For Fans Of
As the old saying goes, heavy is the head who wears the crown. Byron Bay five-piece Parkway Drive are the undisputed kings of Australian metalcore, tightening their stranglehold with every tour and inspiring a slew of imitators across their decade-long career. Their hotly-anticipated fourth studio album, ‘Atlas’, follows in the footsteps of 2010’s ‘Deep Blue’, pushing past the cutthroat riffage and relentless heaviness of their earlier work in favour of a more expansive yet equally aggressive sound. The band’s ever-enduring musicianship and attempts at progression on the album are admirable, but ‘Atlas’ doesn’t quite stack up to the mountain of expectation surrounding it.
‘Sparks’ sets an operatic tone with effect-laden guitar and vocal drones. A simplistic classical guitar line, booming horns and high-pitched strings enter the fray as drummer Ben Gordon provides a bombastic, military drumbeat. Winston McCall brings a familiar voice for fans to latch onto with a softly spoken verse, demonstrating from the outset that he hasn’t lost his talent for memorable, affecting lyrics: “We are but sparks in a darkened world, and yet some things were born to burn.”
Given the impressive opener, it’s somewhat confusing when ‘Deep Blue’ déjà vu quickly sets in with ‘Old Ghosts / New Regrets’. The riff pattern and the tempo will remind many of ‘Unrest’, and while this is forgivable, the track’s overall blandness is not. Chugging, colourless breakdowns and some of McCall’s most generic lyrics – “We’re born with nothing and we die alone” – break the opener’s promise of epic, expansive songwriting.
‘Dream Run’ sets itself up as a less interesting ‘Sleepwalker’ clone, introducing a fast-paced two-step beat and chugging, root note powerchord anchorage before ripping the rug from the listener’s feet. Its chorus pairs the aforementioned grind with the brightest, most uplifting guitar tone that Parkway Drive has ever used, pushing the track forward with beautiful chords and an interesting lead riff. What’s unfortunate about ‘Atlas’ is that moments of colour and progression on the album are all too fleeting, giving us brief glimpses of what could’ve been before descending back to the familiar mosh slog
When Parkway Drive dedicates itself to a fresh idea for longer than the blink of an eye, it is all too often reminiscent of an older, more superior track. ‘The River’ puts the aggression to the wayside, softening the blow with ethereal, angelic background vocals and a tender moment from McCall: “Throw your arms around me.” However, these details are built around a riff and chord progression that scream of 2007’s ‘Idols and Anchors’, while lacking the energy and memorable refrain – “Burn all you love!” – that made the track so effective.
However, there are some diamonds in the rough. On ‘Sleight Of Hand’, the guitar duo of Luke Kilpatrick and Jeff Ling put a more “metal” spin on the razorsharp, catchy riffs that brought the band to prominence in the first place. ‘Dark Days’ is opened with what could almost be a Metallica riff, built around a familiar powerchord chug that gives way to frenetic, fast-paced guitar and drumwork. Faster moments such as this give ‘Atlas‘ a much-needed energy boost, but it is not enough to compensate for inferior, derivative songwriting that does not give the band’s undoubted musical talent justice.
It is clear from their occasional use of diverse instrumentation and experimentation with different guitar tones that Parkway Drive were trying to mix up the formula with ‘Atlas’. Unfortunately, the songwriting fails to match the catchiness and accessibility of their previous albums, all too often resembling bastardised versions of fan favourites. Nothing could detract from the undoubted musical ability that Parkway Drive possess, but compared to everything else in their discography, ‘Atlas’ sits in last place.
2. Old Ghost / New Regrets
3. Dream Run
4. Wild Eyes
5. Dark Days
6. The River
8. The Slow Surrender
10. Sleight of Hand
11. Snake Oil and Holy Water
12. Blue and the Grey