Progression in metal is essential to not only surviving but truly showcasing the talent in your band, and Parkway Drive are evidence of that. From their conception in 2003, we have witnessed this band take on the role of pioneers of Australia’s heavy/core scene with precision and dedication to the cause since their 2005 debut album Killing with a Smile dropped and changed the landscape forever.
Now, almost 20 years later, the Byron Bay band are set to release their most ambitious album to date, Darker Still on Friday, September 9th (via Parkway Records) and to say they’ve upped their game bigger than ever imagined would be the understatement of the year. The end result is a culmination of consistently trying new things, adapting to the ever-changing world around them and enhancing their presence in the metal scene on a global scale – which has seen the band reach for dizzying new heights and excel at most of their attempts to prove themselves.
I once again sat down with frontman Winston McCall to hook into their magnum opus release and find out more about the trials and tribulations they faced, how lead guitarist Jeff Ling FINALLY gets to showcase the guitar hero inside of him and what the future holds for their upcoming tours, band anniversary celebrations and potential marketing ideas that’ll take them from local core kings to the heavy metal icons they were always destined to be…
Watch the video interview below OR read on…
Logging into zoom on a Tuesday afternoon, Winston greeted us in the spare room of his Byron home (surfboard in the background) and opened up about the band’s approach to writing Darker Still, which began half a year into the pandemic when nothing about their future was certain. I commented that the first thing I noticed about the collective tracks on this record was that they hark back to the big metal anthems of bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Guns ‘N Roses, to which he humbly replied with:
“First of all thank you very much, that’s some very high praise. Because to be honest that was the goal of a lot of it. It was an attempt to raise the level of what we do artistically to the level that those bands hold because that is some iconic shit that you said just there. They’re the greatest bands in rock and heavy metal and from an artistic point, it’s not just niche stuff, you’re talking about mainstream iconography.
When we started writing the music for this album – we hadn’t played shows in over six months, there [was no] muscle memory, there’s no idea that this is even coming back and when you’re writing like six months into the pandemic and you realise this is going on for years, the idea of even being on stage again is like ‘that might not ever happen’ so just write music for the sake of music and when you’re gonna set yourself a goal, it’s like, do a bit of an expanse on what you already do, and know what you do, and go aim for those kind of realms of sound – the realms which take imagination beyond anything you’ve done before – and that’s what we went for – it was literally the no holds barred, no excuses [approach].”
“It was a massive amount of work in areas that we have not done before. We weren’t looking back at previous things as a touchstone to go like ‘okay, we kinda do it like that’ we were like ‘no, these people have done something special in the past and it’s remaided for 20, 30 years, 40 years – let’s aim for that – let’s aim to try and do something that could stand up with that kind of stuff'”.
Winston questioned whether they executed it in the end and I can safely say – as a boy whose mother shared the likes of Guns ‘N Roses and KISS with them at a young age, I still remember those classic tracks to this day and know that some of these songs will withstand the test of time, especially the album’s title track ‘Darker Still‘ – which has already been finally picked up by Australian mainstream media (Fox Sports/NRL) and (the radio edit – booo) added to rotation on that old bloke rock station I used to work for – where I was constantly bashing my head against the wall trying to get upper-management to see the value in this band and their legacy.
That song is going to be massive and it’s a special one for the band’s lead guitarist Jeff Ling – who delivers three standout guitar solos throughout its almost 7-minute duration. In my review, I said it was my fav on the record and wouldn’t feel out of place on an album like Metallica‘s S&M or Guns ‘N Roses Use Your Illusion and Daddy Jeff really proves himself as one of the best metal guitarists because of it – a statement Winston also echoed with his own thoughts:
“I’ve always thought that he is one of the most underrated guitarists in the entire metal scene, to be honest, and the thing that’s always defined him, that I’ve always loved about his playing, is he’s got a lot of soul. There’s a lot of soul in his playing. For all the technical wizardry and everything that goes within metal, soul is the thing which connects with people and that’s how Jeff plays…”
“Darker Still has like three guitar solos in it, and it’s all like a different piece of his soul, each one of them matters which is the thing, and I was like ‘Dude, if that’s what’s needed in a song and it doesn’t come across as wankery then that says something about your playing!’ So I’m really glad that that’s what you picked up because Jeff goes nuts on this thing [laughs]”
“That was the goal and it’s my favourite thing that we’ve ever done, straight up. Because that really encapsulates Jeff’s initial dreams of being a guitarist… But we never had the ability to even try something like this up until this album, and we’d attempted to on two previous records and couldn’t do it [so we] rolled it back into a safer sound. He just wrote that riff and chucked the whistling part at the start of it, and we were like, ‘Dude, Nothing Else Matters, you’ve got to write a song like that, we have to make the riff into that kind of song.’”
The end result comes after two long years of ideas floating back and forth between the band – at one point they even considered just using the solos/riffs for a metalcore banger – but in the end, it had to be for this masterpiece alongside the new approach of whistling which is a certified earworm concept.
In true Parkway Drive form, McCall shared a hilarious anecdote about how they managed to find the perfect fit for the whistling duties on the single by enlisting the help of the world’s best whistler, Molly Lewis, who as f*cking insane as it turns out, already had a connection to the band that none of them saw coming:
“When we went to track it, we’re like ‘who’s gonna do this whistle? We’re all okay, but it’s not quite good enough,’ and we’re like ‘we’re doing a big album, so let’s literally find the world’s best whistler!’, So we googled [laughs] ‘world’s best listener’ and this girl called Molly came up and we watched her doing stuff in Paris at the Louvre, and we’re like ‘oh my god’, and Luke’s [Kilpatrick – guitar/manager] like ‘I’ll get in contact with her and see what she says…'”
And he did, but you’re not going to believe what happened next…
“He got in contact with her and was like ‘Yo, you wanna do some stuff for this band called Parkway Drive?’ and she’s like ‘Yeah, of course! I went to Byron high [school]… I used to go to the youth centre gigs, it was sick!’ So she did the solo at the start and laid down the bass for it and then we just like layered our versions on top of that. But that’s why there’s so much behind it, she’s literally the world’s best whistler!”
An absolute trip and as Winno puts it, the collaboration between both parties was “meant to be”.
Closing out the interview, I threw back to the band’s Viva The Underdogs documentary where they spoke about where they’d be in five years’ time – predicting if the band would continue on – and now with album #7 on the brink of release, I asked if he knew what direction they’d head for album #10, where ever and however long away that was. Winston staggered with his thoughts before stating:
“Oh fuck. I don’t know. See here’s the really weird thing; normally I know what the next album is gonna be. We finish up an album and I’m like ‘that was good, but I know that there’s places that we can take this beyond anything that we’ve done before.’ This album finished up and I’m like ‘Where the fuck do we go now? I’ve got no idea what to create after this!’ because it’s hit things I never thought we could hit. There’s nothing left in the imagination bank. So it’s going to be really interesting to see where we go sonically after this, but as far as we’re concerned the shackles are off in any way shape or form.
“We’re coming back from covid, we know what it’s like to lose absolutely everything and we know what it’s like to come back having an album that we always dreamed of under our belts and the ambition to push it as far as possible. I’m quite upfront with saying that this is a very ambitious album; I would rather aim for the world and miss knowing that the worst that can happen is you get locked in your house and never get to go back out again.”
“I’d rather aim for the world, I’d rather the next monster of metal come from Australia than anywhere else and I’d love to be that band and that’s what we’re writing for…”
But no matter how big they get, they’ll NEVER forget their roots and the fans that helped get them to where they are today. And for those fans, as you should know, there’s always something cooking on Parkway Drive that caters to you! With almost two decades behind them, they’ll always find ways to throw back to those early years, and if you don’t believe me, this next part is for you naysayers:
“At the end of the day, you know that we love playing to 30 people in a dingey little club; we got Parkway’s 20 year anniversary coming up – plenty of things to be stoked about – but in the meantime, I will design a show for the biggest arena tour we’re doing in Europe in a month’s time and the best album that I think we’ve ever created and see where that takes us.”
If that’s not motivation to live your best life and do what makes you happy, then you’re shit out of luck because I’ve gone all in on this band and I for one cannot wait to see what they do next and where they’ll end up when it’s all said and done…
Get this album, listen to it from start to finish (my review here) and only then will you get a better understanding of the artistic direction they’ve taken on this magnificently ambitious outing.
Interview by Paul ‘Browny’ Brown (@brownypaul)
Want to listen on the go? Stream the entire interview below or via your fav podcast app here
Pre-Order Darker Still here
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