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Final Conflict - Return of the Artisan CD (album) cover

RETURN OF THE ARTISAN

Final Conflict

 

Neo-Prog

4.04 | 79 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
5 stars Skirting on the fringes of the unknown , Final Conflict have been around for quite a while and slowly, like some resolute turtle showing a proggy finger to the hare, they have come to the frontline of modern neo-prog bands that excel in what they so stoutly believe in. The arrival of drum maestro Henry Rogers (Deeexpus, Touchstone) has given these veteran lads quite a jolt forward, as can be witnessed with the splendid "Another Moment of Time CD and DVD Live in Poland", a visual and aural documentary that shimmered vibrantly from beginning to end. Well, this vital live album has shoved them further into the limelight with a sizzling studio release, "Return of the Artisan" that stamps their prog ticket with massive splatter! The maturity is manifest from the very start as the individual performances are beyond the customary, as per Steve Lipiec's graceful piano and bassist Baz Elwood's dexterous technique littering the album with enchanting aplomb. Both Donkin and Lawton are expert vocalists and stunning axmen, some of the best in neo for sure. And as for Rogers, well, I have been drooling over his playing for a while, a meaty basher of the finest pedigree, a pure delight all the way through. The material proposed is vivid, powerful, bombastic, melodious and passionate. Fans of harder edged prog like Deeexpus, Mystery, RPWL, Galahad, IQ, Touchstone and Porcupine Tree will enjoy this tremendously. Easily and by far, the most surprising album of 2012!

"The Calling" is a brief intro, vocals alone sending a crisp message introducing the rapturous "The Mechanic", perhaps one of FC's finest comps, a bulldozing spooky colossus, lush with palpitating structures that morph into a pure Floydian soundscape of utter delicacy, a swerving and pulsating dazzle with the hereditary languorous guitar solo to die for. Spurting synth flashes splatter the rash guitar waves, pummeled by the brutal percussive rhythm, while the spoken word sections supply an unfathomable sense of unease. A metaphorical 2 minute piano ode, "The Spark" provides exactly that, an unruffled flame of impending desire to rock the listener's world with some serious music. Lipiec is simply stunning in his effortless elegance. Gorgeous!

The piano resumes its stately course by introducing "Hopes and Dreams", a longer piece that will slowly build up a bulldozer riff, allied by searchlight guitar beams that scream and scorch, bruising bass pylons and booming drum blasts. A sprightly organ solo adds some posh spice (okay, I am sorry for the bad wordplay!) to the already bubbly mixture. Lipiec will burn a synthesizer solo later as well. Numerous dual axe solos gracefully add their two-cent worth. The vocals have a little urgent Dave Cousins tinge ("Hero and Heroine" ?style), while the mellotron howls in the background. This highlight piece has this immense sense of accomplishment, as if it was always there, waiting to be heard.

"Around and About" has a breezier feel, though still honed to a sharp tone, propelled by some looping and revolving bass runs, (see the nature of the title!), underpinning complexity within a simple vocal formula is what distinguishes this band from so many others. Tinges of Middle Eastern rhythms give this arrangement a sense of dizziness and desperation. Slashing Andy Summers-like guitar phrasings, hazy electronic synths and impassionate vocals make this another stunning listening experience.

The extravagant "Babylon" shows off their softer side to be as radiant as their rockier penchant, a canvas of seductive synthesizers in a blessed wedding with suave vocals, a windswept sun kissed ballad of perpetual proportions and an unforgettable chorus that will stick to your soul. Screeching gulls, water splashing the dock and vaporous dream vocals converge amid the bass growl. Another splendid track!

The grandiloquent and beastly "Harlequin" has that doom-laden quality that immediately appeals, a musical universe where Bonham-style thumping bullies a raunchy guitar phalanx, the vocals both delirious and ecstatic. The tortuous synthesizer solo confirms the brilliance of the mood where hints of Saga, Galahad, Led Zeppelin and IQ all entangle the listener into a web of pleasure. Rogers pummels madly, darn good stuff, this! Elwood's bass guitar forges ahead unflinchingly, hurling the hypnosis forever forward. This will be a killer live track to finish off their set list.

"Keeper of Conscience" again shows off the polyvalent nature of the band songwriting, a brooding arrangement that transcends the formulaic and dives into darker territories, dare I say slightly experimental like mid-period Porcupine Tree. The hypnotic piano tingles, the harsh guitar wallops and the bass dances along for the ride, the sweet vocal section invites dreamy mirrored reflections, glinting in the fading sunlight. The proggiest selection on this startlingly delicious menu.

The 10 minute title track only serves to confirm the overall excellence, a sturdy and louder power ballad, with jangling guitars, proficient vocalizing, matchless melodies, bold and chivalrous rhythms and churlish solos that will please the discerning prog audiophile. The sonic talons are set into a massive groove from the first second and does not let go, squeezing hard and fast. This would be another seminal live selection, showcasing the various soloing talents available to rapturous applause. "You won't believe your" ears !

"Return of the Artisan" is an exalting sequence of first class tracks that have melody and meat, shining production values with crisp vocal expression, fascinating melodic contributions and truly expert musicianship from each member of the band. Not a single second of filler, no spam, no wasted emotions, a most impressive performance. Add on a gorgeous cover and the die is cast, a must have for the neo/symph progfan .

Looking forward to many further conflicts!

5 craftman revisits

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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