Review Summary: Easily one of the best anarcho-punk albums ever recorded, "The Ungovernable Force" is prevented from being a true classic by an obvious debt to Crass.
Hardcore anarcho-punk band Conflict was formed in 1981 in South London. After releasing an ep on Crass’ Corpus Christi Records in 1982, they released their first full length album “It’s Time To See Who’s Who” in 1983. This album topped the indie charts in the UK and paved the way for several more successful albums. By far, the greatest of these albums is their third release “The Ungovernable Force”. This album remains the most focused, powerful and enduring of all their discography.
By 1985, when the album was recorded, Conflict had evolved beyond the mid-tempo street punk of their debut and gradually incorporated faster tempos, heavier guitar and a greater emphasis on political lyrics. Conflict’s musical growth is apparent within the first three minutes of the album. Instead of opening with a blast of balls out punk rock, The Ungovernable Force opens more subtly, with an eerie series of quotes about the effects of nuclear war, set to a backdrop of static and ambient noises. This soon gives way to one of the most anthemic guitar riffs to be found in punk rock, backed by a female vocalist singing in an epic, choral style. This grandiose intro instantly makes the listener realize that this isn’t your average punk album.
The intro almost immediately goes into the first real track of the album: “The Ungovernable Farce”. This ferocious hardcore piece is what sets the real tone of the album, with the fiercely anarchist lyrics, powerful hardcore beats and snarled vocals. The rest of the album mostly follows the same system, even though the few songs which break this formula are among the best on this album. Among these songs is “Custom Rock”, which is actually quite melodic and easily is the most “poppy” song on the album. Ironically this song is about the commercialization of punk rock, a theme found in several songs on this album. Another standout is “Force Or Service” which, though it seems like a throwback to the street punk days of Conflict’s debut, is a fun, enjoyable number which is a welcome break from the pessimistic hardcore of the rest of the album.
Lyrically the album runs the gamut of standard punk rock lyrics, with police brutality, environmental concerns, and the commercialization of the punk scene at the forefront. While this may seem rather cliche, the lyrics are done better than most other bands which lends more credibility to the issues that Conflict is espousing. The lyrics are generally sung so fast as to be incomprehensible, which is why songs are interspersed with spoken word sections which outline more clearly what the band is trying to say. This seems distracting at first, but the listener should remember that for most anarcho bands, the music is secondary to the message.
The albums only real flaw is an obvious and self-admitted debt to Crass. In fact there is even a song titled C.R.A.S.S. which is entirely about the effect Crass had on the punk scene. This influence extends to the lyrical themes and even the lyrical style. While this may not seem like an obvious flaw, this lack of real originality, at least as far as lyrics, is the only thing that keeps this album from being a true classic.