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When was the last time you heard flamenco on a metal album? If I was asked that question my answer would be probably be “on The Last Sunset”. This album is an oddball and most Conception fans agree this is the band’s overall weakest release - it is none too energetic and the songwriting bears some marks of inexperience - but that isn’t to say it isn’t worth hearing!
The band seems to be fumbling for identity with this release – the sound defying easy categorisation. It sounds closer to heavy metal than power metal (the songs have riffs and on two songs the band utilise shouted passages) but is maybe too groovy, melodic...and downbeat to be called true heavy metal. The title track – a very 80’s sounding ballad - belongs on a Whitesnake style Hard Rock album. You could call it prog metal overall but bear in mind the whole album sounds pretty 4/4 time and conservatively melodic throughout even with the meandering passages and flamenco parts.
Whatever the genre this should prove an interesting release for any listener who’s looking for something a little different in European clean vocals metal.
Roy Khan is not at his best on The Last Sunset, but, being who he is this is still means I acclaim his distinct vocals here. No one sounds as silky as Khan when he harmonises with himself and there are many interesting vocal arrangements to be heard on this CD; I was even reminded of Messiah Marcolin a few times.
Tore Ostby is an excellent guitarist, being very creative with his solos - even though he stays well away from effects pedals and more showy techniques like tapping and sweeps. The absolute highlight on the album is the fantastic flamenco passages, while not always completely smoothly transitioned into the songs (hear Against the Gods and War of Hate), for sheer novelty and elegance they are well worth hearing.
The production I’m afraid is rather dated and has a bare-bones low-fi feel. The whole mix is quiet and the guitar tone lacks beef, yet it is in no way unlistenable; it has a sort of weird charm about it. The lyrics are likewise mostly either dated or just strange. Building a Force is about the threat of nuclear disaster (like this hasn’t been done to death already), Fairy’s Dance is about some kind of folk cautionary tale where a witch turns you into a cow (yeah really) but Bowed Down With Sorrow takes a more personal/honest approach and deals with...sorrow I guess; it’s actually quite a touching and emotional song. Fans of Engrish will appreciate the line “pain and suffer is all I see”. Keyboards enhance the sound when they appear - this is not often.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to pinpoint all the influences on display here but for now the closest parallel I can think of is Psychotic Waltz minus the obvious prog elements. This CD won’t be for everyone but I can guarantee there is novelty to be found here along with the thrill of hearing the most humble beginnings of one of the most well known singers in metal today.
Conception is one of those precious few bands to have never released a bad album. Conception released four very high quality albums before disbanding in the late 90s. Conception's sound is very unique - the closest comparison I can make is a more melodic No Exit-era Fates Warning, but even that fails to describe the music very well. While Roy Khan is clearly the most well known member of the band, and without a doubt is great singer, the real driving force behind Conception's music is guitarist Tore Østby. Østby's guitar work is nothing other than godlike, ranging from breathtaking shred guitar to thunderous, chugging riffs that provide the rythmic backbone for most of Conception's songs. Unfortunately, Conception has gone largely unnoticed by most metal fans, known more as being Roy Khan's first band rather than the progressive/power metal gem that it is.
History aside, The Last Sunset is Conception's first work, and it shows. The production is a bit rough (though still by no means bad), the songwriting doesn't quite measure up to the brilliance shown in Parallel Minds and In Your Multitude, and the lyrics, while good, aren't the introspective masterpieces of their later works. The style tends a bit more towards power metal than progressive metal, though the later tracks are quite progressive. That said, The Last Sunset is still an amazingly good album.
The album starts with a light, haunting, ethereal intro that kicks into the first track, Building a Force, a relentlessly fast and heavy track that showcases everything the band has to offer - blazing lead work, tight and consistent drumming, and of course great vocals - it's Roy Khan, after all. Khan's voice is quite a bit higher than it is in Kamelot (in fact, it's notably higher than it is on Flow, as well). The album flows very well from track to track, although War of Hate seems to run out of ideas about 1/2 of the way through and drags on a bit too long. Fairy's Dance showcases Østby's great rythm guitar work - the intro is spectacularly well written and played, and the rest of the song keeps up the high standard. The lyrics are a bit whimsical, but still loads better than the usual crap about dragons, heroism, and freedom that usually accompanies any power metal out of Europe. Another World is an odd piece of music, showcasing more delightfully complex and well-executed riffs from Tore Østby, but then shifting into a dissonant, death growl part about 2/3 of the way through, before returning to power metal. After a short ambient interlude comes the album's title track - a soft, emotional balad. Khan's voice *really* shines on this track; no other vocalist can really evoke emotion the way Khan can, and his voice perfectly complements the mood of the song. Perhaps the most notable track on the album, however, comes at the very end. Among the Gods is a progressive extravaganza, showcasing Tore Ostby's Latin-influenced guitar playing, first in a wonderful acoustic guitar riff, and then during an instrumental section that will blow you away, complete with several near-flawless leads - yet there is very little guitar wank to be heard; Østby's playing is technical enough to impress, yet it never compromises its musical value for technicality's sake, and as a result sounds absolutely wonderful.
For first-time listeners, Conception's second album, Parallel Minds, or third album, In Your Multitude, may be a better place to start, but The Last Sunset is certainly one of the greatest works of melodic progressive metal ever to be recorded.