Parkway Drive – Darker Still
Released: September 9th, 2022
Winston McCall // Vocals
Ben Gordon // Drums
Luke Kilpatrick // Rhythm Guitar
Jeff Ling // Lead Guitar
Jia O’Connor // Bass
Throughout the years I’ve been operating Wall of Sound, I’ve spoken openly about bands that progress with their music – into bigger soundscapes that were unimaginable when they first started out – and one of those acts that has been on a slow-moving trajectory since their 2015 album IRE was released, is Australian metal titans Parkway Drive, who are on the cusp of dropping their highly anticipated (and somewhat controversial) seventh studio album Darker Still on September 9th via Parkway Records. The record follows on from 2018’s 10/10 masterpiece Reverence, which saw the boys hone in on the metal themes they first dabbled in on IRE and if you’re still here waiting for their metalcore roots to resurface again? Well, you’re living in the past and I’m afraid you’re not going to get a full album of what you want – so stop being an elitist and listen to how far this band have come as musicians since 2005’s debut Killing With A Smile…
Opening with ‘Ground Zero‘, we’re met with a xylophone playing and frontman Winston McCall doing some cleans – which isn’t entirely new ground, but it’s a welcoming change from their usual scream burst introductions on opening tracks. As with the past few albums, the spotlight is shining firmly on guitarist Jeff Ling who is living out his guitar hero dreams as he takes centre stage with his riffs. When you hear this band, you instantly know it’s them and that’s come from years of perfecting their playing to the point where they’re getting invited to headline HUGE stages across the world – this song, in particular, is up there with the likes of Metallica and Judas Priest and with the “ohhh woahhh” sections towards the end, it’s going to be a sing-a-long inducing jam for their future shows – complete with confetti cannons and sparks. ‘Like Napalm‘ continues the metal-focused riffage as Winston bellows out “Like Naplammmm in the Garden of Edennnn”. I dare you to not sing along in that chorus. He’s honed in on his yells (yells, not screams) with this one, resulting in clear and crisp delivery that anyone (old, or new to the PWD hype train) will be able to emulate. There’s plenty of guitar solos too so you’ll be more than pleased with this one!
Lead single ‘Glitch‘ follows and upon release, this one had the fanbase/elitists divided. The band took things towards a nu-metal direction with Winston’s rap-esque delivery throwing everyone off, but after giving it a few spins, their intentions were understood – how to lead in with an anthemic belter that’s going to go OFFFFF in a live setting now we all know the lyrics. The track itself is about the internal struggles one has with the phenomenon that is sleep paralysis/night terrors and as we hear in the simplistic lyrics: ‘Help me take this pain away/Sleep is now my enemy/Now it feeds the fear inside of me’ and ‘Let me the f*ck out’; those struggles are real. As someone who has suffered from this in the past (and let me tell you it was hectic to live through), the song resonates and hits harder for someone like myself, and others, who have gone through this other-worldy experience. Say what you will but the band tackled a new style, owned it and now it’s become one of my most listened to tracks of the year.
The thing about this Parkway album is that each song rolls into one another; so when we go from lead single ‘Glitch‘ into follow-up ‘The Greatest Fear‘, the purpose is better understood because of the highs and lows this record takes you on. Opening with those operatic choir vocals and church-like organs I mentioned in my single review, this is how a former metalcore band from Byron Bay takes the next HUGE step in their careers to become Metal Jugganuts known across the world. I’ll stand by my original statement that this is the song that will introduce the boys to the mass legion of Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Guns ‘N Roses fans worldwide, hopefully encouraging them to join their own fanbase in the process with its combination of heavy/power metal – anthemic bridges and a chorus full of Jeff Ling guitar solos that’ll please even the harshest of critics. There are distinctive throwbacks to songs like ‘Wild Eyes‘ and ‘Vice Grip’, so it’s not entirely new ground for the band. As for that breakdown, if you reckon the band went soft, maybe you need to reevaluate your own life choices… I’ll see you in the pit, throwing fists and bashing into my fellow Parkway Army Pals because it just hits soooooo different, yet still provides the same heaviness we know from this band including previously released songs like ‘Bottom Feeder‘, ‘Absolute Power‘ and the aforementioned ‘Glitch‘.
Next though, we encounter new ground for PWD with whistling and an acoustic guitar taking over for the album’s title track ‘Darker Still‘. The only thing I can think of upon first hearing this approach is – how will the band whistle on stage in front of thousands of fans? I can barely get away with it in front of three people – good luck to them. But then, Winston comes out of nowhere with a new approach to clean singing that we’ve never heard before. It’s monotone, balladesque, surrounded by strings, and Ben Gordon‘s soft playing on the kit behind him (with an equally soft electric guitar playthrough from Luke Kilpatrick). The guitars after the chorus throwback to the 80s style of rock & roll bands that made heavy metal a household and wouldn’t feel out of place on an album like Metallica‘s S&M or Guns ‘N Roses Use Your Illusion. The quality of musicianship and production alone in this song makes a classic like ‘Carrion‘ sound like pre-school Parkway Drive. Not in a bad way, but, just in how far they’ve come from that era – and considering that was my introduction song to the world of Parkway, I am in complete metal awe that this is the same band and wonder how many more new fans will ease into metal world with this one.
It opens up in the third act with a riff off between Jeff and Luke and I can picture them in their leather pants and open-buttoned shirts on a beach just jamming this together. This is big-time glam metal vibes, you’ll hear the climax and go, yep, I hear it so much and I love it more with every listen. Also, ‘Darker Still‘ is almost 7 minutes in length (the longest on the album) and it captivates you for the entire duration – not at one point did I feel bored or want to hit skip. It is a magnum opus and I truly understand why it’s the record’s title track.
‘Imperial Heretic‘ heads back into mainstream/power metal world with lead guitars and that iconic Jeff Ling playing sound we’ve grown accustomed to since IRE. At the first chorus, it kinda sounds like a slowed-down version of Rob Zombie‘s ‘Dragular‘ approach to metal. The “woah ohhhs” return and without a doubt we’ll all be chanting it back at the band at future shows, should they pop this one into their new setlists. Special mention to Jia O’Connor‘s bass and Luke’s rhythm guitars – while I thought they could be a little louder in the mix, upon reflection, they’d take away from Ling letting loose, which really gives this number its character and personality – all the way until the riffs fade out. If that’s my only gripe so far then we’re laughing. Next though, things take a turn for the – interesting – on ‘If a God Can Bleed‘ we’re met with Winno stripping down his delivery in what I’ll say is a raspy spoken-word homage to the greatest German metal frontman of all time… Rammstein’s Till Lindemann. On Reverence, we first heard Winston’s slowed-down talk/singing on ‘Shadow Boxing‘ and ‘Wishing Wells‘ and for that album, it worked. For this one, combined with the slow-hitting snares and piano playing in the background, I’m torn as to whether this suits the album and/or if it could have been placed elsewhere for a better reaction from the listener. You know how we all sing along to the guitar parts in ‘Wild Eyes‘? We’ll be doing that with the chorus of this one as it plays along with a deep/moody “woow oww wow wowww” kinda feel. There’s also a part where Winston speeds up his delivery (almost as if to fit in an extra word/syllable) and every time I hear it, it stands out for me and I can’t move past it.
Never fear, the heavyyyyy is back on ‘Soul Bleach‘ which opens with your typical metalcore screaming of “POISONNNNNNNN” before Winno says the name of the song and we’re underway again with a menacing action-packed metalcore slapper that smashes you in the jaw with a forceful punch of nu-metal rap/singing that – in my opinion, it’s better than anything on Reverence delivery-wise mind you! This is going to be the one to make all the metalcore elitists eat their words. If you thought PWD ‘sold out’ or went soft, this will prove to you they can still bash out one of your comfort sounds and remind you why they’re one of the best bands in the world right now.
There are three incredible moments in this song that happen in succession – the breakdown callout, the breakdown itself and then Winston’s deathcore gutturals which completely blew me away. Totally unexpected, yet welcomed with open arms and flailing fists in my office. This is the track that combines everything we know and love about Parkway’s progression – immaculately bottled up in one listening experience. You’ll be screaming the final words “KILL, KILL, KILL KILL” instantly and I forsee this number being shared amongst metalcore groups, subreddits, Wall of Sound’s Community of Legends, and anywhere heavy music is spoken about in a public forum upon release. F*ck the next song, I’m going back in for another spin first…
Okay, now I’ve cleaned myself up, let’s jump into ‘Stranger‘ which serves as a post-apocalyptic interlude with the words ‘we are but strangers, in a stranger world’ repeated over and over again alongside ‘pixelate, isolate, filter out the human, pixelate, isolate, we become the future’ leading us to a computer message introduction on ‘Land of the Lost‘ and holy shiiiiiiiiiit the opening metal and riffs at the start of this are going to draw you in instantly. Vocal-wise, McCall is back in prime position leading the charge of Parkway’s future in what I would put in the same category as Iron Maiden‘s heaviest singles and the likes of Sabaton and Amon Amarth in tow. It’s that explosive euro metal sound that their UK fans have been appreciating with the band’s recent change in sound/direction. But once it opens up for that breakdown, all hell breaks loose and they’re spitting fire in all directions – the guitars, the synth, the drums and Winston’s screams combine for arguably the heaviest all-in assault in any Parkway Drive song ever released. The sheer force from the section at the 3:55 mark alone will have anyone witnessing it live literally blown back a few feet by the sound they’ve managed to produce. It’s honestly the biggest and BEST sounding climax I have ever laid ears on… But the album’s not over yet kids!!
Rounding out the madness is ‘From the Heart of the Darkness‘ – bringing back the haunting string sections from earlier and surrounding them with some chuggy riffs, bellowing screams and a thumping drum beat that’s going to result in a few trips to your local GP for whiplash. Featuring some phat nu-metal-esque vocal deliveries that, in a weird way, throwback to the likes of ‘Dark Days‘ and ‘Absolute Power‘, it’s more of a journey than a song, with plenty of switches in tone, tempo and Jeff Ling plucking his daddy fingers away like an excited kid at show & tell with an impressive new talent to showcase.
On previous albums, the boys opted for a softer song to round out the release – this time, they’re going hard all the way through to the end and it is certainly a welcomed change of pace. Upon completion, all I wanted to do was jump back in again and that is exactly how this album makes you feel. You lose control of yourself and give in to the metal gods and their new approach to storytelling, through their music.
So what do we think of Parkway Drive‘s new hitter? Well, Darker Still isn’t just an album, it’s a frantic journey of self-discovery that establishes the Byron Bay exports as not only the biggest band in Aussie heavy metal right now, but firmly cements them as key players in the future of heavy music on a global scale. From the shift in genres that’ll find them performing alongside ICONS of the industry, through to the throwback sounds that made them local heroes of the scene, this new monster of a release is straight-up heavy for everyone. From the power metal fans, through to the nu-metal moshers, glam rocking veterans and the metalcore/deathcore junkies, you’re going to have a field day listening to a variety of sounds the band have perfected. While some songs didn’t hit the mark for this writer, I know in time their purpose will properly be revealed, and I look forward to coming back to this review by the year’s end to see if those comments stick or if I’m left eating my words.
LONG LIVE PARKWAY DRIVE 🤟🤟🤟
Parkway Drive – Darker Still tracklisting
1. Ground Zero
2. Like Napalm
4. The Greatest Fear
5. Darker Still
6. Imperial Heretic
7. If a God Can Bleed
8. Soul Bleach
10. Land of the Lost
11. From the Heart of the Darkness
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