Review Summary: Not quite up to the usual standard, but still a decent listen
On the surface, you’d probably think discussing a band like Phinehas would be pretty cut-and-dry just by looking at the usual descriptions for them; they’re a melodic metalcore band in the vein of August Burns Red or As I Lay Dying that relies on religious imagery to shape their lyricism, and it’s clear that they have passion for what they do. One thing that has set them apart from the rest of the scene though was their ability to make the listener feel something intense; something that may be hard to put into words, yet is also just as hard to deny. Dark Flag
has that signature Phinehas emotion, but it seems as if the emotional pull that made Thegodmachine
and The Last Word Is Yours to Speak
such compelling offerings in the metalcore genre is slowly fading away.
To be fair, it’s not like it was hard to see coming; it takes a steady flow of creative juices and an undying passion to stay consistent from album to album, and not every band is cut out to make multiple masterpieces in a row. Till the End
was a slight step down from what seemed to be the usual standard, and this album continues the gradual downward trend. In all honesty, I’m not sure what to cast the blame on first. The production on Dark Flag
has taken a hit, as the mixing on here is easily among the weakest links on the album. The musicianship sounds especially artificial when compared to that of their first two albums; the titular opening number “Dark Flag” and its follow-up, “Burning Bright”, are notable examples of songs that are held back by Matt Goldman’s rather sterile mixing job. It isn’t until the band slows down on “A War That Never Ends” and then “Meaningless Names” that the listener gets a full-fledged break from the sterility of other tracks. If I were to compare this to another mainstream metalcore album from the last ten years as far as its production is concerned, Miss May I’s Rise of the Lion
would likely top the list.
Per usual for this band, Daniel Gailey’s guitarwork is technically sound, despite his rather muddy presence in the mix. It’s nothing particularly inventive, but Gailey gets the job done for the most part. However, this album sees Phinehas becoming nearly indistinguishable from other similar acts, as nothing on Dark Flag
can quite compare to the likes of “I Am the Lion” or “Crowns” from Thegodmachine
. “I Saw the Bombs Fall” is a solid track instrumentally as is “Hell Below”, but it’s hard to compare either to the masterpieces from Phinehas’ debut. Some of the most memorable moments on here are found within its slower numbers, such as “Meaningless Names” and “A War That Never Ends”. The lyrics are centered around human rights abuses in North Korea, which comes as a welcome surprise from a band that had made a name for themselves detailing the struggle between faith in a deity and the ways of the world. Vocalist Sean McCulloch delivers a solid performance, although his lyricism this time around leaves a bit to be desired for his standards. Bryce Kelly’s bass is damn near inaudible, but that’s to be expected given the lackluster production.
As I mentioned earlier, it seems as if McCulloch and co. are losing grip of their usual emotional pull; while closer “Know Death; Know Forever” attempts to replicate “Thegodmachine: The Rider”, it falls short by a fair margin. It’s almost as if the song drags on aimlessly after around the three and a half minute mark, trying to get the listener emotionally involved even though the writing isn’t quite as strong as it was in years past. Sometimes things just aren’t meant to last, and I think Phinehas are a good example of that. While Dark Flag
is a decent album in its own right, it is disappointing. The musicianship is up to spec on a technical level, but very little stands out from the rest. Daniel Gailey shreds away for the majority of its runtime but doesn’t produce a ton of memorable licks. As I mentioned before, the production leaves a lot to be desired. The writing is below their usual standard, as enjoyable as it is. There still remains light at the end of the tunnel for the band though, as tracks like “Hell Below” and “I Saw the Bombs Fall” retain Phinehas’ former glory well enough, and I’m hopeful for the future.