LP Review; Phinehas: “Dark Flag”

“Dark Flag” starts with aggressive vocals from the first downbeat of the selection. Behind that, the instrumental section relies on the motivic material presented by the guitars, who supply a variation of descending single notes in a rapid motion. After the introductory material, the band shifts to a quicker tempo, which is supported by a heavy, dark timbre from the percussive elements. Once the band reaches the chorus, their vocals switch to a clean style, and the melodic material simplifies so that the audience can resonate with the lyrics. This being the first track of the album as well as the title track, there were preconceived standards for this selection, and the band doesn’t disappoint, for the band provides their audience with a taste of each technique that is common for a metal artist to utilize.

 “Burning Bright” starts with a small instrumental interlude that shifts back-and-forth between motives in the percussion section and motives in the guitar section. This interlude, even with the constant shifting between motives, provides a steady pulse to the audience, which establishes the feel of the song. When the vocals enter, the style remains constant from the previous song: aggressive vocals with a clean (vocal) chorus. The second verse of this selection switches gears to the more rapid technique; however, the band continues to provide the small groove that they set during the beginning of the work. Towards the middle of the selection, the band toys with the fluctuation of instrumentation to add variety in balance and dynamics, which gives their audience something to help them remain engaged. Additionally, as the song begins to near its end, the band includes a smooth guitar solo that was played in isolation before the final chorus comes crashing back in. Thus, this song will likely be a foreseen favorite of the album based off the diversity of the work.

“I Saw the Bombs Fall” starts with another instrumental interlude that is less intricate than the previous one, for it focuses primarily on the guitars before the instrumental section unifies and drives into the first verse as the vocals enter. Throughout the song, the vocals shift between clean vocals, to harsh vocals, but in this selection, the band also includes moments of spoken parts just to add a different color and texture to the album. The instrumental material that is presented in this song sounds similar to the norm of metal music of today; however, the band adds their own twist to it, which helps to keep the audience interested. As the band nears the end of the song, they include one of their first breakdowns of the album as the word “mercy” drives the melodic content.

“The 38th Parallel” starts with a low murmuring sound that resembles the shifting of water as it faintly hits the ground as it rains. This imagery starts at an almost silent dynamic, and it builds gradually as members of the instrumental section slowly join in. This song is used simply as transition material, and it is effective for the band, for it shows the audience that they can produce something unique without providing text. The end of this material begins to fade to nothing as it leads directly into the next selection.

“Hell Below” starts with the evolution of the material that was presented in the previous transition track. The band establishes a steady groove from the first few seconds that is driven by the percussion section. The instrumental material keeps the general tempo of the song slightly moving forward as the vocals shift from the clean state to the aggressive state, depending on the section of the song. The band alternates back-and-forth between the thickness of texture, this helps to give their audience the chance to “breathe” during their selection, for it the band isn’t presented heavy material the entire time. Towards the end of the selection, the band includes a slight breakdown that leads into another guitar solo that smoothly transitions back to the chorus of the song.

“A War That Never Ends” starts with a low semi-tone that progressively builds to introduce clean vocals that ride a gentle melodic line with minimal instrumentation in the background. The band establishes an “airy” feeling for their audience by including small electronic hits that are paired with a calm guitar melody. The vocalist builds intensity throughout the song through his voice; however, he kept the tone of his voice targeted and round, which had a pleasing audible result to the audience. The song remains in the solemn tone that is established at the beginning of the work; thus, making this the acting ballad of the album if there were to be one.

 “Break the Earth” starts with vocals from the first downbeat of the selection. The vocals in this beginning interlude are clean paired with a guitar idea that pulls from an alternative pop style of music. Quickly after this interlude, the band crashes in with their heavy, aggressive lyrics with heavy hitting instrumental material underneath it. The band switches back-and-forth between the rapid instrumental material, and the general groove material that is common throughout their other tracks. Towards the end of the selection, the band includes another instrumental breakdown that features another guitar solo that fades back into the same melodic idea as the beginning of the work, which eventually leads into a breakdown that drives to the end of the song. The inclusion of this outside musical influence is strong for the band, for it gives them a unique sound, and it shows their audience that they aren’t afraid to take risks.

 “My Rosary” starts with the band’s characteristic vocals from the first beat of the song. From the beginning of the work, the band toys with the adding and subtracting of instrumentation to add variety within the selection. As the song progresses forward, the band soon moves between the two types of grooves that they have been noted for on this album. One strong element of this song is that the guitar material is quite different than the rest of the instrumental material that is being presented; however, the mixture of substances works well together and helps to provide something new to the listeners. The end of the song is reached by another guitar solo that leads into the final verse of the song.

 “The Arduous March” starts with a tone that resembles the twisting of an old music box. Once the twisting sound resonates through a louder sound, the music from the hypothetical music box begins to play and stays at the same mellow dynamic throughout the selection. This song is also on the album to act as transition material. The end of this small interlude is driven by the music box slowly winding down as it leads into the next track on the album.

 “Communion for Ravens” features Jimmy Ryan and starts with a gentle, ominous tone in the instrumental section paired with menacing vocals before the entire ensemble comes blasting in with heavy instrumental material and aggressive vocals. The band quickly establishes the groove of the piece; however, this groove is different than the others presented on the album. To further, for this selection the band toys with a half-time feel mixed with a quicker vocal style forming together to create something ornate and simply put: cool. The instrumental section provides moments of quicker phrases that fall on top of slower melodic ideas to provide the audience with some variance in sound as well as to juxtapose the melodic back-and-forth nature of the work.

“Meaningless Names” starts with a semi-tone provided by the guitar that murmurs in the lower octave that has another guitar motive gliding overtop of it. As that simmers, the vocalist enters with simple, clear vocals that have a somber undertone to them, which matches the lyrics perfectly. As the first verse progresses, the instrumental section grows slowly in dynamics, but they keep that same softer groove moving throughout the entirety of the work. The band slowly evolves into their characteristic sound almost out of nowhere, but it doesn’t sound sudden; rather, it sounds like it was the missing piece to the puzzle that happens to fit in this song.

“Know Death; Know Forever” starts with another semi-tone that is just the instrumental material at an abnormally low dynamic that slowly builds until the first verse comes roaring in full force. When the vocals enter, they enter in an aggressive manner that have a complimentary relationship with the percussive section that seems to be rhythmically answering the phrases that the vocalist is singing. Throughout the song, the band mixes the two grooves that they’ve kept separate throughout the album, to form a unique sound that is driven by the instrumental section. Towards the end of the work, the band includes a last major instrumental interlude that is led by an over the top guitar solo that drives right to the restating of the chorus. This was a strong final song for the album because it shows the band’s characteristic sound paired with musical material that is innovative and interesting.

 Final Thoughts: Overall, I would give this album a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I would give this album such a score because the material presented on the album is fantastic all around. Every track has its own identity, and even though their sound is semi-similar to bands that are older from the same scene, they make it clear to incorporate small tricks and embellishments that are characteristic to themselves as a band, which help them to stand out. Also, the intricacy of their instrumental portion of their band drew me in, for all the instrumental material was fresh, clean, and very symmetrical. So, if you are looking for a new(er) metal band to head bang to as well as sing along to their simple choruses: this is the album for you. Nice work!

*”Dark Flag” was released on November 17, 2017 through Solid State Records.

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