REVIEW: Parkway Drive – Darker Still

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When it comes to the biggest names in metalcore, PARKWAY DRIVE is very high on the list. The Aussie surfers hailing from Byron Bay have grown to be giants in the metal scene, and their fanbase seems to be ever-expanding. Since the critically acclaimed “Reverence” was released back in 2018, their imminent seventh record “Darker Still” has been very highly anticipated. With the release date (September 9th, 2022 via Epitaph Records) finally drawing near, I am thrilled to give you a sneak peek.

Since 2015’s “Ire,” the band has been the subject of some discussions between fans. In one corner of the ring, we have old school fans, who reminisce about the early days of “Horizons” (2007), “Deep Blue” (2010), and “Atlas” (2012). On the other hand, fans that started listening to the band since they released “Ire,” a more mainstream-sounding album, or fans who kept supporting the band no matter what creative direction they decided to go in. It is a fact that they have been constantly evolving and reinventing themselves, and it’s only natural that these changes have an impact on fans’ opinions. That being said, there is a lot to like about a band that decides to follow their own path, no matter what public opinion might be. Enter “Darker Still,” a PARKWAY DRIVE album that picks up where “Reverence” left off but goes the extra mile to experiment and expand even more.

A great album opening track is one that immediately grabs the listener’s attention, setting the tone and invoking curiosity for what is yet to come. “Ground Zero” fits this description perfectly. Its electrifying riffs scream PARKWAY DRIVE‘s signature sound, hitting like shellshock. The roaring chorus gets stuck in your head for days and makes you want to raise your fist in the air in defiance. Frontman Winston McCall also throws in some rousing shouts that egg on the band. “Like Napalm” follows suit with more of the same explosive energy. These first two tracks are undeniably moshpit-ready live concert material. I can imagine the whole crowd roaring along and getting ready for a huge wall of death when the breakdown drops.

Next up is first single “Glitch,” a song about night terrors and sleep paralysis, which I personally find to be slightly blander than the rest of “Darker Still.” The call and response riffs have turned out a bit generic, and the “Let me out!” breakdown almost feels forced. If it weren’t for the breakdown and Winston McCall‘s dynamic vocals, “Glitch” would remind me of THREE DAYS GRACE or SKILLET. However, I do see this catchy song being fun live, I simply expected the first single off the new album to be more of a powerhouse. As I mentioned before, it’s time to face the reality that the band has grown out of their old sound. They will not be going back to their metalcore roots, and that’s okay. Their evolution is admirable, the stories they tell are much more mature, and they deserve respect for that.

“The Greatest Fear” drags you right back into the void, reminding us that we all must face death. I recommend you to watch the music video, which is a wonderful piece of art that makes you feel things. This, again, is an entirely new creative twist. The operatic choral and church organ intro flows into a melodiously shredding guitar, followed by thundering Jeff Ling riffage that gets you headbanging. Ben Gordon‘s precision on the drums is on point as always. The sharp grain in the vocals adds some extra spice to the track, as does the darkly epic heavy metalesque backing soundtrack. The best part is that there are several layers to this song to be discovered with every listen.

Admittedly, title track “Darker Still” made me raise an eyebrow at first. The eerie, echoed whistling intro somehow reminds me of an old Western movie, which is quite unlike anything I have ever heard from this band. At the risk of being declared insane I am willing to admit that I even get some DIRE STRAITS vibes from this song at times (listen to “Brothers In Arms” and tell me I’m wrong). Giving it a few spins, I start to really appreciate this ballad because of the gloomy acoustic build-up into a full-blown orchestral showpiece complete with haunting strings. This song channels “Chronos,” one of my personal PARKWAY DRIVE favorites. What really gets me excited is the awestriking guitar solo, which hits home extra hard because of the slow build-up.

“Imperial Heretic” and “Soul Bleach” are both hard hitters, reminiscent of the likes of “Wishing Wells,” “Absolute Power,” and “Bottom Feeder.” Much more straightforwardly aggressive than, for example, “The Greatest Fear,” quenching the growing need for something harsher and angrier as a welcome change of pace. These tracks are safe havens of the PARKWAY DRIVE sound that has become recognizable from both “Ire” and “Reverence,” with the band managing to avoid the trap of repeating themselves. After 4 long pandemic years, it feels like coming home. In between this chaotic madness, there’s “If A God Can Bleed.” Winston McCall channels his inner Nick Cave here, but I have to admit the cowboy accent balances on the edge of cringy. It doesn’t resonate like “The Colour of Leaving” or “Cemetery Bloom” did on “Reverence,” because of the odd execution. It’s entertaining enough, yet maybe not entirely worth the risk it took to create.

“Stranger” is another strange transition indeed, which seems a bit unnecessary at first, yet helps create an even moodier, post-apocalyptic atmosphere before next track “Land Of The Lost” is unleashed to draw you back in immediately. This track is like a nuclear explosion, destroying everything, leaving only dust and silence in its wake. Finally, the band rises “From the Heart of the Darkness,” out of the abyss they dragged us in, back into the light. A fitting, bombastic end to one hell of a journey through the labyrinthine caverns of the human psyche.

The lyrical themes of “Darker Still” take you way beyond darkness. There’s a brooding anger and melancholy about this record that is, in a way, slightly unsettling. According to various interviews, this is exactly what the band was going for, and in that case, they have outdone themselves. It is undeniable that Winston McCall‘s voice is as dynamic as it is emotional and his vocals truly embody the lyrics. The small details and edges he manages to throw in never fail to amaze. Even though the darkness is almost impenetrable, there is also the narrative of facing your demons against all odds. It’s burning it all away and rising from the ashes, re-evaluating your life after a great loss or a complete mental breakdown. Heavy stuff, but exceedingly powerful.

First and foremost, “Darker Still” is an album that will fill arenas. It sounds great, but I’m convinced it will sound even better when played live. I ackowledge reviews will never have been more divided, but consider me on the side that celebrates PARKWAY DRIVE for not straying from their brave new direction in spite of all the negativity. “Darker Still” has some of the most accessible music the band has ever written, but I definitely don’t think they are sell-outs for leaving pure metalcore behind for broader horizons. They put depth and introspection into creating this ambitious record, and I hope they will continue to stay true to themselves no matter what the future holds.

Tracklist

  1. Ground Zero
  2. Like Napalm
  3. Glitch
  4. The Greatest Fear
  5. Darker Still
  6. Imperial Heretic
  7. If A God Can Bleed
  8. Soul Bleach
  9. Stranger
  10. Land Of The Lost
  11. From the Heart of the Darkness

Lineup

Winston McCall – Vocals
Jeff Ling – Lead guitar
Luke Kilpatrick – Rhythm guitar
Ben Gordon – Drums
Jia O’Connor – Bass

Label

Epitaph Records

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