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While few could have predicted the ongoing chaos and absurdity that engulfed our realities over the past few years, one Australian band in particular diverged and rose from extremely personal and universal ashes, with Byron Bay metal juggernauts Parkway Drive fresh off the release of their seventh studio album Darker Still on Friday 9 September.
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Repeatedly pushed to breaking point following the acclaimed release of their #1 Gold-certified 2018 album Reverence, the journey to the creation and ultimate release of Darker Still was entirely not without its own hurdles, with the band digging deep not only in their interpersonal relationships as a band but also clasping well beyond their own stylistic comfort zones, emerging in 2022 with a sharp, focused and entirely immersive new lease on life.
An unmistakable Parkway Drive album at its core, Darker Still grapples with the overarching concept of the ‘dark night of the soul’, with the trademark emphatic Parkway narratives staunchly bellowing at the unrest and corruption in the world. But this time round, the Byron gents also fluidly lean into elements of classic rock and metal greats, embracing flourishes of Metallica, Pantera, Machine Head and Guns N’Roses – and there’s even a Parkway ballad lying in wait amongst the album’s 11 tracks.
Banishing any self-imposed or external expectations, Darker Still brings the horizon firmly to the foreground while encapsulating the ongoing darkness experienced worldwide over the past few tears. But it’s not just all doom and gloom lying in wait on Parkway album #7, and, as frontman Winston McCall revealed ahead of Darker Still’s ultimate release, an album release in 2022 hits significantly different compared to the band’s previous endeavours.
“It’s nice for it to actually be happening,” McCall says, smiling. “The album was literally born outta the idea of thinking: well, everything’s fucked, it’s probably never coming back, so make the last album you’re ever gonna make, because it’s never coming back. But for it to actually be coming back now and it not just be a pipe dream is really, really awesome.”
“But it’s a hell of a lot of work! We’ve never had a cold start as a band in terms of coming off having no momentum and no muscle memory of playing or anything like that, other than when we started the band originally. So to start back from this spot, but also be like: right! Arena tour, international, just us thrown completely into the deep end and having to go from first gear to sixth gear straight away,” Winston pauses, laughing. “That’s quite intense! Every day is a shit ton of work, put it that way. It’s very, very rewarding though to be working again.”
Publicly declaring that Darker Still would stand alone from their ARIA Gold-certified earlier works, including 2005’s Killing with a Smile, 2007’s Horizons, 2010’s Deep Blue, 2012’s Atlas, 2015’s IRE and, most recently, 2018’s Reverence, it wasn’t just the pandemic that sparked this inevitable seismic creative shift in the Parkway sonic foundations.
The thing that I’ve been experiencing in my life has been learning to see in the dark and that the dark isn’t bad, it’s just different and everyone’s gonna encounter it at some point in time. And that’s what this is.
[ Winston McCall ]
“We would’ve done a progression no matter what, had all of this stuff not happened” McCall reveals of the particularly uncertain times that surrounded the making of Darker Still. “But, it was a forced situation that … well, we might have one again, but it was one we’d never had previously. When you are literally confronted with the idea of creating in an environment, which has no link to you being on stage anymore or playing songs religiously night after night after night that you’ve played for 10 years … thousands of hours worth of muscle memory of that’s just in you, these connections in the innate ways that you write music and all of these kind of things. And then all of a sudden – it’s completely cut, like completely cut out. And there’s no concept of it coming back. You’re just coming to something new afterwards. ”
“It just changes what you put into the music,” McCall continues. “And for us, it was the forward push of our development as musicians, that’s what stood out the most for us when we came to write the music. Because I mean – that’s all, we were just writing music for the sake of writing music. There was no link of, like: last time we played this song and the audience reacted in this kind of way to it, or I like playing that. Instead it became: nah, just write an album, and put everything you’ve got into it because we didn’t even know when we were gonna record it. When we first started writing, we were like: there was no point in recording it, if this thing goes on for five years and then we’re just sitting on an album with nothing to do for years after you’ve done it …”
“We just had this open-ended concept until it seemed like things were coming back and then we started locking down when we were actually gonna record. But it’s a completely different mindset, completely different to anything we’ve done before!”
As to how much of Winston McCall we truly witness on Darker Still and what the band ultimately hope listeners walk away with from this dazzling new release?
“You get massive amounts of me lyrically on Darker Still,” Winston shares. “My writing as a lyricist, it’s always from a personal perspective. Every album is just a bit of a snapshot of how I’m viewing the world and what I’m going through and what inspires me to write. But obviously, that’s gonna change a lot when you’re in a pandemic and everything is going to shit. Civil rights are on the brink, and every aspect of society’s basically been shown to be a fucking failure. Everything where we could be like: actually society’s pretty good? You’re now like: nope, pandemic, and now you really know what matters and it’s money and everyone else can just get fucked. And that’s been pretty gnarly, and at the same point in time, what I’ve been going through personally has been quite a dark journey. You tie it all together, and you get a dark journey of an album.”
“That’s literally what the album is, and that’s what the sonic palette is as well, it’s about encapsulating the beauty in it, through the darkness rather than having it be an oppressive, downtrodden dirge kind of feel of the darkness. The thing that I’ve been experiencing in my life has been learning to see in the dark and that the dark isn’t bad, it’s just different and everyone’s gonna encounter it at some point in time. And that’s what this is.”
“There’s a lot of different facets to that through the album. And it definitely is a journey from start to finish and we just wanted to create something that would engage people, and engage their brains as well as their hearts and their ears, and keep them hooked to the unnerving nature from beginning to end.”
“What we really want is that when you start the album, just when you think you kind of know what’s around the corner – it will take a twist. And then a couple of minutes later, you’ll settle in and it’ll take another twist again. And the twists kind of get gnarlier as the album goes on,” McCall pauses, laughing. “That’s the kind of thing, it sets you up and gives you a little foreshadowing at the start that something’s different, but Ground Zero kicks in and you’re like: big Parkway anthems, awesome! And then a couple of songs later, it starts twisting and then it really starts twisting. And from there it’s just like this spiral down.”
With four years in the wake since the band’s last full-length album and two years since the 2020 film and accompanying soundtrack Viva The Underdogs tantalised fans in the interim, just how exactly is the world beyond the Parkway walls reacting to the new material?
“It’s very interesting doing press so far,” muses McCall, “you never know when you create something, if it’s actually just a case of … are we just stuck in our own world with our heads up our asses? Because this is what this means to us, or this is what we get that from it and that sort of stuff. But this has actually been the record where everything that we’ve put into it has translated so literally for everyone that we’ve talked to, to the point that I’m kind of just really rocked by it. It’s a different response to anything we’ve done before, which is really nice considering how much of ourselves are in this, we just chipped off pieces of our soul and put it into this album – and big pieces of it. That’s it. At the end of the day, you kind of just hope that someone can see something in that. And the fact that people are, I’m really interested in seeing what the general public make of it then at the end of the day!”
Channelling isolation, mortality and the universal need for connectivity, the conceptual threads abounding on Darker Still would hit hard regardless of an ongoing pandemic rocking reality around its release; but rather than run from difficult concepts or hurdles thrown in along the way, Parkway Drive instead did what they are renowned for: they faced the darkness head on, spurred to find beauty in darker pastures rather than push back against discomfort.
“The core revelation for me of the album itself and the album title was the idea that struck me when COVID was going on and everything went fucked,” McCall explains. “And then everyone started talking about: let’s go back, let’s go back to 2019. Let’s go, remember 2018? Like – I can’t really go back there. And the thing that hit me was: we’re not going back. Life doesn’t go backwards, ever. This is a perfect example of the trappings of nostalgia and the trappings of holding onto a space of comfort and not moving forward because life only goes forward. And the older you get, the more experience you get, the smaller you feel, the more people you lose, the harder it gets, the more you learn to understand how much suffering there is in the world. But you also learn how much beauty there is, it’s just the extremities that grow. And the journey becomes darker the more knowledge you gain; but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Before we play our first show, like two days before we play our first show, I’m turning 40, and we will have been doing this for 20 years – and I’ve got more drive in wanting this band to play to more people, and be in more people’s ears, than ever before.
[ Winston McCall ]
“I think the trouble comes when we refuse to acknowledge it, and we constantly look back as a type of escapism. That’s the thing Parkway have always been committed to, to moving forwards. And this journey is about moving forward through the darkness and gaining something out of that journey through the darkness.”
While fans caught glimpses of what was to come on Darker Still via some of its lead singles, including Glitch and The Greatest Fear, a key track on the album holds a particularly special place in McCall’s heart; and the story behind this favourite will undeniably delight fans of riffs and some good old fashioned rock and roll.
“The title track on Darker Still’s my favourite,” McCall declares without hesitation. “It’s my favourite thing that we’ve ever done as a band. It’s the one that I can’t wait to play live, it just marks a very big point in our evolution. It’s one of those moments where I can remember forming the band with Ben and Jeff, and Jeff’s favourite band being Metallica and them writing these incredible songs and incredible compositions of music that you couldn’t even … as young musicians, you respected it and you thought they were amazing, but you couldn’t even understand how the hell they came up with it. You couldn’t understand what actually went into creating songs structured like that. And when we went about creating the title track for this album, Jeff came up with that riff. And we were like: dude, we’ve never written a ballad, but if you don’t write something like Nothing Else Matters for this riff … we’re seeing a massive fucking opportunity here. We wanted it to be Nothing Else Matters mixed with November Rain and Stairway To Heaven. And Parkway doing that,” McCall laughs.
“That was the simple goal of it,” McCall continues. “The thing for it is though, like, when you’re a musician and you think about those songs, it’s a massive, massive mountain to throw yourself against climbing. Like – those are legendary artists, iconic in every sense of the word, masterful in every sense of the word. And you’re like: I’m gonna write a song like that, it’s not like sitting down going: I’m gonna write a two minute banger. You’ve gotta know how the hell you’re gonna put that thing together. And it was a massive challenge for us! It’s the most different thing that we’ve ever done as a band, it’s as far away from anything we’ve ever done, far away from any other Parkway sound that we’ve ever put down as a band – but it still sounds completely Parkway. And that’s what makes me really, really proud of it, we managed to go from that starting point to this point and keep our feet 100% planted in the roots that we had. And to grow this far to be able to create something like that just makes me really happy. It’s an emotional song and it’s really nice. And Jeff finally gets the fucking spotlight he deserves as the amazing guitarist that he is.”
With live shows increasingly on the cards, festivals returning and tour posters becoming less and less of a foreign sight with each passing day, Parkway are now primed and ready to set stages alight with their infamously striking live performances – and one such memorable performance was none other than when they headlined the 2019 Good Things Festival, unknowingly becoming a last festival experience for many Australians while also stoically proving once and for all that an Australian band could indeed headline a festival with both local and international acts on the lineup.
“Yeah, we had that discussion as well,” says McCall of their Good Things Festival appearance occurring a mere months before the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in Australia. “That’s what was crazy, when we were locked down after a couple of months, we were looking back and we were like: you know what? If it doesn’t come back – there’s no regrets, there’s no damn we almost did this thing. We’re like: tick, ’em all off, we did it! And now it’s coming back, it’s like: oh shit, it’s coming back! But now we’re at that level where we’ve kind of ticked everything off, so how skitz do you wanna go when you come back?! And considering the album that we’ve made, there’s full commitment to sending this thing as big as it can possibly be,” McCall pauses, grinning.
“Before we play our first show, like two days before we play our first show, I’m turning 40, and we will have been doing this for 20 years – and I’ve got more drive in wanting this band to play to more people, and be in more people’s ears, than ever before. That’s the goal for us, there’s nothing but enjoyment in what we do, but we know what it’s like to have it taken away. So the passion behind it now is literally just like: if you’re gonna pour it into it, pour it into it with a goal and just put your enjoyment into pushing for that goal.”
For anyone who has ever witnessed a Parkway Drive live show, it is always bound to be an unforgettable experience, from the tantalising crowd walkthroughs to witnessing drummer Ben Gordon spinning upside down playing drums surrounded by fire. But just what does a future Parkway Drive show entail, and how will they commemorate their 20th year as a band next year?
“I’m in the middle of designing and building and stitching and planning and editing at this point in time with the whole crew, it’s nuts,” McCall reveals. “What we’re putting together for our Europe stuff is insane. And we’re trying to just focus on that at the moment, because just anything beyond that is kind of crazy. But I mean, the good thing for us as well is that we’re still just as committed to just doing a gig as we are doing a mental gig. So, a Parkway show can be a 20 year anniversary gig in a 300 cap venue with cabs on stage and everyone just swinging off the roof, or it could be us playing in a stadium, who the hell knows! But we’re happy to do all of them. And we will do all of those things in some capacity at some point. It’s a pretty rad spot to be in!”
Through all of the fire and the flames that have come with life as a band, life in a pandemic and life in general as a human, Parkway Drive have routinely been ahead of the curve with nothing but fierce humility and staggering execution since forming in the early 2000s. Unequivocally Australia’s biggest export of the modern era, somehow on Darker Still and their seventh album Parkway have both redefined and galvanised their legacy. For a band who had nothing left to prove, this latest album truly skyrockets Parkway Drive beyond being mere leaders of their field into unimaginable infamy. And, as McCall concludes, it was always going to be go big or go home on album #7.
“At this point in time, we’ve had a chat,” McCall pauses again and smiles. “And I’m like: dudes, if there’s ever gonna be time to put all of your chips on the table behind something we’ve created – this is the one, so let’s fucking push it. Because there’s no point in being quaint about what we’re trying to achieve with it, it was never designed to be small. This album was not designed to be small, the ambition is written all over it. So, hopefully that translates, the genuine intention of what we’ve created. I’d love for it to click with people. So we’ll see!”