The meteoric trajectory of metalcore royalty Parkway Drive is a once-in-a-generation success story, especially within an alternative musical genre. Barely 20 years ago, they had freshly burst onto the local metal scene in their hometown of Byron Bay. Now, they are a multi-award winning global phenomenon who sell out stadiums and have changed the landscape of heavy music in the 21st century. Parkway Drive’s story is the stuff of legend, and today, they are due to drop their sensational seventh studio album ‘Darker Still’, a seminal work that, according to the five-piece, represents the band they have been striving to become over the past two decades.
‘Darker Still’ is the band’s first release since well before the pandemic first erupted, and this feels significant upon listening through the robust 11-track album. Beneath the polished veneer of this mature and powerful record, lies something inexplicably dark and haunted that this band have collectively fought tooth and nail to overcome. ‘Darker Still’ takes the raw grit of early Parkway Drive and transforms that enduring essence into a bold and assured metalcore maelstrom that blends a range of distinctive musical flavours, leaving the listener in no doubt that this is the new age of Parkway Drive.
The album opens with the anthemic and aptly titled Ground Zero, and it’s one hell of a confident track, effortlessly capturing the listener’s attention with an unmistakable swagger and an easy, steady beat that gives the chant-driven chorus plenty of room to breathe. Winston McCall’s heavily gritty vocals recall Machine Head’s Robb Flynn as he rips through some starkly honest lyrics – “The fights, the falls, the scars and broken bones / Beneath it all, the cracks begin to show”. This track is a masterpiece of metal minimalism, with elements stripped back to focus on key musical hooks like a melodeath-esque lead guitar melody and assertive guitar riffs, thus letting the excellent songwriting speak for itself. The more frenetic Like Napalm follows and almost immediately strikes me with its industrial edge that is initially somewhat reminiscent of Dragula-era Rob Zombie, then taking off with groovy nu-metal riffs that scream Drowning Pool vibes, as well as the return of some tasteful lead guitar melodies straight out of Gothenburg.
Album single Glitch is up next, and McCall gets to flex his rapping talents in addition to the myriad of other vocal techniques he executes flawlessly in this track alone. After the second (very catchy) chorus, there’s a thrilling build-up in the music that lasts almost a whole minute, and you know it’s pulsating towards the pinnacle of a blindingly brutal breakdown – which is exactly what we get.
I’m hearing strong Machine Head flavours in the guitar grooves now, and they carry us through to the sombre arrival of The Greatest Fear, which is where we are treated to some immaculate shred passages courtesy of Jeff Ling. The liberal use of a church organ and ethereal cathedral choirs here adds gravitas to the track, particularly given the subject matter – the fear of death. We are all vulnerable in the face of our own mortality, and many of us look to a higher power to make sense of it all. The crushing breakdown in this track, combined with McCall’s deafening growls and screams, smacks of Killswitch Engage.
We come to the luxurious title track, which opens with sweet, distant whistles and delicate acoustic guitar arpeggios. Each layer of band instrumentation including some luscious violins and cellos are slowly added into the mix, and McCall showcases his soulful cleans, building to what becomes a moving metal ballad that’s reminiscent of “Black”-album era Metallica. Kudos must be given once again to Ling for his lightning shreds in this track. I can see fans belting this one out at future shows for sure.
Then for Imperial Heretic, we’re back to the swaggering grooves, steady chugs and rough-and-tumble gritty vocals that have now taken on a Lemmy Kilmister vibe. The melodeath flourishes from earlier numbers are explored here in greater detail, with some bright, tuneful lead guitar moving thirds harmonies partway through the track.
We take an unexpected turn into Wild Wild West musical territory with palate cleanser If a God Can Bleed, which pulsates with a melancholic looped piano melody, faint guitar distortion and spoken vocals with a Southern twang that’s straight out of an old Western. This paves the way for the sonic assault of Soul Bleach, a frenzied and ferocious track that channels early Parkway much more than any of the tracks on this album so far. This savage, cathartically aggressive banger mixes flavours of Slayer, Rage Against The Machine and Killswitch Engage in a volcanic melting pot that births the heaviest breakdown yet and gives Ben Gordon a chance to shine with some impeccably tight double kicks. We also get this line of lyrics – “Let the past die / Kill it if you have to”, leaving me wondering if these guys are huge Star Wars nerds.
Eerie bridging track Stranger leads into Land of the Lost, another stately, powerful anthem that offers a particularly compelling chant-infused chorus once again – “Keep digging / Keep digging the hole damn deeper”. The intensity in the last minute of this track hits you like a freight train with its deep, fierce breakdown combined with the confronting line “They’re leading us down like lambs to the slaughter”. Then the sound of war chants grows and builds to the belter of a closing track From the Heart of the Darkness, and I appreciate the Joseph Conrad reference here that is thematically on point. This track is another stellar example of how Parkway Drive have become very good at crafting effective, memorable musical motifs, and taken a more expansive approach to song structure so that these elements can shine on their own. The harmonising of elegant strings with the main chugging guitar riff in the final chorus is particularly striking, and it’s a decisive note on which to end the album.
With ‘Darker Still’, Parkway Drive have returned refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated, the next stage of their evolution taking shape while maintaining the fire that has spurred their astronomical rise over the past 20 years. This album is a remarkable work that distils and blends the best of old and new, delivering banger after solid banger with the finesse attained through decades of experience and the innovation of a band whose voice is constantly evolving yet in essence remains the same. The band may have had to descend into a dark place to discover the blueprint for their new iteration, but with ‘Darker Still’, they have emerged victorious and ready to conquer the world once again.
‘Darker Still’ is out today via Parkway Records
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With thanks to Deathproof PR