining elements and creating a certain soundscape that inspires me and certainly did open some doors into the art of music. Even though I'm not that influenced by them in the actual material I make in Flight, they still lay the groundwork, one might say. For example I think the longer solo-parts on the new album are somewhat inspired by the first Journey album, and especially the feeling I am trying to get across there. And Steely Dan influences my way of composing music more generally. Simplicity and absence of tons of noisy tracks is a good summary of Steely Dan's influence on me, so maybe that's an example of how influences on a deeper level (across genres) is really important to the overall picture."
No mere color-by-numbers, Flight paint with broad strokes. Time will tell whether its pop art, or a masterpiece.