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Flow marked the first (and only) major stylistic shift in Conception's short-but-incredible career. While their first three albums were in no way clones, they all kept an 80's power metal sensibility to them that united them in style, despite their differences.
Flow sees a move away from the power metal sound towards a more catchy and accessible sound. For most bands, this also accompanies a loss of musical integrity, yet Conception manage to keep their musical genius mostly intact, an impressive feat. While they may have ditched the crushingly heavy power metal riffs of their old albums, they retained the superb songwriting that always made their albums great, and though it may be different, Flow is still a great album worth much more praise and recognition than it receives.
Conception's musicianship on Flow doesn't need much said about it - as with all of their albums, it's absolutely superb. Tore Østby plays brilliantly, as always, with enchanting leads scattered throughout the album. Khan sticks to a lower register here than on the other albums, yet the more controlled sound works just as well, and melds wonderfully with the album's atmosphere. The drumming is tight and precise, and the bass, as always, has a distinct, hypnotizing presence in all of the songs and is never once hidden in the mix.
The album's atmosphere deserves praise - this is probably the best atmosphere of any Conception albums, with all the songs sharing a firm stylistic similarity that makes the album flow (har har har) very nicely, yet that's not to say they're at all repetitious or lacking in originality. To the contrary, Flow's songs are probably more varied than on any of their other albums, except possibly their debut. The song structures are more experimental and "progressive" than even on In Your Multitude, yet never does it sound forced for the sake of experimentation. Conception was always a band to play what sounded good, regardless of the boundaries of the genre.
Østby is a fantastic songwriter, and most of the songs on here are absolute winners. The hooks are top-notch and insanely memorable, the songs are all constructed very well, and none outstay their welcome. From the poppy rocker Flow to the serene ballads Cry and Hold On (Conception were always masters of balladry), the album delivers memorable song after memorable song. Reach Out is especially superb, featuring a wonderfully inspirational chorus that will have you singing along in no time. The Japanese bonus track, Hand on Heart, is also a gem - pick up the Japanese import if you can possibly can.
That's not to say the album is perfect - the Conception were experimenting with this album, and while most of the experiments were resounding successes, the album does have a few consistency problems. Some of the tracks simply don't work as well as they could have; the creativity and inspiration is there, but the ideas simply don't come together as well as they could. Angel (Come Walk with Me) features a thoroughly odd verse that drags the song down from it's stunningly good chorus, and Khan's excessive breathing during his somewhat seductive vocals doesn't exactly help. Tell Me when I'm Gone, notably more venomous and aggressive than the rest of the album, features yet another odd vocal performance from Khan, except this time one that works. Unfortunately, the song is dragged down by the lack of the memorable hooks that make the rest of the songs so superb.
Overall, this is another strong release from a superb band, and any fan of progressive rock/metal would be well-served by giving this a listen. In fact, anyone looking for a good, catchy, easy to listen to album will enjoy this immensely.