November 16, 2017 Phinehas – Dark Flag (Album Review)
In the new age of Metal music, it is easy for bands to get lost in the mesh of things. Phinehas, however, continues to make their mark and stand tall. Formed back in 2001, the California natives are now set to release their brand new album, Dark Flag, on Friday, November 17, 2017 via Solid State Records.
Their fourth overall album, it follows after 2015’s LP Till The End and 2016’s EP Fight Through The Night. A concept piece, Vocalist Sean McCulloch has said that Dark Flag is not a political statement. Setting the tone, he states, “This isn’t a conservative or liberal agenda. Dark Flag is about human rights and how precious and valuable life is.”
Furthermore, Dark Flag also brings upon some change in the world of the band. For one, it will be their first release following Drummer Lee Humarian’s departure. Whether it is unclear if a new drummer is in place, McCulloch, Bassist Bryce Kelley, and Guitarist Daniel Gailey show no signs of letting the lack of a member hold them back. Second, the band signed with label Solid State Records just this year, leaving Artery Recordings after the merge of Red Cord and Victory Records. Just a few bumps in the road, Phinehas have found that determination and hard work will morph any dream into reality.
Twelve songs in total, the album begins with the title-track, which has played lead single since September. A hyperactive guitar solo swirls against drum blasts from the get-go. The headbanging track builds up great anticipation musically, as McCulloch fully charges into the perfect balance of screaming and singing. Next, “Burning Bright” carries the same tone and pace from “Dark Flag.” Lyrically, this track is possibly the sweetest Metal song to ever exist and hold some sort of nostalgic feeling.
Speaking of lyrics, Phinehas has grown in this department greatly, over the years finding their voice. This is evident on “Break The Earth,” which rings in with white noise filling the silence, as the vocals seem hindered in the background. There is a soft, Country-sounding influence before the song explodes in screams a half minute in. Carrying a wholesome feeling without being overloaded sensory-wise, the bass adds a nice touch to the perfectly contemplated drum line as the singer aims to move mountains.
While it is hard to imagine, “I Saw the Bombs Fall” is not a political statement, the reality check holds truth nonetheless. Though some may disagree that the nation has turned smothered in offense and hatred, or so the media portrays with tragedies constantly surfacing the airwaves, the track is a reflection of the progress of the world. The bold statement starts with a mid-paced tempo with tingling guitar licks before exploding as McCulloch sings, “I woke from a nightmare.” Drum rolls like rounds of gun blasts, and it is hard to deny the listener’s heart sinking as the frontman cries, “We lost our chance to rewrite history.”
A change of pace takes place with “The 38th Parallel,” which is a chilling interlude mimicking something one would hear straight out of Stranger Things. Light static fills the void with choppy voices and soothingly eerie guitar that sends the listener floating in another dimension. It is hard to distinguish if there is strings or guitar, but it is beautiful nonetheless. The music gradually builds over time before moving into fast-paced track “Hell Below.”
Hope remains a continuous theme, not only on Dark Flag, but for the band. That said, “My Rosary” carries a message that will stick with the listener with words such as, “Hope isn’t grown. Hope is awakened.” The well balanced song holds the same formula as the rest of the album and has a great balance between the heavy, fast-paced verses and the mid-tempo chorus. Then there is “Communion for Ravens,” which also carries the same message of hope. Featured is Jimmy Ryan, original vocalist for Haste the Day, and he stands tall with McCulloch as they pledge to live in the moment. “I refuse to live dead any longer,” stands out lyrically, and the background vocals draw the listener in for the calm before the storm.
Another honorable mention of hope is “Meaningless Names.” While an ominous feeling settles in, like being stuck in a haze, sweet guitar tones drip against the soft vocals of McCulloch before voided screams drown in the background. While the track can leave the listener feeling defeated, McCulloch continues to chime in, “I have to believe something better awaits.” The track takes great contrast nearly three minutes in, bringing in the rest of the band as the singer unleashes his anguish. The intense ending really completes the inspiring feeling, conquering the previously defeated feeling with relief.
Dark Flag comes full circle with ending track “Know Death; Know Forever.” Doing a phenomenal job not drawing out the longest track on the record, it begins with the music lurking in the shadows and rising to the surface like an old wound that never healed. As the guitar creeps in, the bass almost suffocates the listener before McCulloch says, “I had to be broken to be pieced back together.”
Overall, Dark Flag carries diversity both musically and lyrically. There is more variety than anticipated in the compositions individually and collectively. Phinehas is continuing to prove their strength despite the challenges they have faced, and they continue to find their voice in the new age of Metal. Dark Flag is the band’s mark of resilience. Seeing a bandage lifted is guaranteed to leave the listener feeling inspired. While some moments feel overwhelming, the songs overall carry great composure and balance. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Dark Flag a 4 out of 5 stars.
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