In the kitchen of the Byron Bay home of Winston McCall stands a refrigerator, adorned on one side by a quote from Tom Waits: “I want beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”
This, the Parkway Drive vocalist says, is a pretty good summation of himself. It holds true, too, as one of the guiding principles behind Darker Still, the seventh full-length album to be born of this picturesque and serene corner of north-eastern NSW, Australia, and the defining musical statement to date from one of modern metal’s most revered bands.
Darker Still, McCall says, is the vision he and his bandmates – guitarists Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick, bassist Jia O’Connor and drummer Ben Gordon – have held in their mind’s eye since a misfit group of friends first convened in their parents’ basements and backyards in 2003. The journey to reach this moment has seen Parkway evolve from metal underdogs to festival-headlining behemoth, off the back of close to 20 gruelling years, six critically and commercially acclaimed studio albums (all of which achieving Gold status in their home nation), three documentaries, one live album, and many, many thousands of shows.
“When Parkway originally started out, we all were trying to push ourselves to do more than we possibly could,” is how McCall explains it. “The better we got at it, the more comfortable we got, to the point where it became all comfortable. That is when we chose to acknowledge that just being comfortable was not necessarily doing justice to the skills and the creativity that you have grown over the years. What you hear on Darker Still is the final fulfilment of our ability to learn and grow catching up with the imagination that we have always had. These are the kinds of sounds we always had in mind. This is the way we always dreamed.”
To understand that growth is to understand Darker Still, both musically and thematically. Those who thought they had Parkway Drive figured out – the unrivalled energy, the high-octane breakdowns, McCall’s trademark bark – need reconsider everything they know about Australia’s masters of heavy. Not that anyone truly paying to their recent evolution should be surprised, though. “This is a journey we began with Ire, and which grew further still on Reverence,” McCall says, referencing the band’s preceding 2015 and 2018 works, respectively. In that context, it is easy to view Darker Still as the curtain-closer on a transformative trilogy that has seen Parkway reach new heights of creativity and success by eschewing the restrictive, safe conventions of genre and abandoning their own self-imposed rules in favour of a wide-eyed appreciation of bold new horizons. “There are compositions and songs that we’d never attempted before – or, to be more accurate, which we have attempted in the past, but not had the courage, time or understanding to pull off,” McCall reveals.
The vocalist would be the first to tell you that in order to grow, you have to let go of the past; a mantra Parkway embraced tighter than ever before when it came to blueprinting Darker Still. McCall describes how “we wanted to make a record that stood alone from the records we hear at this point in time”; one that delivers on “a more expansive sound, which allows a new weight to fall into the music.” Gordon, meanwhile, says it features “some of the heaviest moments we have ever created, but it is a different kind of heavy: an emotional catharsis that you can feel in every cell in your body.” The drummer is brutally honest in his reflection that, between “the ever-changing COVID lockdowns, government mandates, travels restrictions and tense personal relationships within the band”, Darker Still was the most challenging moment of the band’s career. Ling offers agreement, admitting that the three-year journey of writing and recording – which commenced as far back as April 2019 and would conclude in February 2022 following three months in the studio with producer and engineer pairing George and Dean Hadjichristou – “broke me by the end” as he juggled lockdown family life with the “daunting task of trying to stick everyone’s ideas together” in his downstairs home studio.
“When writing songs, we have a few questions that we ask ourselves that helps define our creative path,” he explains of the gruelling process. “‘What will this song achieve?’ ‘Why does this song deserve to be on this album?’ ‘What emotional response will this song provoke in the listener?’ If all these points check out, we know we are on the right path.”
“We are very much a collaborative band when it comes to song writing,” says Gordon. “Each song goes through several layers of scrutiny and refinements before the final version emerges. Some songs are completely unrecognisable from the first rendition to what ends up on the record.”
And so while Darker Still remains irrefutably Parkway Drive, it finds the band sonically standing shoulder to shoulder with rock and metal’s greats – Metallica, Pantera, Machine Head, Guns N’ Roses – as much as it does their metalcore contemporaries. “I wanted a classic guitar tone for this record,” explains Ling, who credits much of his inspiration to the connection his riffs have with a crowd in a live setting. “I’ve always been drawn to early ‘90s metal, so something along these lines with a modern edge was my jive. Creatively my goal was to write intricate and intriguing music that is also simple enough for everyone to understand and enjoy. We made a conscious decision to not go overboard with layering and soundscaping. This move would help reinforce our raw and classic album vision.”
“Production wise, we wanted to have a slight throwback to the ‘90s, leaning into some more real and natural sounding tones, which gives the record more character,” nods Gordon, whose work behind the kit on Darker Still – “Less about how much I could show off, and more about what will best compliment the song,” is his simple assessment – is emblematic of the record at large. “It took us a long time to learn about the importance of dynamics,” he says. “We now pick our moments much more and let the song breathe when it needs to.”
It is a revivified sound that provides the backdrop for some of McCall’s most personal and introspective songs yet. Exploring the concept of the ‘dark night of the soul’ – “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 that you are as a person,” as McCall describes – Darker Still unfurls like the great rock concept albums, from Pink Floyd to, most comparably, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral.
Amongst ruminations on society’s fear of death, societal isolation and a loss of humanity, its 11 tracks play out in a classic three-act structure. Ground Zero opens its ‘setup’; a “reckoning with your own internal monologue, says McCall, which ominously speaks to “the fights, the falls, the scars and broken bones” and how “beneath it all, the cracks begin to show…” Its second act – its ‘confrontation’ – frames the album’s title track at its core: a classic rock epic about “love and time” that spans a near seven-minutes and which evokes Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. The album’s ‘resolution’, meanwhile, concludes with From The Heart Of Darkness: a brooding monster that opens with McCall’s contemplative searching (“There’s a war going on inside, nobody’s safe from / You can run, but you can’t hide / When it’s your soul you must confront”) before exploding with its mosh-call of “Fury be my victory!”
“I wanted the end of the record to mirror my experience to a degree of what this journey has been like for me,” McCall reveals. “I found that I was always afraid of showing defiance to be honest and true to myself, even if that meant sacrificing who I was to become a better version of who I could be. That has to be ripped from the darkest part of you, because the darkest part of you is what you are always afraid of in the first place. It’s the thing that you don’t want to shine the light on. It’s the element that you don’t want to show people, which you shy away from, which you’re too scared to embody.”
It is a closing statement that truly defines Darker Still. This is the Parkway Drive the band have been striving to be for two decades. Ling says it best: “I’m really proud of what we have achieved together, and feel that as musicians, we have really ascended to new realms of class and ability.” Emerging from the darkness of the past few years, this is the true face of Parkway: redefined and resolute, focused in mind and defiant in spirit.
An Aussie metalcore group with highly confessional lyrics and a melody-driven emo-tinged sound, the Amity Affliction emerged in 2008 with Severed Ties. They hit their stride in 2012 with the release of their third full-length effort, Chasing Ghosts, which like subsequent outings This Could Be Heartbreak (2016), Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them (2020), and Not Without My Ghosts (2023), soared to the top of the Australian charts, and found international success as well.
Brisbane post-hardcore act the Amity Affliction were formed in 2002 by Ahren Stringer and Troy Brady, a pair of longtime pals — still high schoolers at the time — who had been affected by the death of their friend in a road accident. The band — a quartet rounded out by bassist Garth Buchanan and drummer Lachlan Faulkner — released a demo in 2003 and an EP in 2004 but didn’t start making waves in earnest until sometime later. In 2005, after unclean vocalist Joel Birch joined the fold, Amity Affliction went on a touring spell, working up a nationwide reputation as a powerful live band. In 2007, they added keyboard player Trad Nathan, switched drummers with Ryan Burt replacing Faulkner, and parted ways with Buchanan, with Stringer taking on bass duties. The newly formed group then hit the studio to record the EP High Hopes, followed in 2008 by the debut album Severed Ties, which peaked at number 26 on the ARIA charts.
Amity Affliction toured Australia again in 2008 and 2009, both as a support and headlining act, and in 2010 they released their second album, Youngbloods, which confirmed that their efforts paid off, reaching number six on the ARIA charts. They would top that achievement just two years later when their third album, Chasing Ghosts, debuted at number one on the ARIA charts. A fourth album, Let the Ocean Take Me, arrived on Roadrunner in 2014 and was the band’s second consecutive ARIA chart-topper. That year, Brady left the band, leaving Stringer as the only founding member.
After months of touring Ocean, the quartet returned to the studio to record their fifth LP. This Could Be Heartbreak arrived in August 2016, topping the ARIA charts once again. The band toured Australia, the U.S., and Europe in support of the record, before Ryan Burt left in February 2018 owing to mental health concerns. Later that year, the Amity Affliction released their sixth album, Misery. Their first concept effort, it featured an overarching narrative chronicling the tale of three friends on a dark quest for vengeance. Two years later the band returned with weighty and depressive Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them, their first studio LP with new drummer Joe Longobardi. 2023’s pummeling Not Without My Ghosts followed an over-arching theme of mortality and featured guest spots from late New Zealand rapper Louie Knuxx, Comeback Kid‘s Andrew Neufeld, the Plot in You‘s Landon Tewers, and Phem.
Northlane’s new offering, Obsidian, is their most expansive and dynamic album yet. Self-recorded and self-produced with the help of their longtime collaborator Chris Blancato, the sound Northlane have been working towards over the span of their career has been fully realised on Obsidian. Sonically spanning the gamut of their entire discography, Northlane’s trademark heavy comfortably coexists with techno, drum and bass, intriguing synths, perplexing time signatures and widescreen choruses. It’s this fearless evolution that keeps Northlane light years ahead of everyone else in heavy music.
Growth, and the desire for eternal forward motion have been the concepts that have defined Make Them Suffer since the very beginning; and have been the foundations that led them from the world’s most remote capital city Perth in Australia, to becoming a household name on stages around the world. As they have traversed previous eras, the five piece have grown through the genres of deathcore, melodic death metal, & heavy metalcore; and as they continue on this path, look to be defined by nothing more than the label ‘creative’. Through ‘Ether’, ’27’, and ‘Hollowed Heart’, the band has worked to shed themselves of the shackles of expectation, and as they look towards the open road that lies ahead of them, the light that guides the way has a name, ‘How To Survive A Funeral’.
To assist in the redefinition of every line the band is known for, Make Them Suffer enlisted the assistance of Drew Fulk A.K.A. WZRDBLD, who has worked with everyone from Motionless In White & Bullet For My Valentine, to Yelawolf & Lil’ Wayne. The band travelled to LA to shack up at Fulk’s studio, the first time in their career working this closely with a producer, and the result is truly something unique in the current climate of heavy music. The band’s fourth full length sees inspirations from their past and present sounds twisted together into a package that will define Make Them Suffer’s place amongst their contemporaries as a truly creative act.