I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can compare metalcore to Scotch whisky; let me explain. While it’s often preferred to witness bands doing their own thing and improving with age like a fine single malt (August Burns Red, Trivium, Architects, etc.), sometimes you have to give it to groups who carve out their niche as master blenders, taking different influences (malts/grains) and making something greater than the sum of its parts (Fit For A King, While She Sleeps, etc.). Solid State’s latest signing does just that, mixing a nice, diverse range of metalcore flavors into a satisfyingly tasty concoction that packs one mighty punch. You can still pick out a couple distinct flavors, but Dark Flag showcases a band who knows what they want to do and executes it masterfully. Phinehas’ latest is meaningful mosh that makes you think and connect while snapping your neck.
First and foremost, this is a concept album about a tough subject (the horrifying reign of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea), so if you guessed there would be some Oh, Sleeper flavor in here, congrats! Collect your Internet points. Phinehas’ meat and potatoes formula is crunchy and choppy riffs, shred-tastic leads (former Becoming The Archetype axeman Daniel Gailey is on fire throughout), huge choruses, and even more massive breakdowns, and while their previous album featured some awkward transitions between the clean and heavy sections as well as some generic moments, Dark Flag finds Phinehas as much more accomplished and confident songwriters, even featuring some ambient sung songs and sections (see Oh, Sleeper’s later work). That said, there are many more flavoring agents at work here. Within The Ruins’ patented video game-y riff/shred color palate is employed greatly when the record gets heaviest (see the title track and “Hell Below”), and I hear large doses of Haste The Day’s anthemic style, and As I Lay Dying/Wovenwar’s love of melody and thrash.
All that makes it seem like Dark Flag is just a fun exercise in “spot the influence”, and while you can certainly do that, Phinehas’ masterful blend of styles results in a record that smartly balances intricate and passionate music with lyrics that paint a pretty grim picture of life in North Korea; this gives the record a greater sense of purpose and weight. It all culminates in a wonderful Southern spiritual/metalcore ode to the resistance, “Break the Earth” and one of the best metalcore songs in recent memory, “Communion For Ravens”, which features an incredible Jimmy Ryan (ex-Haste The Day) guest spot. Those two songs highlight that there is much more to Phinehas than just a masterful blend of the band’s influences and that the future is very bright for this California group. Dark Flag isn’t the most original take on metalcore, but it’s a confident, perfectly executed take on how to make anthemic and powerful music that can stand on its own. Phinehas have written one of the most purely enjoyable records of the year, but they have the chance to do much more in the future.