Review Summary: And the Night Grows Darker Still...
Having experienced many artists and bands change their sound drastically over the years, I never feel the need to criticize the decisions made to lead to this change and sometimes I find that the old phrase rings true: ‘variety is the spice of life.’ Parkway Drive has been on an anthemic/stadium metal trajectory for their last couple releases beginning with the solidly written “Ire” and further expanded with the less well received “Reverence.” Personally, I ended up preferring the songwriting stylings of “Reverence” more and found that while there were a couple lulls in quality, the consistency was there for my own musical preferences. Here we have “Darker Still” which sees the band taking more creative risks with mixed results and sometimes some head-scratching moments. Whilst not completely awful, the consistency is no longer present, and the songwriting has waned.
The album opens with “Ground Zero” which is standard fare in similar vein to the opener “Destroyer” on their album “Ire.” The song features a kick-to-the-floor two step beat with shiny guitar leads and simplistic riffs. However, the category in which the band suffers most egregiously is in the strange, hackneyed lyricism. Lines like “There's a voice in my head/Telling me I’m not right, wanting me to fall” read as shallow and surface level and this becomes a common struggle with some these tracks that are supposedly reflective, introspective or yearning for deeper meaning. The following track “Like Napalm” is a boring half-assed stadium metal song with cliché “Burn it/Burn it all away” vocal chants and very little in the sense of stimulating instrumental passages. We all know “Glitch” so there’s very little to discuss. It tries to take this formula they’ve used for their previous singles except it’s dumbed down to a very basic uninteresting riff, guitar leads and weird vocal passages.
Following this setback, the band does rebound with a couple solid songs with the second single “The Greatest Fear” and title track “Darker Still.” While both songs pale in comparison to some of their best material, they do feel like more complete songs than a good chunk of what’s to come. “The Greatest Fear” features some simple yet effective guitar riffs and an ominous ‘Another Brick in The Wall’ inspired chorus chant relayed by Winston. While I think Winston is a very strong vocalist, his newer ‘clean’ singing style is very hit or miss especially the whisper-style clean. “Darker Still” has a hint of prog rock with its lengthy acoustic intro and slowly building pace. The guitar leads and Winston’s vocal choices are very lovely even if the lyrics are a bit simple and too focused on rhyme scheme rather than the substance of the words.
The following track “Imperial Heretic” follows in the footsteps of the opening track with a very simple drumbeat coupled with simple guitar riffs and leads. Then we get the travesty of “If A God Can Bleed” which might simply and harshly be one of the worst songs I’ve heard this year. The vocals and lyrics are horrendous, the instrumentals are tasteless and boring, everything comes together into this massive mess of unwelcome noise. It feels like an elongated interlude track which should have never come to fruition. It’s the definition of scraping from the cutting room floor. Luckily, we are blessed with “Soul Bleach” which is one of the more solid tracks on the record with some heavy pounding drums, solid guitar work and feels reminiscent to some of their earlier material or at least the heavier material from “Ire” and “Reverence.”
The final leg of the record sees little improvement with “Land of the Lost” feeling disjointed instrumentally and vocally odd with unpleasant melodies and poorly delivered screamed passages. The closing track isn’t awful but overstays its welcome. I cannot think of a more cliché way to open a long-winded song with than the lyrics “I took a walk last night through the valley of death.” Instrumentally, the song weaves in and out of basic guitar work and cleaner passages but in the waning moments of the track the only solace we are left with is the realization that we are finally done listening to it.
I never like to bash a band for trying new things and exploring their sound but, when the songwriting becomes lazy and the lyricism becomes a shadow of what it used to be, that’s when I feel little sympathy. While there’s a few solid moments and even in the poorer songs I can find moments that I enjoy or riffs that standout, it’s a poor offering of what Parkway Drive are capable of. I don’t believe this is a horrendous record but it’s certainly not one that I’ll revisit much. Hopefully the band can find some inspiration to construct more interesting and unique tracks in the future.
“The Greatest Fear”