REVIEW: Phinehas – Dark Flag [2017]

Artist: Phinehas 

Album: Dark Flag 


Sometimes, life demands the extraordinary from you—it asks you to dig deep, gather your resolve and face adversities the likes of which you’d previously only dreamed. It might mean becoming someone different; a version of you more driven, focused, determined and adamant, because, after all, without extraordinary situations, there would be few truly extraordinary people. When this happens—when a greater purpose, being, task or cause calls for a different, more resolute and intense version of yourself, your personality, attitude and demeanor—the flag you fly—must also change. 

It becomes free of distraction, superfluous flare and frivolity. When the going gets tough, sometimes you have to march beneath a darker flag. 

This is the intense resolve and driven, dedicated demeanor that sends Phinehas hurling into their forthcoming studio album, Dark Flag. With a lengthy break from their previous, relatively mundane release, Phinehas re-emerge with a devastatingly heavy, spiritually driving and wonderfully dynamic release that serves as several things: one, it sees metalcore done tastefully and tremendously well, infusing traditional metallic stylings into a burly backbone of brutalizing –core influence. Two—and more importantly—it sees a band lashing out with a strong, personal and poignant message, one that stands to resonate and inspire many fans of heavy music, even those without religious proclivities. Phinehas feel genuine, which, more than technical prowess or cheap gimmicks, is among the most important things a band can be. 

A quartet with the ground-rumbling, fear-inducing and furious aggression of an entire army, Phinehas infuse intensity into a vast majority of the tracks that define Dark Flag—from the first immense riff and ruthless percussion patterns of the opening number, through “I Saw the Bombs Fall” and “Hell Below” to “Communion for Ravens” and beyond. From the fleet fingers and furiously fretted riffs from guitarist Daniel Gailey, to the rumbling, low and thick grooves of bassist Bryce Kelley and the rambunctious, rowdy drumming from Lee Humerian, Phinehas’ musicianship is tighter than ever and more capable of bringing pummeling, powerhouse heaviness right to the listener’s doorstep. Humerian knows speed and technical prowess both, balancing them with bold, punchy and more simplistic, hammering and brutish patterns. “Hell Below” is a great example of the two coming together; with a simplistic opening that quickly morphs and grows into something complex and creative. Kelley helps Humerian by adding boldness and beef to the more straightforward segments, ensuring every chug and kick drum thwack hits like a ton of bricks. The opening number, “Dark Flag” is proof—as is every heavy segment Dark Flag has to offer, in all honesty. Finally, there’s guitarist Gailey who is likely Phinehas’ single greatest draw. While the band work, above all, as a cohesive unit, Gailey’s fretwork is what gives Phinehas extra sharpness and the ability to cut through the less interesting efforts of their peers. From “Dark Flag,” this is true—but Gailey also works dilligently with bassist Kelley to create somber, sullen moments on the album’s softer tracks (“A War that Never Ends”), which, while they may not be the band’s finest songs still force the listener to commend the band for their diverse songwriting abilities. 

Phinehas continue to hone the razor’s edge upon which they stride when it comes to their vocal effort—and the edge of which I speak is the thin, sharp line that divides the contemporary conception of a divide between metal and metalcore. The group confidently stride this tedious divide, much in thanks to the dynamic efforts of frontman Sean McCulloch. While many songs—the rip-roaring title track and the immense “Hell Below” especially—are excellent examples of McCulloch’s raw, ruthless screams and bellows, many tracks (“I Saw the Bombs Fall,” “A War that Never Ends” and many more) exemplify his voice in his cleanly sung glory. While there are several tracks that adhere to a somewhat over-done heavy verse-cleanly sung, “tame” chorus-another heavy verses style, this isn’t necessarily bad. On one hand, it draws down some of the mystique and allure of Dark Flag, giving the release a hint of predictability, but on another, McCulloch is great at what he does—so the listener hardly even notices. What’s more, is that there are several instances (the opening track, for one) where this cycle doesn’t necessarily hold, and the listener is immersed in something new and riveting—where McCulloch’s marvelous low growls and harsh, raw yells steal the show, and his earnest, honest and very real lyrics hit home with little difficulty. 

Phinehas might have a couple stumbles on Dark Flag—like the sort of out-there “A War that Never Ends,” which isn’t a bad song, but just feels out of place—and the moments where the release’s flow and style can be seen miles away. With this in mind, Dark Flag remains the band’s strongest release to date, and a truly excellent record in many respects at that. Catchy where it needs to be, packed with monstrous, rip-roaring riffs and belligerently heavy breakdowns, all with moments of melody and harmony aplenty, Dark Flag is certainly a dark release when it comes to its brooding aggression—but above all, it remains honest to the band’s dedication to crafting meaningful music with a heartfelt message that transcends faith to enter the heads of heavy music lovers worldwide. 



For Fans Of: For Today, Consecrate, Haste the Day, Sleeping Giant 

By: Connor Welsh