Conception - State of Deception

Conception State of Deception cover
State of Deception
Norwegian prog metal demigods Conception almost made it big in the 90s releasing a series of spectacular albums with both the media and the fans taking notice back in the day. That was until they decided to follow their artistic muse and release an album that radically different than what they’d done in the past and wasn’t as rock/metal as their fans expected. That album was “Flow”. Reviewers didn’t get it at the time and sales plummeted as a result, so the band went their separate ways, with singer Roy Khan (tatat) joining Kamelot and making it big shortly thereafter, Tore Ostby releasing a couple of albums with Jorn Lande under the Ark banner and not doing much else since and bassist Ingar Amlien keeping the flames of black candles burning, with his black metal outfit Crest Of Darkness… Drummer Arve Heimdal along with Khan guested on that band’s second album, but the former hasn’t appeared anywhere else, since.
When Khan decided that Kamelot were becoming too much of an obligation, which he couldn’t totally invest himself in fully anymore, he parted ways with them, allowing Tommy Karevik’s star to rise and after sometime in the wilderness, he re-emerged along with the rest of Conception in 2018 with a self-released EP. After all there wasn’t enmity in their “hiatus” that just seemed to last a little longer than anyone might have guessed.
Sitting back and realizing how long it was since Conception last released a full-length album, made me feel really old. It was some twenty three years ago, before the new millennium and I was a young man, full of hopes and dreams. Those dreams have now faded in the back of my mind as I settled into the boring routine that adult life is… I discovered the need to deceive myself and dull my senses to try and make peace with a world so hostile, that it often made me wonder how it’s lasted this long, let alone prosper. Gazing at the grayish cover of the new album, with its melancholic theme really gave me the chills. It just captures that very sentiment almost perfectly. I knew to expect something different and slightly more gothic musically, having indulged in the songs of the EP, but in all honesty, I was really both excited and nervous as I pressed play. I really wanted to like this…
“In: Deception”, which opens the album, is your not so typical intro, with some epic guitars and sweeping keys heralding this new beginning in an almost triumphant manner. It leads to the oddly rhythmical and rather unsettling “Of Raven and Pigs”. Its wry social remark, based on the Orwellian novel “The Animal Farm”,  is disguised in slight allegory. Khan sings in a familiar way, but also speaks and harmonizes along in a song that’s quite dark and complex, reminiscent of the band’s past, but also quite remarkable with the chances it takes… the solo with its lacerating tone is not what one might expect, but it’s surely interesting.
“Waywardly Broken” reminded me mildly of “Gethsemane”, but while the vocals remains melodic throughout, the guitars tend to be heavier and not as clean. As a chosen single, I guess it works well enough, although it could have been a little less complex. It sounds like a mix of almost all eras of the band, filtered through their new/contemporary sound and it contains another glorious solo by Ostby.
“No Rewind” is another interesting piece, which goes all over the place, from tribal to dance beats to sounding like something that could have been a b side of “Parallel Minds” (Poor Arve must be one of the busiest guys in the business). Khan emotes in a very Kamelotesque way, with the whole multilayered and rather crazy overblown style, being slightly reminiscent of Hevy Devy’s layered, but organized chaos.
Thankfully after that purging number, the soft piano of “The Mansion” meanderings sound rather soothing and despite its theme being somewhat banal, its change of pace is very welcome. Elize Ryd (Amaranthe, Kamelot) sings a verse in a very breezy demeanor and does some harmonies as well. While the song is not a highlight, it’s a long way from being a dud and fulfills its tempo changing purpose gracefully.
“By the Blues” has a rather misguiding title. It’s got nothing to do with them “Blues” being a guitar heavy, vocally thick number, with intertwining melodies that remains surprisingly catchy and limber, despite its complexity. It’s all about how denial, can help toy survive through everyday life. It has this rather interesting solo, where the guitar sounds like a swirling cello. A really bizarre choice of tone, but it makes it stand out in a big way.. 
“Anybody Out There” is more straightforward and sounds like a post-modern “Soliloquy: Sweet Lavender”, which I guess is not that bad of a notion. Yet, it’s a little darker and more gothic… but its sincere lyrics and the need to make a connection, express a very basic human need and that makes it a winner in my book.
“She Dragoon” is another complex yet catchy number, which felt like a combination of “My Decision”, “Flow” and a few more tracks, mode wise. It might have not felt out of place in the latter actually, if it were a little more straightforward. Ostby here delivers a solo, almost worthy of his vintage ones and I suspect that the female vocals must also belong to Miss Ryd. An odd but satisfying piece this one.
Last, but certainly not least, “Feather Moves”, a previously non LP track/B side that first appeared on the single of the previous EP, is now remastered and incorporated into this album and it’s as good a track as any in the band’s illustrious back catalog, if not better, thus closing the album in a superb fashion with its poetic lyrics and poignant melodies.
In a year that Psychotic Waltz have released an awesome album after a similarly long hiatus as Conception and where there’s still Thought Chamber’s third album to look out for, I feel that Conception have released their most challenging album yet. It’s musical complexity is woven organically and almost transparently within each track, with allegorical lyrics and lingering melodies combining to create a transient dark reverie that often is just too stirring, when it peels off its own layers, to reveal the inner beauty of each composition.
This is an album that feels almost as brave and fool-heartedly original as “Flow”, but is nothing like it, in fact in almost feels like the complete and polar opposite. Longtime fans will certainly dig it after a few spins, while it’s really anyone’s guess what newer ones might make of it. They could as easily dismiss it for being too complex and not as immediate as some of the bands past triumphs, but that would be their loss. Avantgarde then?! Maybe. Interesting? Sure! Just what the doctor ordered to cure the early spring “corona-blues” then.