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."