Review Summary: It isn't often that bands hit a home run with their debut, but Phinehas did it.
The Christian music scene, polarizing as it may be, is still home to some musicians who just so happen to care just as much about their faith as they do their craft. It’s easy to poke fun at the usual suspects, whether they’re in the ranks of Michael W. Smith, Matty Mullins, or Skillet, but for every act that’s generally seen as a laughingstock of contemporary culture, there’s as many if not more that make use of their religious faith as a means to bring forward some of rock and metal’s finest work. In 2011, Phinehas joined the ranks of acts like Underoath, Norma Jean, and August Burns Red with their debut album Thegodmachine.
Pooling their musical influences from the likes of As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage, they tread on the border between metalcore and straightforward metal; as one mentioned on another review, their influence doesn’t quite reflect that of Soilwork, nor that of Asking Alexandria. Phinehas’ debut is not of mere worship of their influences, which certainly works to its advantage. Thegodmachine
is a work of art, driven by faith and guided by an immense sense of melody and technicality.
Because of the band’s Christian faith, it’s inevitable that religion would play a pivotal role in their writing, whether directly nor indirectly. “Bad Blood” is a condemnation of religious figures that are in it not for the betterment of humanity, but for themselves; “Grace Disguised by Darkness” is about the regret that one may feel over missing opportunities to become Christlike; “I Am the Lion” brings forward the idea that if we humble ourselves before God, then he will save us from addiction. Unlike some of their contemporaries, most of this album’s lyricism is written from the perspective of the God they worship rather than themselves, leading to a far less preachy experience overall than the likes of what’s more likely to be broadcast on your local Christian radio station. Instead of wallowing in their existential misery, Phinehas chooses to look to religion as a means to cope with life’s trials and tribulations; “A Pattern In Pain” is one such example of that. For all of us who are not religious, the message may be lost in the mix, as it’s unlikely for a quartet from California to be the arbiters of changing one’s mind on whether to accept the possibility of an omnipresent deity. Regardless, the imagery Phinehas instills with their approach to writing is sure to be interesting to observe from afar.
Luckily, for those who don’t find as much enjoyment out of analyzing lyrical themes as others, the music presented on Thegodmachine
is easily some of the most proficient that metalcore has had to offer within the last decade or so. By taking cues from the melodic metalcore scene of the early to mid-2000s and infusing it with a heavier emphasis on technicality, they certainly have more to offer than some of their contemporaries, only outclassed by names like August Burns Red. “A Pattern In Pain” transitions from heavy, distorted riffage to a clean, atmospheric sound seamlessly, while “I Am the Lion” is almost as technically sound as it is crushingly melodic. As is commonplace in the metalcore genre, liberal usage of the breakdown is in full effect; however, in many cases, guitarists Dustin Saunders and Jason Combs counteract the chugging with melodies that would be sure to stump the average scenecore guitarist ala Ben Bruce. Despite their technicality, Phinehas never come close to being wankery; “Crowns” is especially proof of that, as most of that song’s writing is relegated to the guitarists’ higher registers from an instrumental perspective, yet it’s never overwhelming with its approach.
For a debut album, Thegodmachine
could not have been much better. It isn’t often that bands hit a home run with their debut, but Phinehas certainly is an exception to the rule where that is concerned. They took their faith, wrote of it from a largely impersonal perspective so as to avoid the generic and easy-to-mock “you are my God” euphemisms that contemporary Christian music has a tendency to resort to, and combined it with virtuosic instrumentation from each musician; even the bass player is audible, seemingly a rarity in modern metal. The sheer scale of emotion displayed in the forty-nine minute runtime is nigh impossible to deny, as Phinehas obviously feel just as strongly about their Christ as they do their creativity. This is everything that a great metalcore record should be, presented all within a thirteen-song package that rewards repeated listens with a greater understanding of its depth.
1) Thegodmachine: The Speaking Stone (4/5)
2) Bad Blood (4.5/5)
3) A Pattern in Pain (4.5/5)
4) I Am the Lion (5/5)
5) From One End of the Sky to the Other (4.5/5)
6) Legacy (4/5)
7) Crowns (5/5)
8) The Wishing Well (4/5)
9) My Horses Are Many (4.5/5)
10) Grace Disguised by Darkness (5/5)
11) Pendulum (5/5)
12) Thegodmachine: The Rider (5/5)
13) That I May Love You (4.5/5)
OVERALL ALBUM RATING: ~4.6/5