Flip Through

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Body Appreciation Sunday: Hips don't lie

And these hips will tell you: we love Girl Scout cookies.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

White whine ahoy

I don't know what they put in the water at work, but tea which tastes perfectly excellent at home tastes...off...here.

And that is my champagne complaint for the week.

How are YOUR lives, dear readers?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Conception Superpost, Part 5: Final Thoughts

Four elements--earth, water, air, and fire--make up the natural world. Many myth systems suggest further a fifth element which binds the four together and transcends them: spirit, aether, or akasha: that which enlivens, the repository of all knowledge and wisdom. Similarly, the four albums of Conception's career taken together create something even greater than the sum of their very great parts. Four distinct albums, featuring four incredible musicians--that would have been enough, but a certain atmosphere and feeling are engendered by listening to each record consecutively, creating a shimmering strand of sound, an unbroken chain of growth from the first silky flicker of "Prevision" to the gorgeous breakdown of "Would It Be the Same."

The spirit of Conception is dynamic progress, ever-growth, a continual striving for the place where horizon meets sky. Never content to take the well-worn path, with each album the group refined their sound and blazed new trails, and if a new album sounded little like its predecessor, certain themes emerged and remained--a discarding of traditional ways, embracing self-reliance and even self-deification, a constant reach for something greater. The Last Sunset and its array of influences from flamenco to 80s speed metal; Parallel Minds and its complex metallurgy; In Your Multitude and its primal stomp; Flow and its poppy smoothness: each is integral to understanding Conception as a whole.

I will note, belatedly, that three of Conception's four albums have bonus tracks which were included on the Japanese releases. I elected not to discuss these tracks, for this reason: none of the CDs I own have the bonus tracks (despite two being Japanese discs) and my mind doesn't comprehend them as part and parcel of their respective albums; they aren't indelibly stamped into my brain the way the rest of the songs are. "Black on Black," "Gravity," and "Hand on Heart" are all fine songs, as good as anything else the band released, but they're...bonuses. Certainly I recommend listening to them if you can find them!

And--that's it from me...for now. I'm sure by now everyone knows I can always find something new to say about Conception.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Conception Superpost, Part 4: Flow

Conception's fourth and final album, Flow, is irretrievably centered around concepts and themes of water. The fourth and most inexorable of the elements, water is associated with creativity, intuition, motion, femininity, and ultimate, basic life. Flow's tracks are, as the title suggests, always changing, yet they retain a cohesion of form, as water is water no matter what form--ice, steam, snow--it takes. The album is a creative one which melds a lighter, melodic sound with increasingly progressive music and lyrics more humanly emotional than anything the band had previously released. Notably the lyrics often indulge in the most basic emotions: grudges and anger, loneliness, lust. The headlong waterfall of Flow is propelled by the pulse of the band, the fluid bass of Ingar Amlien.

"Gethsemane" features a monologue in Christ's voice--standard thematic fare for the band, but in this instance the voice is a far more human one than ever before: Christ betrayed, tinged with mockery here and fearful desperation there. The rolling synth and smooth bass of the track conjure up the vagaries of storm gods, wind and water at odds, an encroaching front of inevitability. There's another deity at work in the blind orgasm of "Angel (Walk With Me)," the now-familiar voice of Lucifer, but as with the previous song, this is an eerily human demon, the embodiment of human frailty and pitfalls. Khan breaks out some growlier vocals for this song and the result is a devil you kind of do want to be seduced by, a tempter with a twisted, melting tongue. At first glance, "A Virtual Lovestory" seems like it would be better suited for Parallel Minds, perhaps, with its emphasis on technology, but the story beneath the veneer of cyberspeak is pure Venusian myth-telling--fitting, as Venus/Aphrodite is associated with the ocean as well as being a love goddess. The lyrics also recall the myth of Selene and Endymion, of loving someone from afar, someone you can never be with in the light of day (or the real world); this is also fitting, Selene being a moon deity and associated with the moon's pull on oceans and humanity. The album's title track is a microcosm of the record and was a smoother, gentler metal song ever sung? "Flow" too has underpinnings of moon myth, sacred femininity, watery birth and ancestral memory; this is the conch's hymn from "Soliloquy," the song which was sung when we climbed onto the shore from the ocean's womb.

And then, there is "Cry," Conception's first makeout song--a full-on romantic interlude for a happy couple holding hands beneath a benevolent moon. After this out-of-character track, Khan boomerangs back to regular form with "Reach Out," a thrumming, wild exposition of Satanic self-worship which espouses the position that submerged beneath our conscious minds is a veritable iceberg of wisdom, enough truth, knowledge, and ability to become our own gods. "Tell Me When I'm Gone" is a strange song which stands out even in this relatively strange album; the colloquialism "hate-fuck" comes to mind. The woman the narrator sings to, with her reptile smile leaving lipstick on men's collars, can be read as a classic Siren, a temptress who drags men to their deaths in the cold breast of the ocean. The album takes another turn for the soft and romantic with Makeout Song #2, "Hold On"--a starkly simple track consisting of muted guitar and keyboard. Then comes the outstanding stomp of "Cardinal Sin," a soaring track of wonder, stubbornness, and resilience, and the cliffhanger finale "Would It Be the Same."

The liquid fingers of Tore Ostby and Ingar Amlien are on full display on Flow, with "Cardinal Sin" containing (for my money) the most fluid, technically impressive, and purely gorgeous guitar solo in the band's career. As for Amlien's bass--he is always stellar, but on this last album all stops are pulled out and in many cases the listener is left wondering if he has twice the normal amount of fingers. The bass lines in all tracks are audible; the sound mix on Flow is smooth and cohesive, with all elements given time and attention. Flow is easily the most experimental of Conception's albums after The Last Sunset, utilizing the changefulness of water yet not sacrificing the overall atmosphere and theme.

Must-listen songs: "Gethsemane," "Cardinal Sin" (live version).

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Conception Superpost, Part 3: In Your Multitude

Earth is...earth: grounded, primal, solid--earthy. In elemental terms it is associated with the human body and basic, material needs; some of its attributes are strength, heaviness, and fertility. In many myth systems earth is linked with the feminine, especially as it is associated with sensuality, shelter, and abundance. In Your Multitude is a sprawl of an album, as vast and dense as the globe and grounded in an overall heavier rhythm and theme than its predecessors, its robust heartbeat felt most powerfully through that essential primeval instrument, the drum.

"Under A Mourning Star" is an explosive first track sung in the voice of the Son of the Morning, here cast in terms which also call to mind an older, chthonic god: Hades, the "black horizon" and the king of shades. The drumbeat is almost industrial, a metallic klaxon which propels the song and demands attention. "Missionary Man" recalls a theme from a previous album, that of the false prophet; here the preacher takes
the image of an all-sheltering savior and corrupts it, the promised land becoming a hell of sacrificed souls. Earth's association with death is first approached in "Retrospect," as the narrator sees himself taken to the cold country where nothing can live and mourns the loss of the "healing hand" which only those alive can wield. Furthermore, he sees the ultimate frustration of existence--that "the world will go on" without him, a desolate keening of powerlessness before something greater and more eternal. "Guilt" is a doomy, dense, and thoroughly depressing track of downtrodden soil and souls compressed...possibly the term "mundane" in its purest sense is fitting for this song, as the narrator warns that vivid dreams seldom last. The eponymous "Sanctuary" is a cave deep within the earth's womb, where light never reaches--so easy to hide, to fall back on familiar things. The song speaks of never attaining the treasure at "rainbow's end" and becoming color-blind, enshrouded in old skin and nurtured fears. And then comes the shattering complexity of "A Million Gods: a guitar solo isn't enough for this song; only a multi-instrument duel will do, and in a way that middle portion is reflective not only of the lyrical content but of the album's ambitions as well. The millions gods are not divine, indeed they, like most of mythology's deities, are downright earthly--petty, cruel, ambitious, domineering, and insecure. The song really puts the point home with its chorus, which proclaims that "you're the only god who's visible tonight" (emphasis mine).

Album cover

"Some Wounds" picks up the pace with a musically and lyrically surreal track about the battle scars we carry, weighing those ancient wounds against the material glory we earn for ourselves. "Carnal Comprehension" takes stalker anthems to a whole new level; in this case, the Devil (or maybe God) is your stalker, the black dog on your shoulder, and the entirety of the earth and sky is his playground as he compels the listener to give in to base fear, hatred, and lust. A juxtaposition appears in the next track, "Solar Serpent," between the heavenly body of the sun and the earthly body of the serpent; this carries into a metaphor of a person caught between high ideals and crude surroundings. The song could be interpreted as a metaphor for Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec deity whose name means "feathered serpent," and that deity's dual nature writ large onto humanity. The album's title track is its swan song, an elegiac glimpse into what would come next in Conception's career. The narrator of "In Your Multitude" mourns opportunities and loves lost--the world drags him down to mundanity, dreams unfulfilled, without the presence of the one he loves.

Arve Heimdal, Conception's drummer par excellence, seriously shines on this album. The intricate drum soloing in "A Million Gods," the furious, artfully off-kilter beat of "Under A Mourning Star," and the rolling earthquake of "Solar Serpent" cement his status as one of prog metal's premier drummers. Each track on the album contributes to the vast sonic experience of In Your Multitude as both remote and urgent, a densely transcendent masterpiece.

Must-listen tracks: "A Million Gods," "Carnal Comphrension."

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Conception Superpost, Part 2: Parallel Minds

The voice being intricately linked to breath, it makes sense that Parallel Minds is both Conception's album of air and the album which (arguably) best showcases Roy Khan's considerable vocal talents. Air is the element of the mind and denotes intellectual pursuits; air attributes include mercuriality or flightiness, intelligence and wisdom, communication, and multifaceted interests, and the element is fundamental to life. Air may be the pure ether of the highest atmosphere or the darker mists clouding the earth. In these senses, Parallel Minds opens up as a study in studies, a myriad deep dreams and lofty goals, and an introverted, thoughtful album.

"Water Confines" is a delightfully selfish and self-centered song; the narrator focuses on personal goals and high dreams, yet struggles with living up to his own sense of himself--he finds that perhaps he can't do it all himself, that maybe principles are not enough to live on. "Roll the Fire" (everyone's first Conception song, right?) is an intense, interior track, a review of years lived and a measuring of life's worth against encroaching shadow. The labyrinth of the mind is explored in "And I Close My Eyes"--a frantic pant of a song, musically dense and threaded with stream-of-conscious, free association lyrics. In comparison, the following track is almost bizarrely simple; "Silent Crying" is a dream of shadows and whispering secrets, and the fight to be free of one's own mind. The album's title track is a veritable electrical storm of guitar and vocals, lyrically covering everything from knowledge which is beyond belief and wisdom which lies in the bones to binary law and science's paramountcy to paranoiac ranting which throws the words of the majority back in their faces. Arguably "Parallel Minds" is the first appearance of Satan in Conception's lyrics (certainly not the last), and this is fitting, since one of his epithets is the Prince of Air. "Silver Shine," like "Silent Crying," is concerned with weighty memories and the effects of lies and truth on relationships, because what are words but shapes in the air?

Then comes the one-two punch of "The Promiser" and "My Decision." It is difficult to separate these tracks; each spits in the face of the WASP establishment and each complements and completes the other. "The Promiser" speaks of corrupt men believing their own lies, while the narrator is too smart for the false tricks of religion--"My Decision" rams the point home with a blatant endorsement of atheism and elevation of self-reliance and brainpower. One song warns of placing too much trust in words (the words of the promiser, words from a TV screen, the voices of the masses) , while the other admonishes the listener to find his or her own voice. "Wolf's Lair" is a come-down, a reprieve before the big finish, a plateau of teasing, silver-tongued words of exactly the kind "The Promiser" warns about...only this time the words come from the Tempter himself. Parallel Minds concludes with the nine-minute saga of "Soliloquy," a three-part journey from gasping arousal through unfiltered divine knowledge to suffocation and paralysis derived from too much knowledge. Musica universalis is referenced in "Soliloquy - Sweet Lavender" in terms of "the conch's hymn," a connection of principles including those metaphysical and mathematical and a perfect reflection of an album consumed with deep thoughts and higher learning. It is notable that the conch's hymn is heard at the moment of sexual climax; intellectualism aside, the narrator comprehends the significance of carnal, material reality. This theme would be explored further on In Your Multitude and perfected on Flow.

Khan's vocals are often the most-talked-about aspect of Conception's music. Twenty-three years old when Parallel Minds was recorded, his recent training for the opera is clear on this album and the ones to come. As an instrument, Khan's voice is rarely equaled in the world of progressive and power metal music; and as an album, Parallel Minds is unparalleled, har har, in providing opportunities for that instrument to be used. Khan's presence is also felt in the lyrics, as he began cowriting most of Conception's music with Ostby, revealing himself to be an interesting, thoughtful lyricist. The interweaving of voice with stellar guitar, bass, and drum creates Parallel Minds as the first truly tight and cohesive album in Conception's catalog, with many hints of what was to come: oblique, smoky lyrics and astounding musical technique.

Must-listen tracks: "And I Close My Eyes", "Soliloquy".

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Conception Superpost, Part 1: Introduction and The Last Sunset

The progressive heavy metal band Conception was active from 1989 until 1998 when its members went their separate ways--singer Roy Khan to Kamelot, guitarist Tore Ostby to ARK, and bassist Ingar Amlien and drummer Arve Heimdal to Crest of Darkness, among other projects. Throughout the '90s Conception was revered by those in the know for their experimental, passionate music and refined technique, which began with 1991's The Last Sunset and culminated in 1997's Flow. These four albums can be interpreted in many ways; in the brief series which follows, I will try to interpret them as discrete yet interlocking elements analogous to the four elements out of which all nature is formed: The Last Sunset as the element fire, Parallel Minds as the element air, In Your Multitude as the element earth, and Flow as the element water. The final post will consider the four albums as a cohesive whole in the form of the fifth element, spirit.

Clearly I have too much time on my hands since leaving school. Anyhoo, away we go.

Fire as a classical element signifies assertiveness and energy--the stuff of stars, the burning of the sun and the deep hot places of the earth, the heart as the fountain of passion in the human body, battle as the historic human pastime. Fire may be creative or destructive, and many systems associate it with the fundamental masculine. Fire is the basic alchemical agent, changing anything it touches. As an album, The Last Sunset embodies fire in its passionate, raw, as-yet relatively formless and deeply experimental state as a group's first record, the coming-together and becomingness of four distinct personalities. Its ten-track listing espouses the religion of flames both lyrically and musically, and in many ways, this is significantly Ostby's record, the album on which his guitar, that essential masculine instrument, is most wild, unfettered, and changeful. Note also that almost all the music
on the album was composed by Ostby and his brother Dag.

"Building a Force" and "War of Hate" kick off the album with guns blazing, both concerning themselves with the fight, as war gods are often linked to fire (Ogoun, Mixcoatl, Nergal, and others)--yet neither song glorifies battle. Rather both speak of war as the ruination of civilizations and the concept of "fighting for peace" as flawed; in these cases the fire burns out of control, destroying everything in its path. "Bowed Down with Sorrow" is about the pure ecstasy of grief, the cold fire which consumes all other cares and desires; a doomish track, it has the inevitability of a house on fire. The seeming-whimsical and amusing lyrics of "Fairy's Dance" belie this track's deeper meaning; the fire of sexual passion and lust leads to a complete alchemical change brought about by the fairy ("you are turned into a cow/'cause you did what she said"), making the track a warning about what happens when a person is obsessed and blinded by desire. Musically, "Fairy's Dance" is urgent, with a constant racing heartbeat of bass compelling narrator and listener forward, a headlong rush into the fairy's arms. "Another World" brings about more change, this time in the form of personal gnosis: the candle flame of intuition and spiritual strength. The album's title track is an epiphany, a spiritual shift cast in the metaphors of that omnipotent star Sol and painted in sunset shades, a warmer, gentler track reminiscent of a beacon fire on a hilltop. "Live to Survive" discusses the fire personality's drive to live and, more significantly, to live for the moment, in the most personal ways possible--against the endless battle of mundanity and oppression, a battle which ends with the holy war and cleansing fire of "Among the Gods." Against a backing of Spanish-inspired guitar and hand-clapping, The Last Sunset's final track climaxes in a glorious blaze.

Even the album's two instrumental tracks, "Prevision" and "Elegy," are fire music, with "Elegy" being a wonderful transitional piece of experimental guitar. Much of Ostby's guitar work on the album pulls from jazz, flamenco, and other non-traditionally-metal sources, creating a singularly passionate and progressive sound. Khan's voice at this juncture is exceptionally flexible and still somewhat raw; the fire of youth is evident in every operatic run. Taken both track-by-track and as a whole, The Last Sunset is a gorgeous first spark signifying the leaping bonfire in Conception's future.

Must-listen tracks: "Among the Gods," "Another World."

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Yes, I hate freedom

Things I will be doing on Super Bowl Sunday:

+finishing The Devil in the White City
+working on various writing projects, including CONCEPTION SUPERPOST!
+making 3rd-rate longbox dividers from cardboard
+grocery shopping
+returning books to the library
+avoiding Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr

Things I will not be doing on Super Bowl Sunday:

+watching the Super Bowl

Dear readers, no matter what you're doing, enjoy your day tomorrow!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

2011 Brodies are here!

Yes, dear readers, it's awards season...and with the Golden Globes and Oscars and all the rest come the Brodies! As always, a dizzying array of funny, smart, sad, touching, sardonic, horrifying, beautiful posts are up for a variety of awards, including some of my very favorite bloggers (White and Delightsome, Life as a Reader, and We Were Going to be Queens among them), and yes, one of my own posts. Flattered and delighted! Go vote, if you can manage to choose between all the awesome.

Auditory flashbacks: The Conception edition

So I'm gearing up for a superpost about Conception's catalogue which no one on Earth will think is interesting except me; have some preliminary memory-based Feelings about that stellar band as I continue to gather smart-sounding thawts!

Silent Crying": and BAM I'm in a dorm in Maple Hall, sitting on my manfriend's long skinny dorm bed and listening to this song for the first time and trying not to cry myself, trying to decide how to tell him and my mother and my friends that I'm losing my faith.

"Cry": and BAM I'm in my car, driving to Orlando. This is the first time I've listened to Flow. I'm liking it--and then "Cry" comes on. It reminds me of the Doctor and Rose. It reminds me of my manfriend. I hit repeat five times before I can manage to get to the rest of the CD.

"Building a Force": and BAM I'm in my manfriend's car, where he's playing The Last Sunset for me for the first time. I'm not sure what I think of this track, of this CD, in fact; it's not much like Parallel Minds. I can't decide if I like it or not.

"Some Wounds": and BAM I'm laying on my bed with headphones on, because Manfriend says some music should be listened to through headphones, and the eargasm hits. This is the most fantastic song I've ever heard; even the rest of the band's catalogue pales in comparison; there is no song more perfect than this. This is music that should be listened to through headphones.
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