Think back to 20 years ago. Over that amount of time, you could have gone from an energetic 20-year-old to a grizzled 40-year-old, a toddler in pre-school to a full-grown adult, and you might have been a trucker-hatted kid doing spin kicks at a Parkway show in a youth center to someone whose approaching middle age. Next year Parkway Drive will be 20 years old.
The story of Parkway’s rapid rise at the front of the big ‘Core craze of the early 2000’s is a well-known and heartwarming story of some down-to-earth Surfer dudes who made it big partly by being in the right place at the right time but mostly by being genuine and just playing the kind of music they wanted to hear.
They didn’t hit the commercial heights of Killswitch Engage but they had an extra bit of scene cred cos they were seen as the heaviest of the big ‘Core bands and had those famously huge breakdowns.
Then in 2015, they put out their 5th album Ire. The fast bits weren’t as fast, there wasn’t the huge breakdowns, Parkway had gone all Metallica and dropped The Black Album. Personally, I loved that album but a lot of people didn’t, just cos it was too different. I remember being at their show on that album’s tour and everyone was unhappy with the new direction, but with every new song they played, the whole crowd was screaming every word along with the band.
They’ve dropped two more albums since Ire, 2018’s Reverence, and the latest release Darker Still (Sep 22), both sticking with the new sound.
Darker Still mostly follows a similar format to Ire and Reverence, a focus on catchy songwriting, lots of soaring lead lines, and big, sing-a-long choruses. Opener Ground Zero has all the above, I was singing along with the chorus by the second repetition, has a nice drum break near the end, and is overall a good, catchy metal tune, but kinda feels like it was written with the intent of being a radio friendly single.
3rd track Glitch was the album’s lead single, has the obligatory mega catchy chorus, spoken word verses, and a mid-break that builds into a head-banging riff. 4th track The Greatest Fear is a slower groove-based song with a quiet coda in the middle and while it holds your attention for the first couple of minutes, the 5 1/2 min run time kinda drags by the end.
The title track Darker Still is an all-out acoustic ballad that features official Worlds Best Whistler Molly Lewis, which shows how committed Parkway is to getting the best of the best. ( Molly was also one of those kids doing sick spin kicks at Parkway shows back in the day).
If A God Can Bleed is a moody, spoken word interlude track that serves as an extended intro to Soul Bleach, which starts with a staccato intro and gets you pumped for a rousing heaviness only to slide back into a mid-paced groove riff and while it wasn’t a bad song, after the long intro of the previous track I was expecting some BPM’s and maybe even a sweet old school breakdown.
Stranger is another interlude track that is followed up by Land Of The Lost, which follows along the same format we’ve seen through the album and takes us to the closer, From The Heart Of The Darkness. There are some heavier vocals in this one and it finishes pretty heavy with Winston getting his growl on over a chunky riff.
Over the course of the album I got the impression that Parkway is more than happy with their new sound and direction, something that’s seen them move from side stages at festivals to closing out the main stage, so commercially speaking it’s done well for them, and as we saw with their canceled American tour, they have bigger issues on their mind like the sustainability of their career over time and finding joy in their job while they’re away from their families on tour.
I always back a band that makes a stylistic change so they can keep the band going longer. Aside from Slayer and AC/DC, I can’t think of any hugely successful bands that sat in a particular niche and managed to ride that for 20+ years. There came a time when Parkway had to either double down on the MetalCore and fade away, or try something new and look to get bigger, and I applaud them for taking the road they did, as it’s paid off and they’re one of the biggest Australian bands we’ve had for a very long time. While I prefer Ire out of their three albums with the new sound, they’ve clearly aimed to make an introspective and thoughtful album rather than a slab of grooves and festival bangers. Darker Still is for Parkway what In Rainbows was for Radiohead, they’re in their Artistic integrity phase and if Parkway wants to make an album of ballads and spoken word interludes, that’s their right and they’ve earned that. If you miss the frantic punk beats with the down-tuned riffs and the epic breakdowns, there are four albums full of those for you to listen to, but if you are in the mood for some chill, laid-back traditional metal, this’ll do just nicely.6.5/10