Parkway Drive are a big deal in mainstream music. They also top the charts in their native Australia with each album release. Look at the major festival headlining slots over the last five years, and you’ll see them near the top, especially in Europe. Besides being five likeable dudes from Byron Bay, they also have some monstrous metalcore albums to their name since their debut release in 2005. Their 2010 effort, Deep Blue, is a bone fide classic of the genre. In another era, they’d be experiencing their Black album moment, but this is the age of streaming, where fewer people buy physical music products in an industry still recovering from the devastation of Covid-19. Only nobody told Parkway Drive because they approach this record as if cementing their status at the top of the stadium metal hierarchy.
It’s no surprise that 2018’s Reverence LP peaked at number three in the German album charts, and the way Parkway Drive aim their artillery at a stadium audience on Darker Still is even more shameless than its predecessor. Opener, ‘Ground Zero’, adds a heavy dose of Sabaton to the Rage Against the Machine rap metal of Winston McCall’s animated vocals. It ought to be a disaster, yet it wins you over through anthemic repetition. The punk fans from their earlier days will react in horror at the extravagant production and heavy metal posturing. This is pompous music delivered with the defiance of an unsheathed sword – it’s not subtle. Standout track, ‘Like Napalm,’ reminds you that the group have always been a heavy unit built on bone-crunching riffs. Whether deliberate or not, you cannot mistake the influence of Paradise Lost on the melodic lead guitar patterns and fist-clenching chorus anthems. Even the power metal chorus remains on the right side of tolerable due to Winston McCall’s decision to stay within a masculine vocal register.
Of course, the main problem with modern Parkway Drive is their determination to use all the anthemic clichés in the book. The “whoah-oh-oh” chants and reverb-heavy drum snares are as predictable as the refuelling middle eight moments and wah guitar solos. ‘Glitch’ is annoying because it’s so catchy. As if aware of the distressing revival of nu metal, the Australians make it their mission to remind you that Stuck Mojo and Faith No More were the heavier precursors to Korn and Deftones. Yet this song still sounds like a rap metal pastiche despite its superior audio mix and superb guitar tone. Introducing a breakdown riff with “let me the fuck out!” would make Limp Bizkit cringe. ‘The Greatest Fear’ takes the bizarre route of seeing how far they can push the pomp of Sabaton into a metalcore paradigm. It’ll do the job live, but it feels callow on record. ‘Imperial Heretic’ repeats the formula yet delivers in style. How is it possible for two songs with the same DNA to be so different in quality?
Parkway Drive know they’re at that stage when you can stick with what you know and what the masses want, or you can introduce more experimental elements into the music to ease your conscience. Clearly, Winston McCall needed to bring his Nick Cave influences into the band’s sound for his own invigoration. Though brave and admirable, it doesn’t quite work on the whistle melodies and finger-picking guitars of the title track, which ends up sounding like a poor man’s version of Metallica’s ‘One’. His second homage to Nick Cave on ‘If a God Can Bleed’ is just as mystifying. The salacious old man twang to his accent will confuse the headbangers and surfer dudes, but they might show more appreciation for the Kid Rock glory of ‘From the Heart of Darkness’. At this stage, the band care little for their reputation in the punk scene, and it almost works when it rumbles like Gojira, but then it flakes like a nu metal throwback.
With such anthemic presence, you’d expect the lyrics to jump of out your headphones in righteous fury. Parkway Drive reflect the spirt of the times, yet little of the zeitgeist catches your attention among the urgency of the music. Maybe they can learn from Sabaton how to make a chorus even more lucid and unambiguous. Darker Still has some thrilling moments, but it contains more clichés than a Star Wars dialogue.
Release Date: 09/09/2022
Record Label: Epitaph Records
Standout tracks: Like Napalm, Imperial Heretic, Soul Bleach
Suggested Further Listening: Sabaton – The Last Stand (2016), Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part (2001), Paradise Lost – In Requiem (2007)