Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 32: Roll the Fire – Part 1

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

Conception in the early days.

Most bands that get their own chapter in this eBook are internationally big acts. Others are my personal favorites, that I obviously would like to see up there with the bigger bands. Some people are very eager to promote bands from their own country. In general, I don’t really care where bands are from as long as I enjoy their music. That’s the only thing that matters and that’s what makes me a fan. When I am asked about my favorite bands I always mention the ones that I feel deserve to have a bigger name in the business. One of these bands is Conception from… well, yes, my home country, Norway. Their older albums are finally available on streaming platforms and their back catalog is rereleased with a bunch of bonus materials. The timing for this is good!

This saga began in 1991, while I was enrolled in mandatory military service. As mentioned in chapter 7, I had to take a break from my FM radio show for a year while serving in the army. Luckily I had brought quite a pile of CDs which I played in our barracks in our off-time. One of my fellow soldiers noticed my very distinct taste in music and approached me: “Hey, I hear you are listening to Metal all the time. A friend of mine just released a CD with this band. Would you like to check it out and maybe play it on your radio show when you get back home?” I thought it was just a demo or something, but agreed to give it a listen if he could provide it. Soon I forgot about the whole thing.

Some time later I was on leave back home. When the leave was over I decided to drive my car back to the camp, so I had the freedom to go places on my own when I had time off. My soldier friend was on leave as well in a town not too far from mine. We decided to drive together and take turns behind the wheel to get to the camp on time. I picked him up at his house and as soon as he entered the car he handed me a CD. It was The Last Sunset by a band called Conception. Ah, this is the perfect opportunity to give your friend’s band a shot. We blasted the opener, “Building a Force,” right away on maximum volume. I seem to recall that he told me that his friend, the vocalist Roy Khantatat, was an English teacher and that he was new to Metal.

Shortly after we started driving my friend got ill with a high fever and was not in a state where he could drive the car. As a consequence of this I ended up driving for 21 hours straight. I always plan well when I go for a drive and I always make sure that I have enough music with me to make the drive as enjoyable as possible. I don’t remember why, but for some reason the CD by Conception was the only one in the car. I ended up playing their debut album on repeat while drinking enough coffee to keep a small dinosaur awake. That’s quite a lot of spins… my verdict was that this was a cool album and a band to keep an eye on.

The cover of my CD.
The most known cover.

The production was not the best and I wasn’t convinced that Roy’s voice was a good fit for Metal. I was probably a bit biased since I was told he wasn’t a Metal guy in the first place. I was obviously VERY wrong as Roy has turned out to be one of the finest Metal voices to come out of Norway. I believe it mattered a great deal that Roy joined the band after the album was written too. What really stands out is of course Tore Østby’s flamenco guitar that can be heard throughout the album and blends perfectly in with the Metal. His playing is unique and done in a tasty way with the addition of Arve Heimdal’s excellent drumming and Ingar Amlien’s bass playing. Just listen to “War of Hate” to be convinced. The title track was proof that the band could write strong ballads. We’d have more of those in the future.

After the debut album was released, Conception was offered to contribute to a sampler with Norwegian rock bands named Norsk Rock og Tordenskrall. The band wrote and recorded “Black On Black,” which I guess was the first track the band composed together as a band, showing they were definitely on the right track. It’s a killer song that luckily showed up later as a rerecorded bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album Power of Metal.

Believe it or not but after this I actually forgot about the CD. That was until I got back home and started doing my radio shows again. Out of nowhere I received the promo for the album Parallel Minds. The band had gotten a record deal with Noise Records, which was a pleasant surprise. Eagerly I put the CD on. “Water Confines” and “Roll the Fire”… bang! Two songs in and I was sold. This was a band that had matured a lot. The whole album is a killer and my initial thoughts about Roy not being a Metal singer now seemed extremely ridiculous. The most noticeable elements from the debut were refined and contributed to a very unique sound.

At the time there was a short lived TV station in Oslo that showed music videos at night time and most of it was Metal. Some new videos were on high rotation like Sepultura’s “Territory,” Savatage’s “Edge of Thorns,” and Conception’s video for “Roll the Fire.” It was really cool to see them played among other big bands and favorites! I don’t know why I didn’t do an interview with them back then. I guess no one asked me, and I’ll blame the label for not promoting them better. I didn’t see the band live supporting the album either. They did tours with Gamma Ray/Rage, Threshold and Skyclad(!), but the tours never came to Norway. Still, I never forgot about this album like I did with the debut.

Stig and his good ol’ worn out Conception tee.

I don’t actually remember when, but at some point I got a green Flow t-shirt. It’s pretty worn out and shapeless today, but I still wear it every time I attend something related to Conception. At a festival a bunch of years ago I wore the t-shirt, most likely because Roy was playing a show with Kamelot. There I bumped into a Norwegian music journalist and drummer named Asgeir Mickelson, who told me that “it’s cool to see someone still wearing that t-shirt because I designed it!”

In 1995, Conception released their third album, In Your Multitude. I was invited to the legendary music club, “Smuget,” in Oslo for the release party. The band played a live show that night sporting their new material. It must have been the first time I saw the band on stage. Better late than never. I think this was the second time they played in Oslo, with the first taking place after the debut album was released. There was a great party after the show. I remember standing at the urinals when Roy came to do his dues beside me. He was wearing the bandana and all the stuff he used to wear back then. This is the place where we had our first conversation, haha. I congratulated him with a great show and an excellent new album. He replied obviously that he was very pleased with it and appreciated the feedback.

Tore at the In Your Multitude release party in ’95.

I lost the CD shortly after. I have no idea where it went, which is kind of strange since I’ve always looked after my record collection. This album, like several of their early albums, has been nearly impossible to get hold of. You could of course find the whole thing on YouTube, but streaming platforms like Spotify didn’t publish it before recently, and I’ve always preferred a physical copy of albums I like. Luckily the albums are about to be rereleased. Still, losing that CD still pisses me off because I prefer to have the originals. We have most of the tracks off the album on rotation on Metal Express Radio, but we’ve got to have the complete album. Due to the fact that I lost the CD, I ended up playing Parallel Minds more, but there is no doubt that In Your Multitude is a brilliant album, with standout tracks like “Missionary Man,” “A Million Gods,” and “Under A Morning Star.”

Later that year, the band did a brilliant set at the legendary Kalvøyafestivalen. It was enjoyable to see the band sharing the stage with bands like Faith No More, Clawfinger, Slash’s Snakepit, and Motorpsycho. Recently I watched a documentary about the festival and they showed a clip from Conception’s performance. It left me wondering if it would ever be possible to see footage from the entire show.

In 1997, Conception’s label asked if I would do an interview with the band ahead of the release of their forthcoming album, Flow. They sent me an advanced promo CD a couple of days before the interview. It had just an orange label with nothing printed on it. I was really disappointed after the first spin. It sounded way too modern and overproduced compared to the previous albums. That being said, in retrospect I hear a lot of the same sound on In Your Multitude. I met the whole band in a bar in Oslo and the interview went great. The guys were nice and of course excited to promote the new masterpiece. I remember them talking about spending a day or two in the studio in Germany just to get the kick drum mic in the right position. They left nothing to chance. Roy asked me which tracks I liked the most. Well, I didn’t dare to say that I wasn’t a fan of the album, but I really couldn’t name the songs as the label hadn’t provided a tracklist. Roy wrote it down off the top of his head, so I could get the track titles right for my radio show. I aired the interview along with some tracks off the album. Still looking for the tape with that interview.

Shortly after, I was going on a vacation and brought along my discman and Flow. On a beach somewhere, with a lot of beer, I played the CD several times before I finally got it. This was a masterpiece! I love the production and the tracks on it. I could easily put it on my top 25 list of my favorite albums ever. Ironically, I gave the advanced CD to a girl I was dating, since she was a big fan, once I got the proper release. Later I was on a long flight and as always I had the discman with me. All the selected albums for the trip, Flow among others, were in a CD booklet in the seat pocket in front of me. There it remained as I ran to a connecting flight. I contacted KLM several times later hoping to get my CD back, to no avail. Out of the four albums Conception had released, I had lost two. It’s totally unbelievable! I had ripped all the tracks to mp3s for the radio server, so I burned a CD and placed it in the jewel case. It’s still there to this day. I still have some jewel cases on my shelf that remain empty after that trip. Among them are releases from Geezer Butler’s band, GZR, and Enola Gay. Someday I will contact the girl I was dating to ask if she still has the orange promo version. I feel it belongs in my Flow jewel case.

Finally, Conception did a full show in Oslo to promote the new album. It took place in a Rock club called “Lusa.” They have always been a solid live band and it was a great evening. I don’t recall very much from that particular show, apart from Roy wearing some outfit he picked up in Japan, some kind of leather skirt, and that the audience was rocking so hard that Roy had to apologize when it was time for a ballad.

The reason for not remembering many details from this show in particular is the fact that Conception came back to the very same place a few months later for their farewell show! That was a sad surprise. Their fans had not embraced the new style and they decided to put the band on ice. I really thought they called it quits back then, but according to themselves they never claimed that. It was just a break and the break was long. It was kind of overwhelming to see the band go off stage that night. I talked to them and asked if they had recorded it. “Why would we do that?” “Hey, it was your last show!” I remember handing out my business cards, telling them to get in touch if they got into new projects, and sure enough, very soon they did! They didn’t tell me of course 🙂 More about Conception later…

Kamelot live 2007
Photo: Per Olav Heimstad

Roy went on to become the new vocalist in the American Melodic Power Metal band Kamelot. Fans of the band would know him as Khan from now. This is a band that I had been following ever since their first album, Eternity. I remember picking that up from the label the very same day as I got Symphony X’s second album The Damnation Game. It’s funny how memories like that stick with you. I liked the debut a lot, and I believe it’s a bit more Progressive Metal than the Power Metal path they would go down later. Kamelot released one more album called Dominion before they announced that Roy Khan was the new guy behind the mic. That was more than a big surprise. Roy would play a major role in forming the band’s musical development along with founder and axeman Thomas Youngblood. His first album with Kamelot was the 1998 album Siege Perilous. I saw the band live several times and it was always cool to see how Roy’s stage performance grew, and to see him perform in front of big audiences. I also did several interviews during his years in the band.

In 2000, Kamelot released the live album Expedition. I was invited to a restaurant in Oslo with my buddy Frode Johnsrud (ex-Metal Express Radio, later Scream Magazine) to interview Roy about the new album. The interview took place in a Mongolian restaurant. I brought my recording gear with me, but it is kind of hard to do a radio interview while eating. The restaurant had an “eat as much as you want” deal so there was no way to tell when we were done eating either. On top of that I thought the restaurant was too noisy for the interview. We agreed that I could do the interview along with Frode for Scream Magazine, and that I could do my audio interview later on. When we left the restaurant Roy offered me a ride home. It was a nice gesture, and his brand new car was really cool. Wow! I don’t fancy cars in general, but this was a really cool black sports car. The car blasted on all cylinders and so did the hi-fi in it. Roy was really into Rammstein which he blasted on volume 11. It was a nice ride! We hooked up again a couple of days later to do the interview in more silent surroundings and had a nice chat about how the album was recorded during a European tour with Crimson Glory and Evergrey. Obviously a little pissed off by the fact that Crimson Glory headlined the tour when Kamelot would draw most people anyway. Roy also mentions he doesn’t believe in using managers. I think maybe that was one of the reasons for him having a burn-out years later.This interview was done the very same year I took Metal Express Radio online to the World Wide Web, but the interviews were still for my FM show, so this first Kamelot interview is unfortunately in Norwegian.

In 2001, Kamelot released another studio album entitled Karma. I was really into that one. It was obvious that the song writing team consisting of Thomas Youngblood and Roy was really going somewhere. Roy came to Oslo for another interview and one obvious question was how the guys worked together on new tracks. It also became obvious that the record label mistakenly had connected the album’s title with Buddhism in the press sheet.

That summer Kamelot was playing the Bang Your Head!!! festival in Germany. We were a bunch of people traveling by bus from Oslo to attend the festival. The previous year the press passes didn’t give you access to the inner circle where the artists were. I was looking to do some interviews and it’s always easier to look up the bands yourself instead of waiting for them on an allocated spot hoping they would remember to show up. Kamelot was playing the first night and I texted Roy asking if I could have his backstage pass when he left the festival. It was a stupid suggestion really, not only because I could have been busted using someone else’s backstage pass, but worst case Roy could have gotten a bad rep too. He was very diplomatic and said that maybe we could arrange that, but of course it didn’t happen. I don’t recall meeting him at all actually. Meanwhile we had a great party on the bus, listening to Kamelot’s new album Karma. The lyrics for the title track, “Who will trade his karma for my kingdom,” were sung with all thinkable twists by everyone during all the miles and the beers…..and sandwiches. “Would you trade your Karma for my schnitzel?” “Would you trade your backstage pass for my schnitzel?” At the time I found that last version hilarious enough to text it to Roy. When I read that now, I see how it can be interpreted in various ways. Geeeez! How f…. stupid! He didn’t respond, haha.

In 2003, Kamelot released Epica and another interview with Roy was scheduled. I believe this turned out to be my last Kamelot interview. We talked about the fact that the band already had planned a sequel to Epica, how they work on orchestration and how to measure success.

When The Black Halo was ready for release two years later, I was offered another interview with Roy at the Elm Street Rock Cafe in Oslo. I had recruited some new guys to Metal Express Radio, and since one of them was a big fan of Roy’s I thought it was a good idea to let him do it. At the time of the interview I just dropped by to say hello to Roy. Later I checked in with our new recruit to hear how the interview had gone. Overall, it had been a good experience, but still he wanted to smash my face. This being his first interview and the fact that Roy was a hero to him was a bad combo. He was so nervous that he was sweating bullets and his hands were shaking. He was very eager to get it over with when I dropped by to say hello, prolonging the interview time while he was sitting there in agony. Haha, sorry Torgeir!

KAMELOT - One Cold Winter's NightIn 2006, it was time for another live release from Kamelot called One Cold Winter’s Night that would be released as a CD as well as a DVD. The recording took place at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo. The guys did a nice performance, but I actually don’t think I ever saw the live video. I do remember a Spinal Tap moment though. One of the stand out songs from The Black Halo is “March of Mephisto,” which features a spoken part by Shagrath, the vocalist from Dimmu Borgir. At this show Snowy Shaw would perform this very part while sitting on a throne. When it was time for the spoken words part the throne was empty. You could see the confusion on the band members’ faces before Snowy came running through the crowd to get backstage. He never made it on time. I vaguely remember that Snowy wrote about this appearance in his biography, The Book Of Heavy Metal, as well. Eventually he got to perform his part though. After the show Roy came back on stage and asked the people who were still hanging around to gather in front of the stage for a retake of the song with Snowy.

After the release of the band’s ninth studio album, Poetry For The Poisoned (2010), there was a press release saying that Roy had left the band. He had hit the wall after years of touring, writing and taking care of business. He also made a statement himself later on, ending with something like “…and then there was God”. I heard he had left the music business completely and had joined a church. Back in the day he had a phone number that was very easy to remember. I still remember every digit. I thought more than a couple of times about texting him to ask how he was doing and maybe see if he was up for an interview. But I concluded it was best to leave him in peace. Luckily he would return to the business later.

The story of Conception continues in part 2!

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  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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