“This band definitely means something in Australia in a way that it doesn’t anywhere else."
Winston McCall is not just a vocalist. When we begin our chat, he’s gotten through a chaotic morning comprising “a fair bit of editing remotely… the intro stage stuff, stage design, the VFX concept, and then preparing for the first Japanese interview that we’ve ever done.” No one in Parkway Drive only follows the role listed on the CD booklet.
Parkway Drive have inarguably been the biggest metal band in Australia since releasing their debut EP, Don’t Close Your Eyes, in 2004. From the release of Horizons in 2007, the band kicked off their three-album streak in the ARIA Charts Top 10. Deep Blue and Reverence saw them win the ARIA Awards for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album, with the last album and their 2015 record, Ire, reaching number one on the ARIA Charts. Beyond the awards and massive sales, Parkway Drive remain adored by their ultra-dedicated fans.
The band have consistently expanded their sound with each album, with clear development between all the albums. There is always a hint or two about where their influences lie and what they’re going to do next – there would be no Ire without the classic metal riff and crowd chanting in Atlas’ Wild Eyes, for example. No matter what they go for, melodically and instrumentally, the music remains quintessentially Parkway Drive.
On their new album, Darker Still, there are curveballs that even this keen fan could never have envisioned for the band’s discography. “It’s Parkway unfiltered in terms of influence and artistic expression,” McCall says. “There’s nothing other than the creativity you’re putting into that singular piece of art unlinked from everything else. All these influences have always been there for us; they’ve just been far more distilled into a previous incarnation of who we are.”
Darker Still’s title track is perhaps the most adventurous song Parkway Drive have ever written. “Holy shit, we actually attempted that. Like when we first started this band, we could not even conceive of writing a song like that. It took us 20 years to learn how to do that,” McCall laughs. At the album's midway point, the seven-minute opus sways from a lovely acoustic opening to McCall’s delicate, clean vocals against a rhythm resembling Alice In Chains, to a bluesy riff, to an epic solo that wouldn’t be out of place alongside Metallica hits. There are a few Kirk Hammett-sounding wah pedals littered throughout the album: each use more thrilling than the last.
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“The whole idea was to shock. It’s designed to surprise, so when you think you know what’s coming around the corner, the next song will shock you,” he explains. “[Darker Still] is constantly forcing the attention and forcing the journey; there is no safe Parkway space. It’s an album that keeps engagement in the same way you’re engaged in a film. It's not linear in this in the sound scope. It's designed to go from point A to point B, and you don't hop off that train until you reach point B.
“We could not have written this album 20 years ago, no fucking way!” he exclaims. “We created this album in a time where we couldn’t go on tour and really reflected on the creative part. Time just vanished. It was unlike the usual cycle when we would create something a little different, go on tour, grow a bit, create something new… no, this was like a full stop.”
The “full stop,” as McCall describes it, was when live music disappeared for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding government restrictions. Guitarist Jeff Ling talked about the tipping point while recording Darker Still in a recent Kerrang! interview, while McCall discussed the “idea of reaching a point in your life where you are faced with a reckoning of your structure of beliefs, your sense of self and your place in the world, to a point where it’s irreconcilable with the way you are as a person” in a press release. Drummer Ben Gordon also said that the album contains “some of the heaviest moments [Parkway Drive] have ever created, but it is a different kind of heavy: an emotional catharsis that you can feel in every cell of your body.”
Potential is what kept Parkway Drive going as they confronted their greatest fears. “I love the dynamic we have as artists and within the band,” McCall says. “There’s this thing that happens when the four of us are in a room, sharing ideas, influences, and different perspectives on what we’re trying to achieve. Then, it reaches this technicolour version of what your personal vision was, and it’s always better than what you could have imagined, and it always feels right. There’s never a point when we finish an album and think, ‘That’s it.’
“I’m the person that’s like, ‘Can we do something even crazier? Can we play for more people? Can we do a tour somewhere different? Can we write a song that’s heavier, slower, softer, or more melodic?’ It’s the unknown that keeps pushing me forward,” he says. So, Parkway Drive found solace in the unexpected break in their schedule. They weren’t a relentlessly touring band for two years. “I’ve come out of it a different person with a different skill set.”
Winston McCall has undoubtedly pulled inspiration from a certain Australian icon in terms of creating an album that retains your attention. Nick Cave is that artist where McCall feels lucky to exist in the era that he’s making music. “As a lyricist, as a songwriter, as a performer, as a human being… I find him to be fascinating in everything he’s done. And he’s talented in ways that I cannot comprehend,” he says. “I saw [Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds] in Berlin the other week. When my wife and I walked away, we were like, ‘This is like witnessing the Sistine Chapel being painted or watching Picasso or Beethoven create their work. We are alive when this artistry is taking place, right there.
“For me, I still love albums,” McCall begins as we delve into the age of streaming services. “We grew up in a time before streaming. Like, singles existed, of course, but with the main goal of promoting an album. We used to have to burn CDs to share music with friends. [Listening to albums] is how I interact with music because it’s very different. It’s different from three minutes of disposable music and then wanting another little sugar hit of another single. I’m desensitised to this one song, so now I want another hook. I like living in someone’s world and sinking into it. That’s the experience we’re aiming for.”
Darker Still needs to be listened to from start to finish. There are the anthemic call-to-arms riffs and choruses we associate with current-day Parkway Drive (Ground Zero, The Greatest Fear, Imperial Heretic), the heaviness Gordon previously mentioned appears in the vein of Korn-like chugging rhythms and guttural growls (Like Napalm, Soul Bleach), while If A God Can Bleed and From The Heart Of Darkness test the boundaries of modern heavy metal music as we know it. No matter how long they’ve been around, you can trust Parkway Drive to bring uncontainable grateful energy for the support they’ve received over the years.
“I feel stoked to be still doing this,” McCall says. “I feel really, really proud of the album because it took a lot of work. There are a lot of touch points on the album in terms of the goals we had for it, the sounds we wanted for it and what we wanted to put into it, which was a genuine challenge since we had tried certain things previously and not having the time or skill even to imagine it. Or we could imagine the art but couldn’t really put it together in a way that worked.”
Parkway Drive has joined the musicians they grew up listening to in terms of international success, and that’s wild for McCall to say out loud. “Us being able to achieve so much with this album is amazing. There are styles of music that we’ve always held in reverence. Big metal bands we’ve always loved are legendary because they attempted and created something legendary… so when we attempt something in our own way, and it works out, you feel as best as you ever could.”
And, about that cancelled Australian tour. Will we get to celebrate our beloved Parkway Drive anytime soon? McCall is tight-lipped but shares that he wants the shows to be a party. “You’ll know about it when it happens,” he grins. “This band definitely means something in Australia in a way that it doesn’t anywhere else. If you discovered this band in high school, then you’ve probably got kids right now who will be dragging you to these shows, and you’ll be like to your daughter, ‘I remember when he jumped off speaker stacks in tiny rooms!’ It’s nuts that we’ve become an intergenerational band. It’s a big milestone.”
'Darker Still' is out now