Review Summary: Melodic, rage-filled and barrels of fun; Parkway at their unadulterated best
Following the success of their debut split EP with fellow metalcore act I Killed The Prom Queen and their first solo release, Don’t Close Your Eyes
, Parkway Drive were a band in search of a full length. After numerous attempts to find a label and producer, eventually the band lucked out and managed to employ the production skills of Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, so they travelled to the States to record debut LP, Killing With A Smile
. Some aspects of the album betray the relatively short production process, but to date, this is the purest, most aggressive shot of pure adrenaline Parkway have managed to come up with, and even though the band continue to divide opinion, it’s difficult to deny their appeal. As anyone who has watched the DVD documentaries will already be aware, Parkway Drive are some of the most down to earth people imaginable. Their entire philosophy is based around the production of heavy music because they enjoy making it and playing it live more than anything. Here is a band completely unconcerned with image, a band made up of everymen who exude the notion of friendship in every interview and every music video. In short, it’s a crew of kids raised on hardcore punk who have created a crushing, blistering assault of an album, loaded with rage, melody, and of course, breakdowns. They also love surfing.
One of the better known metalcore bands in the world today, Parkway have released an additional three LPs following the success of their first. However, Killing With A Smile
represents Parkway at their undiluted best and at the pinnacle of their metalcore game. Perhaps one of the first things to note about the band is the consistency of charismatic frontman Winston McCall, who is undoubtedly one of the best metalcore vocalists around today. He screams, he growls, he shrieks, he roars, and here his delivery is most definitely at its’ most varied. Perhaps an interesting facet of Parkway Drive, and one that is seen increasingly less within the genre is the absence of clean vocals. There is not a single instance on Killing With A Smile
where singing is employed. This seems to hint at a somewhat more serious side to the band, particularly in comparison to other contemporary outfits who attempt to find a balance, particularly where vocals are concerned. Yet, despite this, and despite the somewhat trite lyrics found on the album, Parkway are not a band to be taken seriously in this way. The band was clearly in the throes of finding a direction when they were called upon to write this album, and as a result, the release doesn’t feel as ‘Parkway’ as subsequent releases, being free of themes that are given attention on later albums. Despite this, it is their strongest release musically, and may not feature as much diversity as later releases, but is a more focused, tighter effort.
Rather than relying on atonality and unusual song structures, Parkway rely very heavily on melody as intrinsically linked with the form of the lyrics. This is best observed on such tracks as ‘Anasasis (Xenophontis)’, which merges a chugging yet inventive guitar riff with the coarse brutality of McCall’s vocals. Even when breakdowns are utilised (one makes an appearance very early in this song), the crushing guitars and the vicious vocals work in tandem to ensure the melody is always at the forefront; a trait they have maintained to this day. Perhaps the most popular track on the album, ‘Romance Is Dead’, is also the weakest, being a track that functions well in a live environment, but plods in recorded form. The famous breakdown is still fun and ensures the song is memorable, but it does lack the musical punch of other tracks on the release, as the entire song is built around the breakdown halfway through; the surrounding noise is simply filler. Thankfully, this is a trend that isn’t kept up for long, with the track ‘Guns For Show, Knives For A Pro’ following immediately after. Beginning with a quote from ‘Die Hard 2', the song is an angry and hyperbolic jolt that does not rely as heavily on melody as other tracks by the band, but retains integrity through the thunderous instrumentation and a breakdown that alters the tempo of the song in a somewhat uninspired but cool way.
‘Blackout’, ‘Picture Perfect, Pathetic’ and ‘It’s Hard To Speak Without A Tongue’ are driven by melody, however, and the latter is one of the standout tracks on the album. Having more of a benign introduction than songs that precede it, the track opens with a simple guitar riff. Soon after, the drums are introduced, cymbals first, followed by the thunderous crash of the bass. Eventually, this melody segues into a high, almost solo-like melody, utilising some impressive guitar work on the part of lead guitarist Jeff Ling. The melody fades during the verse section, and is replaced with a quieter, more deliberate riff underscoring the rasping provided by McCall. It is used again when the chorus section begins, however, so the song is a well-balanced but unusual one for Parkway. ‘Picture Perfect, Pathetic’ begins with a drum fill, and then McCall’s voice growls, ‘if looks could kill, you would be, a ***ing shotgun, pressed against my head, so ***ing cold.’ The somewhat cliché lyrics do undermine the music somewhat, but as they are mostly unintelligible, this will not be a problem for the casual listener. There’s an interesting break section in this song where all the music is dropped save for the lead guitar, which plays four high notes before the wall of sound created by the band is suddenly reintroduced. It’s clever and moves at breakneck speed, impressively straddling a somewhat blurry line between brutality and harmony. ‘Mutiny’, which features an excerpt from ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’, fills the same quota as ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ from following release, ‘Horizons’. ‘Mutiny’ is most probably the better track, branching out musically to incorporate a more varied style of riffing and songwriting, whereas ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ relies on a repetitive riff and is built around the final breakdown.
Anyone interested in listening to this band, I would wholeheartedly recommend starting here. Whilst the lyrical content may not be as imaginative as that featured on later albums by the band, the musical form has seldom been better. I still greatly enjoy listening to Parkway Drive’s music now, but I fear one of the aspects that endeared me to them in the first place is something they have not been able to maintain, and that is their sense of fun. They’re still a fun band to listen to, they still put out fun music, but on Killing With A Smile
, they showed that they could make heavy music both brutal and fun, and they struck a dangerous balance between the two. The melodies found on this album are toe-tappingly infectious and are a disarmingly important aspect to the band’s sound. Ultimately, though, the reason Killing With A Smile
is so impressive to me personally is that it is genuinely good fun; loaded with bits to sing along to, enjoyable idiosyncrasies, such as guitar solos, powerful vocals and a plethora of breakdowns that only rarely feel poorly implemented or badly written. An enjoyable, accessible experience.