Album Review :
Phinehas - Dark Flag
By Zac Zinn in Reviews | 11 Comments
You probably didn’t realize it, but Phinehas has been around for nearly 18 years. Although they only rose from obscurity in 2011 with their debut album Thegodmachine, Phinehas has now put out another reason why they are becoming the giants in the genre.
Freshly signed to Solid State Records, the California metal band puts out their most technical and stunning release to date. Dark Flag is a concept album that doesn’t necessarily tell a story, but follows a theme of struggle in a violent and oppressing regime. The album doesn’t take its time with a long drawn out intro filled with ambient sound effects. The title track kicks off the LP with adrenaline and flash. Vocalist Sean McCulloch screams, “I looked into darkness too long, now it stares back.”
With this first track, there are two things immediately apparent to the listener. Firstly, the production is crisp and perfect for the style. The mixing is well done too; there are no vocals or instruments that get lost in the mix, or sound muddy. Secondly, if the band can keep up this quality of music throughout the rest of the album, we’re looking at an album that will soon be up on the same level as the greatest in Christian metal.
No song on the album is predictable. There’s no over-reliance on redundant breakdowns, and almost as importantly, the guitar solos and shredding aren’t placed in the songs just to put them in there; they sound like they belong there, and advance the track into greatness.
Phinehas has also achieved the ability to have impressive clean vocals with considerable range without falling into any whiny or annoying territories. One of the most inviting parts of Phinehas throughout their discography is that McCulloch’s screams can be understood without looking at lyric sheets. There’s something to be said to be able to hear throat shattering screams and still understand the words, rather than a gurgled mess.
The emotional level of the album is deep and profound. While the album is dark, it’s not typical in its words. There is endless imagery and a quality of writing that showcases a truly talented lyricist. Examples – “When light can’t reach into shadow, how can we be found? When light can’t speak into me, it’s trapped in-between hell and myself.” – Dark Flag. “If all it takes is a voice to lead, rise up Moses and teach me to speak. If all it takes is a mustard seed, I’ll trade my heart to move a mountain in me.” – Break the Earth.
A War that Never Ends breaks the album up in a slow and ambient fashion. The song speaks of families in North Korea living in poverty and terrible conditions while their leaders profit from it. It’s a popular theme in the album, however it hits harder here because of how it’s delivered. The addition of Haste the Day’s Jimmy Ryan on Communion for Ravens adds further anger and emotional depth with his aggressive high pitched screams.
Meaningless Names is intensely sad song of a person jailed for life in the oppressive state. The track explodes into the words, “I am waiting to die among a swarm of flies. Every day is a lifetime in chains, every day. Hold fast to hope of another day. Hold fast it can’t last forever. The meaningless names of far off places. I have to believe something better awaits. I have to believe. I have to believe.”
What Phinehas has crafted here is a masterpiece; a masterpiece the metal world has been waiting for. The rollercoaster of emotions and feelings throughout the album on top of some of the most impressive musicianship from all members places this album as a crowning achievement.
RIYL: August Burns Red, Silent Planet, Inhale Exhale
I listened to this a lot the first week it was out but I bought too many albums lately and this fell by the wayside just a bit. Thanks for this review. I’ll dive back in! As for the album itself, I need to really absorb the lyrics. It’s definitely better than Till The End, which grew on me itself. This was good from the first but the depth will require a lot of listens. They’ve grow a lot in maturity here. The solo break in Burning Bright is so progressive. It’s just one sign of how far they’ve come.… Read more »
Funny, I bought this and The Ongoing Concept at the same time, and this one’s just got me hooked. I have a bunch of stuff from previous purchases, and I haven’t bothered ripping them to my PC and phone because I listen to this every day before, during, and after work. I mix some other stuff in that, but this album’s too great to give it up for long. Curious, what else did you pick up that’s taking precedent?
Not exactly things that are big here at IVM but the new Renascent “Praise to the Lord God Almighty” (amazing death metal with symphonic elements), Demoniciduth “Enemy of Satan” (blackened death metal), still listening to Fleshkiller a lot, Hand of Fire (bay area style thrash) and Your Memorial’s new Ep.
Listened to this today on the way to and from work though after posting my comment. It will get it’s playing time in and around those.
Gotcha, I’m not big into the death side of stuff myself, so I haven’t heard those ones you mentioned. Your Memorial’s sitting in a box, waiting to be sent, I assume. I made it part of a Black Friday order from Facedown and Solid State, but it won’t ship until next week, once For All Eternity’s new one is officially out (I think it’s next Friday?). I can’t recall if I made Fleshkiller part of the order, I probably got 10 or so albums on the way. I wasn’t terribly excited with their tracks I heard. Nothing bad, but nothing… Read more »
Yeah. For me metalcore was something new when I got saved. I came out of a classic rock, hard rock, traditional metal, thrash, death, black and power metal place. Core was a four letter word for me. As such, breakdowns still really aren’t my thing and core vocals took some getting used to for me. I’d rather a screaming or brutal death vocal and an amazing guitar solo 99.9% of the time. So, it took some exceptional bands to pull me over to this side of things. Phinehas is one that dragged me over because their guitar solos, the southern… Read more »
Great live band. Saw them at audiofeed
“Stevo”, great band. (period), lol.
Loving this album so much.
Gud review, zac, but its a solid 4/ 5 4 me. I was plesently surprised at the final mixes, especialy since the singles they put out b4 the release sounded mufld. They musta been unmixed/ unmasterd or sumthin. Anyway, anotha great album from these cats. I also wonda wat the explanation of “my rosary” is about.
I think the singles are the final mixes. They sound the same to me. Do you have an example?
5/5? Not high enough! I really am loving this album, even after a month of hammering it into my head, between listening to songs on YouTube at work before the release, actually getting the full album to run through in the car and out and about, and continuing to play it through both my phone and YouTube at work. Strange that you spoke so highly of the mix, claiming nothing got muddied. There were a LOT of people carrying on how the bass is really subdued on this album. I’m not a nit picker on that stuff, but I found… Read more »