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15 years in and six albums deep into an incredible career, ‘Reverence‘ sees Parkway Drive playing at their darkest and heaviest yet, and in more ways than one. The ten tracks that weave together this solid new effort are the most eclectic bunch of songs the Byron Bay heavyweights have ever placed in sequence together on an album; running with the creative change-up approach of 2015’s ‘Ire‘ faster and further than ever before.
For a glorified Unearth cover band, Parkway Drive most certainly is not anymore!
New sound or not, ‘Reverence‘ works well because it, quite simply, features some great fucking songs. For instance, ‘Wishing Wells‘ is by far the best opener the Aussie metal heroes have crafted for any of their releases. Once that dark spoken word/acoustic guitar intro swells up into a mammoth borderline melo-death sound, it’s a massive kick to the chest and one hell of a grand opening act. This beast of a song has really skyrocketed up to be one of my top ten Parkway tracks, right up there with oldies like ‘Pandora‘ and ‘Sleepwalker‘.
Just as the chorus lyrics of the bass-driven and nuclear heavy ‘Absolute Power‘ clearly dictate, this earth-shaking third track drops like a bomb and I will confidently say that it’s one of Parkway’s better cuts. Ever. Of all time. Period. It’s also just really nice to hear bassist Jia O’Connor getting the spotlight shined on him too. Elsewhere, off-putting orchestral strings, distant wailing guitar licks, whispery vocals, and moody cinematic 80s synths slither over the figurative lyrical corpses on the haunting ode to death that is ‘Cemetery Bloom‘. This composition has to be one of the least “Parkway Drive” songs the band has ever put out, and that’s genuinely exciting for such a renowned band at their current level.
Then on over on ‘In Blood‘, McCall snarls viscously over massive drum fills about looking back on life’s many struggles and those weary battles, all as the guitar harmony interplay between guitarists Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick flies at an all-time memorable high. In fact, the pair’s riff-output is scarily good across the whole record; the guitars being just such a strong and gripping instrumental focal point.
Also, if you’re one of those annoyed metalcore fans whose stuck in 2008, then the chug-laden, groovy-as-fuck breakdown that knocks through during the finale of ‘In Blood‘ was made solely for you. Not as some form of peace offering from the band to disgruntled listeners, but as a cheeky middle-finger from the Parkway boys to prove that they really could write another ‘Killing With A Smile‘ or ‘Horizons‘, they just don’t want to. So yeah, eat shit, nerds.
In a recent interview with yours truly, Winston McCall told me that the sole intent of the mournful ‘Shadow Boxing‘ was to subvert everyone’s expectations by being “completely schizophrenic and being the exact opposite of what people expect; just fucking with people basically and in a way that keeps that song in your head.” True to the frontman’s word, that’s exactly what this song is.
Soft piano notes and gloomy guitar chords underpin McCall’s delicate clean singing (yeah, actual singing for what I believe is the first time) begin matters for this dynamic tune. Then, as the scattered percussion comes in, the frontman delivers rapped vocal phrases before a huge wall of surging melodic metal crushes down with ballsy, heavy guitars and pounding drum hits; all before merging these various elements together solidly for the remaining runtime. Look, if ‘Writings On The Wall‘ and ‘A Deathless Song‘ (not the Jenna McDougal version, we don’t speak of that one) threw you straight through the ringer back in 2015, then ‘Shadow Boxing‘ will do so doubly!
The roaring screams and soaring melodic lead guitar work heralded on the gargantuan ‘I Hope You Rot‘ would make most European metal bands go green with foreigner envy, and my god, that vocal choir that acts as an extra hook to this song’s verses is such a wickedly good touch as well. Plus, the lyrical imagery of hellish flames, underworld descents, the absence of halos, and angelic wings burning up only further add to the heaven-hell, life-death tone of this record.
However, somewhat frustratingly, while such lyrical conventions are set up by ‘Wishing Wells‘ at the very beginning of ‘Reverence‘ (“Because tonight I’m killing gods“, “The devil and god have died inside me“, “Burn your heaven/Flood your hell/Damn you all“), such motifs are sadly foregone for slightly vaguer topics. What with this album’s spiritual theme vanishing during ‘Prey‘ and ‘Absolute Power‘ – the two songs following that stellar opener – to only come back around on the fourth track, ‘Cemetery Bloom‘. This is a nitpick of a criticism, I’m well aware, but when your album cover is Peter Paul Rubens’ Flemish Baroque piece, The Fall of the Damned, with all of its biblical and religious connotations in tact, then don’t play me like that, dudes.
Now, if you know your Greek philosophy and your pre-Socratic literature well-enough, you’ll know that Chronos was the personification of time, and not a reference to the Titan Cronus from Greek mythological (or those old PS2 God Of War games). Based heavily around the record’s theme of grappling with the concept time and finding reverence for the ever-depleting hourglass that is your life, and bolstered with lyrics like “In time, all things will return to me”, ‘Chronus‘ just works so well by itself and in context of the wider release. It’s a heavy, grandiose and yet uplifting track that could fill out stadiums without breaking a sweat. The choruses forged on ‘Chronus‘ are so moving, and the interweaving orchestration with drummer Ben Gordon’s tight playing and his two guitar brothers locking-in together makes for a great closing instrumental jam on the track’s second half.
While ‘Reverence‘ is no doubt one of the biggest Australian releases of the year – perhaps even one of the most anticipated heavy albums of 2018 too – it isn’t a perfect home run for me. As I just cannot at all vibe with some tracks here, like the hooky but cringy pirate-metal nature of ‘Prey‘ or the simplistic and bland hard rock framework of ‘The Void‘ (even though that track’s film clip was off fucking chops). Mainly because this album contains such hulking behemoths in the mighty form of ‘Absolute Power‘, ‘I Hope You Rot‘ and ‘Wishing Wells‘, thus really leaving something to be desired when other tracks just cannot hold the same kind of candle to their better halves.
Anyway, much like ‘Ire‘ before it, McCall’s clean vocals, spoken word passages, and rapping appear in a higher frequency. While that does make for a much more dynamic and varied record – and not just in terms of the vocals, but the songs themselves – it does hold the record back somewhat. Especially in one crucial moment for the album.
And right now is where I’ll sound like a complete and utter cunt, but whatever, let’s rip the band-aid off.
‘Reverence‘ concludes with an incredibly bold track for Parkway: the subtle ambience, Southern-sounding guitars and emotive cello/violin playing of ‘The Colour Of Leaving‘. Up until the song’s end, it’s a brooding yet beautiful piece – absolutely. But when McCall, any sense of singing fully ditched, deliveries a poetic final monologue about burying loved ones and being the survivor still breathing to deal with all of these tragedies, sorting out life after the fact. For the most part, this is a powerful song, yes, but that final send-off is kind of weak. While a humanly honest section that is meant to be hard to listen to and stomach, the vocalists normal speaking voice just doesn’t provide the full gravity that such a brutal curtain call moment calls for in my eyes. I can see why McCall and the band opted for this, using literal dirt-shovelling samples, distant crows crying and footsteps walking away to wrap-up the song (which cycles back around to how ‘Wishing Wells‘ starts), but it all just leaves me a little underwhelmed.
This is also the rather difficult thing when reviewing releases such as ‘Reverence‘ – records that have been born from such personal loss and the creators are so open about such pain. Becuase what happens if you just don’t like portions of the end result or the odd weighty moment that feels slightly miss-matched between the music, lyrical content and theme? Well, all you can do is say exactly that and then move on. Much like I just did.
Is ‘Reverence’ the best Parkway Drive album? No, but it’s a good record nonetheless, one that sees the Australian legends not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks and really trying to push the boat out for themselves. Is the band’s sixth album the 10/10 release that every other publication has labelled it as recently? Nah, not really, but it’s a bold body of work from a band that suffered immensely prior to its creation, pulling their personal pains together to create something engaging and interesting.
A record such as ‘Reverence’ coming out this deep into Parkway’s lifespan is not only commendable but also highly exciting from a musical and creative perspective. For at the end of the day, you could never ever say that these guys are resting on their laurels and becoming in any sense of the word complacent. Plenty of other Australian bands at their level should be taking note.
- Wishing Wells
- Absolute Power
- Cemetery Bloom
- The Void
- I Hope You Rot
- Shadow Boxing
- In Blood
- The Colour Of Leaving
‘Reverence’ is out this Friday, May 4th via Resist Records. Read my recent feature interview with Winston McCall here.