For the better part of 20 years, Byron Bay metal juggernauts Parkway Drive have traversed the globe, activating pits and inciting chaos everywhere they’ve roamed. Torchbearers for Australian metal, Parkway Drive’s reach has extended with every record since their 2005 debut, Killing With A Smile. It has been a life lived at blast beat pace, packed with many visible highs and some discreet lows.
Outside of a few moments in the band’s documentary, Viva The Underdogs, the lows have remained hidden from external view. When the pandemic brought life as we knew it to a sudden stop, however, the lows became crushingly apparent for Parkway Drive. The band members were not in a good place. But, as the discomforting silence, tour cancellations and global uncertainty raged on, Parkway Drive worked tirelessly to find a way back to the light.
The result of all that work can be heard on their seventh studio album, Darker Still. The circumstances of the album’s creation provided a catalyst for the band members to mend what was broken within. The record tackles society’s fear of death, isolation and a loss of humanity, while Parkway Drive eschew the limitations of genre and dial up the ambition.
Music Feeds caught up with vocalist Winston McCall for an honest and occasionally dark conversation about what went into creating Darker Still.
Parkway Drive – ‘Darker Still’
Music Feeds: You’ve said that this is the record you’ve been waiting your entire life to make. What is it about Darker Still that makes you feel that way?
Winston McCall: We have done things and aimed to achieve things with our music on this record that we literally saw as unachievable when we first started the band. When we first started the band, the music we were making was a step beyond what we were used to, but it was in an accessible matter. We were a bunch of hardcore kids dragging in metal influences, just trying to make 30 of our mates mosh.
We also lived in a world where Metallica had released some of the greatest music ever known that we’d all grown up listening to, so we knew the potential of what music of this type can be, we just had no idea how the hell they did stuff like that. Our abilities have finally caught up to our imaginations, which is a massive thing, because we’ve always had big imaginations for our music, but it has always been rooted in not only what we knew how to play, but also muscle memory, touring schedules – and all of these things kind of disappeared while we were writing this record.
MF: Was it a strange experience to find yourself with that extra time to kind of refine your own abilities, and discover new abilities?
WM: It really was. Without all of those things that I mentioned, we were left with the concept of essentially infinite time. When we started writing, we had no idea when the hell this thing was even going to finish in terms of live music coming back or anything like that.
So, with that infinite time, it really was about embracing and growing that one skill set of music creation and that was it. The idea basically was to never settle for something complacent. If there’s something we’ve done before and it remains on the record, it is because that serves the purpose to the best of its ability.
MF: You can hear the sense of exploration and discovery on the track ‘Darker Still’, which sounds like ‘The Unforgiven’ by Metallica got together with ‘Civil War’ by Guns N’ Roses and they had a child with a Northern Rivers accent. Does that sit with your vision for the song?
WM: That’s exactly it. That’s what we were aiming for and we’d never aimed to write those kinds of songs and make those kinds of connections before. When I first started learning to sing ten years ago, I went to my vocal coach and said, “There’s this band called Metallica and this song is called ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and I’d love to sing a song like this one day because it is a metal band writing something that isn’t just screaming. It’s got soul to it.” They were like, “He’s not even that good of a singer, but I know why the song is good – it’s because of the character and the tonal quality of his voice is amazing for what it is doing.”
I wanted to do something like that on Ire but I wasn’t good enough, then we wanted to do something on Reverence, but we couldn’t do it. Both of those times we rolled the concept back into something comfortable and a bit more complacent because we didn’t have the time to do it, we didn’t have the time to grow, and I also didn’t know how the hell to write a piece like that.
MF: You could hear the growth happening on Ire and Reverence, and those records seem to find their logical endpoint on Darker Still. The first indication of that shift was ‘The Greatest Fear’, which infuses a bit of Euro, folk and prog metal as well. Were those the types of influences you were trying to channel on that track?
WM: It was more the groove. The groove is what we’re trying to channel through the whole record. There are two things that ran through the entire process: groove and nerve. The groove part is where a lot of the European-ness comes out in the guitar playing. We recorded the entire thing at a lower BPM than anything we’re done before. When you do that, you open up space for the grooves to really have an impact in terms of the hulking nature of the riffs. And whenever you put in a melodic guitar line, it soars.
A lot of the songs are five minutes long, and once you’ve done that you get to play around a lot more with the dynamics of the soundscapes. That’s when you can put all of the choirs and the chanting and all of the other crazy stuff you get on the record.
MF: The band has openly stated that you’ve had a rough time of it the last few years, both as a unit and personally. A lot of people online seem to have taken issue with you changing your sound, taking so long to release the record, cancelling tours, and a variety of other things. Given the band’s record of transparency with your fanbase, do you ever feel like jumping out of the screen and yelling, “Fuck you, we’re people and we’re just trying to live”?
WM: The thing is, people will be people at the end of the day. We’re just five humans trying to live our life. At some point we had to take an honest look at where we were and be real with ourselves and realise that we had a lot of things that we still had to work out and that we are still working out. This shit takes a toll. We just have to be honest and know that no one is going to get it. There are so few people on the planet in our position that can actually understand what goes into being in a band or just even being an artist.
If people think we’re lying to them or whatever, it says more about their trust issues than about us. We’ve got nothing to gain by losing tens of thousands of dollars and burning a bunch of bridges and possibly trashing our name. But when we talked about it, we were like, this is something real we’re going through and there’s more to be gained for us and for other people from being honest in the fact that we can’t do this because we’re not in a mental state to be able to do it.
I’m sure there are a lot of people in the world that could do with just acknowledging that about themselves, and they’re not in bands, they’re just living their lives and they need a bit of reinforcement to do a bit of work on themselves and know that it’s okay.
Parkway Drive’s Darker Still is out now.