Final Conflict - The Rise Of The Artisan,
Andy Lawton and I were chatting one day, and I happened to mention that not only were Final Conflict the first band ever to send me a CD to review, they were also the very first band to give me a t-shirt the first time I saw them play at The Standard. We both laughed over not only had the shirt gone missing but also the size of body it used to fit – we were born within a week of each other in 1963, and we were reminiscing over a time nearly 30 years ago – so imagine my surprise when the new album turned up, and also in the envelope was a “new” t-shirt for ‘Redress The Balance’ in the correct size so I could wear it with pride! So to the album, which for some reason has taken eight years to appear since ‘Return of the Artisan’, but I note the band are currently indicated as a four-piece as drummer Henry Rogers is no longer involved, which may have caused some issues. As ever, the band is fronted by Andy Lawton (guitars, lead vocals) and Brian Donkin (guitars, lead vocals) and they are joined by Steve Lipiec (keyboards) and Barry Elwood (bass). Steve has been there since the wonderful second CD ‘Quest’ back in 1992 while Barry is just a newbie having only played on the last album and this one (drums on the album are provided by Eden Longson).
Final Conflict always stood out among the neo-prog bands of the 90’s as there really was no-one else quite like them. Not only did they have two lead singers, but both frontmen also played electric guitar, which provided a very different dynamic indeed, yet they never veered into the realm of prog metal. Racking my brain, the only other prog band of the time I can remember with two guitarists were Jump, who also had a sound very much their own and were quite different to FC (I did see Threshold a few times back in the early days but they were also way more metallic). Putting this album on was like being reintroduced to an old friend, as although the songs are all new, FC truly are distinctive and I have always felt they never really got the attention and acclaim they deserved – perhaps if they had been able to play London more often it would have been different, and with this being just their third album in 14 years they have not been the most active. But quality always beats quantity, and here we have an album which demonstrates just why they have been able to keep going for so long. Strong material combined with good vocals, often dual harmony, keyboards providing backdrop and finesse to strong rock hooks, and a rhythm section which understands when to be in your face and when to drop back and let the others take control. It is a very easy album to listen to, Final Conflict have always been more songs-based then “see how clever I am”, and they always make me think of BJH even though they sound nothing like them.
Final Conflict have to my mind always been one of the finest neo prog bands around, and although that term is used by some to denigrate the music being performed, to me it is a true sub-genre, with these guys being one of the best exponents. Although there are a few moments when the music is somewhat reminiscent of Winter, it generally just reminds me of classic Final Conflict. I still have ‘Redress The Balance’ in my playlist some 29 years on from when I first heard it, and I can see ‘The Rise of the Artisan’ joining it.