Album review: Dark Flag by Phinehas
For metalcore listeners who have been living under a rock for the past few years, Phinehas are a metal/metalcore band hailing from Los Angeles, California. The band recently released their latest full length record “Dark Flag” on the 17th of November through Solid State Records. If you’ve never heard of Phinehas before, you could say that they are for fans of: For Today, Miss May I, Wage War, August Burns Red, and I Killed The Prom Queen.
This album is the band’s first release through Solid State Records, with their previous album “Till The End” released through Artery Records in 2015, and an EP tilted “Fight Through The Night” self-released by the band last year. Solid State Records has released titles from other metal/metalcore giants such as: Earth Groans, Demon Hunter, Norma Jean, and Fit For A King. It was interesting to see Phinehas dropping this album through Solid State Records, and both the band and the label did an excellent job with this release.
With a few listen throughs of the album, this review will go through a very brief overview track-by-track of the new album. This is the first album review written by this writer, and serves simply as a teaser for the album; if you really want to hear how good the album is, go and pick it up for yourself HERE. Here we go:
Track 1 – Dark Flag
The album-titled track kicks off with vocalist Sean McCulloch’s opening line “I looked into darkness too long, now it stares back” then comes right in with harmonised technical guitar leads over the introduction beatdown. A very traditional metalcore verse which keeps the energy pumping as the song builds towards a quite melodic chorus with clean vocals and a catchy melody. McCulloch shows the versatility of his voice and vocal range straight away, with both brutal yelling and clean sung chorus parts.
Track 2 – Burning Bright
This song once again kicks in with harmonized guitar leads over a fast beat down. The guitar work reminds me a little of the band Chon here, showing both a level of technicality and beauty that you hear when listening to both bands’ guitar players. Phinehas transition seemlessly between each section of the song. Most notably, the change from the soft chorus outro into the fast paced heavy verse in this song. The song slows down for a soft bridge where the guitar solo has a very 80s power-metal feel to it. They end the song with another crushing beatdown.
Track 3 – I Saw The Bombs Fall
This song is faster than the previous two, kicking straight in with a double time verse, followed by a beatdown with guitar lead over the top. Vocalist McCulloch repeats the words of the title of the track “I Saw The Bombs Fall” at the same time. The galloping double kick patterns by drummer Lee Humerian here are super fast and recorded very cleanly, showcasing how each musician in the band brings their own specialities to the forefront on this album.
Track 4 – The 38th Parallel
This song is an instrumental track where electronic samples are played over the top of some light guitar work. Usually an interlude track this early in an album would halt the energy of the album too soon. However It feels well placed here, giving the listener a breather after the first 3 tracks are hammered through. This song also almost acts more as an introduction for the next track “Hell Below”.
Track 5 – Hell Below
Straight back into it with a heavy beatdown followed by a energetic verse. This song demonstrates the first chorus that McCulloch yells through instead of only clean singing, and he nails it both ways. There’s a great use of a build up before the beatdown towards the end of the song. The song ends with a tempo change for a slower, heavier beatdown, and they make it work with brutal gutterals and massive slow guitar chugs.
Track 6 – A War That Never Ends
This song starts to feel like another interlude, however after about 10 seconds in the listener realises it’s more than that. It begins with clean guitars, electronic samples, and clean vocals, with soothing melodies sung in the background. The sound and structure of this song really reminds me of Brisbane’s Young Lions.
Track 7 – Break The Earth
The start of this song flows on well from the end of the previous track, with a nice slow build up. That quickly changes with the introduction of a heavy, chuggy beatdown. No harmonised guitar leads over these beatdowns, changing it up from what the band has done in the first half of the album, which is good to hear.
Track 8 – My Rosemary
This is definitely one of the stand out tracks on this album. The guitar tapping comes in over open ring outs leading into the first beatdown of the song, which is later repeated after the first chorus. The drumming patterns underneath the beatdown here display a technicality reminiscent of the drums in August Burns Reds’ “Composure”. A metalcore two-step verse and fast paced chorus, both keep the pace of the album pushing forward. Once again, an impressive guitar lead part over the bridge of the song, showing off the guitarists’ technique and skill.
Track 9 – The Arduous March
Track 9 is another interlude track with the sound of a wound up jack-in-a-box. It makes sense with the ferocity of the rest of the album that they felt the need to include interlude tracks to break it up a little, however this one could have simply been left off. The next track’s introduction could have done what this interlude did just as well.
Track 10 – Communion for Ravens (featuring Jimmy Ryan)
This song starts off with isolated soft vocals over clean guitars before kicking into the opening beatdown, complemented with a tapping guitar lead part. A tempo change into a beatdown in the chorus helps keep the pulse pumping after both the fast intro beatdown and double time verse. Jimmy Ryan’s vocals come in at the bridge for the heavier part of the song (not that the beatdowns aren’t heavy enough), but this bridge really pushes it into a darker sound. His deep vocals are alike to Jamie Hope from Adelaide’s I Killed The Prom Queen.
Track 11 – Meaningless Names
Ominous guitar lead echoes through the introduction of this track. McCulloch again showing the versatility in his voice with another clean vocal heavy track. At 3 minutes in, the rest of the band kicks in, with McCulloch switching back to his more aggressive yelling vocals. This track serves as the ballad of the album, and is a change of pace from the rest of the album (bar the earlier interlude).
Track 12 – Know Death; Know Forever
A 5 minute song to finish off the album, and they couldn’t have chosen a better one to end on. This song once again plays to the band’s strengths; intense guitar tapping lead parts, energetic vocal build ups, and fast heavy beat downs. The chorus is split in half between a half time section with clean vocals, and a syncopated beatdown which reminds me of a band I mentioned earlier For Today in their track “Agape”. The song builds towards the final beat down, heavy vocals drawn out over chugs in that crushing guitar tone, with McCulloch ending the album on his lyrics “I had to be lost to be found”.
Overall, the guitar work on this album is ridiculously technical, shown through both the intricate lead parts and syncopated beat down patterns, evident in the first few songs alone. There are some really catchy songs, with memorable chorus melodies, catchy guitar leads, and bouncy beatdowns. If I had to give this album a rating I’d most likely go with a 7 out of 10. It’s a excellent progression for the band, and I will definitely wait in anticipation to see what they follow it up with. It will be hard to top this great album, but if anyone is up to the challenge, Phinehas are.