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Unflinchingly modern - and brilliant. - 93%

Empyreal, January 12th, 2022
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Independent

Conception was broken up for like 20 years, and had the misfortune of having a few really well-regarded cult albums of prog/power in the 90s - which is just to say they built up a feverish reputation that didn't really want anything to change about that sound. Those albums were really well done for sure, though they're so hard to find that I have to admit I never really formed any deep relationships with them. This new album isn't really anything like them, save for the basic classy melodicism. But unlike many melodic acts, this is a band that isn't resting on its laurels in old age. Alongside the also-recently-returning Psychotic Waltz, Conception has offered up a really ingenious piece of music with State of Deception - and one which is thankfully much better than that EP from a few years back.

This is just a really expansive sound. Tore Østby's guitar isn't going nuts with riffs and solos, rather preferring a restrained sound that borrows as much from rock and pop as it does from prog - it's a 'less is more' thing. The songs range from blistering, careening rockers with ominous digital effects to slower, Kamelot-ish ballads. None of them sound alike and none of them are really much like anything you've heard before. "Of Raven and Pig" is a jarring opener with crushing guitar tones and singer Roy Khan sounding unhinged as he belts out a screed that could've been a backdrop to some of the American protests that went on during 2020, all anti-authority. It's a really wild way to open an album for such an old band, not really very friendly. Other tracks like the hard-nosed, off-kilter "By the Blues" and the propulsive "She Dragoon" are also really fucking good.

Then you get ballads like "The Mansion," which could've probably been off Kamelot's Ghost Opera but is likely better than a lot of that album. It's a tremendous epic tune and the chorus is cathartic and powerful - this style of music really lives and dies by how well it gets lodged in your head. "Feather Moves" is an expansive, touching song as well. Khan isn't trying to hit the stratosphere anymore, but he has one of metal's great voices, a master of tone and phrasing, just one of these guys who could sing anything. He tries some unconventional stuff on here and also has mastered the art of selling a good pop hook. The bass and drums sound good, too - none of it sounds too processed or digital or fussy, which is a nice change compared to, say, recent Orden Ogan or Dynazty albums. It sounds like a band actually playing and the whole thing is urgent and fresh.

Ultimately I like this because it's a band not just playing it safe, instead trying a bunch of ideas that really work. It's catchy as hell but has depth to it, and the band thankfully also did not drag it on for like 75 minutes as some prog bands liked to do - it's actually a nice bit of brevity, and makes you hang on the ideas and want more because there's not much of it. If you're strictly into orthodox stuff you'll find this middling at best. I think it sounds like a band free of inhibitions.