The success of “Dark Flag” by Phinehas is not just the fact that there is brilliant song writing and musicanship on show but also in the art of quality production and song placing. Opening up with the title track for the album “Dark Flag” offers an infusion of tech-metal and metalcore at break-neck pace. Follow up “I Saw The Bombs Fall” slows the pacing slightly but introduces some further clean sung lines and expands on the sound without taking anything away. Instrumental “The 38th Parallel” adds atmosphere and serves as the introduction to “Hell Below”. You could argue that the two songs could be combined as one to create a 6 and a half minute affair, however the suspicion is that “The 38th Parallel” will become a backing track that is used to intro “Hell Below” as a live set opener or just a throw away. If it’s the later, it would be a shame as it’s a building block of layering and atmopsherics that keeps the listener enthralled. It serves as a pallet clenser before the main couse and “Hell Below” is another absolute belter in similar fashion to opener “Dark Flag” but with clean sung elements. “The 38th Parallel” also hints at some Oh, Sleeper-esq sounds, which rear their head on “A War That Never Ends”. Now the first time you hear this song, it catches you completely off guard, to the point at which you find youself thinking its a different band. That somehow someone elses song has appeared slap bang in the middle of the album. All clean vocal over programmed industrial beat with a melodic guitar and a slow burn. Now, if it was a closer, you would probably just skip it.
Putting it in the middle however, with repeated listens it grows on you. Follow up “Break The Earth” builds on the foundations of “A War That Never Ends” while adding back the Metal. It’s very much the perfect follow up – heavy enough to bring the earlier album sound back but mellow enough in parts to keep the fire of “A War That Never Ends” going. “My Rosary” then kicks in, Trivium-esq, a song that Matt Heafy himself would be proud of. “The Arduous March” is the albums second instrumental, a Xylophone piece that breaks up the flow and cleanses the palate once more for the onslaught of the final three tracks. “Communion For Ravens” is one of the heavier tracks on the album before the melodic “Meaningless Names” – until the last 90 seconds when the breakdown kicks into a powerful crescendo. “Know Death, Know Forever” then closes out the album in the fine fashion with which it began. A cynic might argue that with two instumental interludes this is a nine track affair but the song placing builds the feel and atmosphere of the album and creates a wave effect. The heavier songs seam heavier because of the melodic separation. The mellower elements seem mellower because of the heavier parts. Both lyrically and visually in the videos, the album seems to be on the theme of the Vietnam War and the power of the subject matter, though not referenced directly is reflected in the music. It’s a class album with all the elements that any metal head could want from a metal album in 2017. [5/5]