Parkway Drive have gradually climbed to where they are today; there was never a “big break”, but a slow and steady progression with each album, tour, and festival spot. They’ve worked hard for the past fifteen years to get to this point – and it is a high point, having been announced as the headliners for this year’s Bloodstock festival. In a sold-out show at Manchester’s O2 Apollo, 3500 people witness what Parkway can do live – and the energy, inventiveness and sheer skill they bring to their shows is one of the biggest factors in their success.
Support comes from deathcore crushers and fellow Aussies Thy Art is Murder, and metalcore pioneers Killswitch Engage – the latter of which were a big influence on Parkway in the early days. Thy Art are the most extreme on the line-up. With double-kick drums like machine guns and demonic growling and screaming, it’s a brutal opening act, but vocalist CJ McMahon’s lax and funny banter stops it getting too tense. There’s something about the Australian accent that puts you at ease.
Killswitch open with the bouncy and energetic “Strength of the Mind” from their latest album Incarnate. Jesse Leach has been back fronting the band for eight years now, and although there are plenty of Howard-era songs in the set, it’s evidently his band again; he looks at home. The uplifting lyrics of “Strength of the Mind” set a trend for the rest of the evening; “Gather all your pain and suffering/Turn them into strength and weaponry/To overcome the enemy that’s in you.”
Lyrics that have their origin in pain and suffering are typical of Parkway, but so is turning that suffering into something positive. And that’s what their live shows emit; positivity and fun. You wouldn’t think this with the lyrics of crushing opener “Wishing Wells” – “…so ask me how I’m coping, and I’ll smile and tell you I’m just fine, while down inside I’m screaming till I fucking bleed”. Or any other lyrical snippets of their set “in your mind, all your demons are rattling chains, welcome to a world of pain”, “crushed by the fist of God”, and “we’re prey for the sorrow”. But it’s the lyrics of “Vice Grip” that sum up the set’s ambience, and the mood we leave the building with – “one life, one shot, give it all you got… hope for the hopeless, a light in the darkness”.
Members of Parkway have had a rough time of late, painfully losing friends, family and cherished pets. This grief was explored in last year’s Reverence – their most experimental album to date, which broke away from their metalcore origins to explore hard rock, rap and spoken word – the genre-mashing that was brewing in 2015’s Ire. It worked, and these musical changes have transformed their live shows from hardcore mosh-fests into something more theatrical.
They enter the stage from the crowd, surrounded by flaming torches, and the pyrotechnics continue throughout in a visual spectacle that could give Rammstein some ideas. Four classical string musicians – including violin and cello – join them for “Writing’s on the Wall” and “Shadow Boxing”. At one point all musicians leave the stage except frontman Winston and the celloist, for the mellow and melancholy “The Colour of Leaving”. It contrasts with the old-school hardcore treats of “Carrion” and “Idols and Anchors”, and indicates to a maturing sound. Another highlight is “Chronos”, one of the strongest songs from Reverence and a technical tour de force from lead guitarist Jeff Ling. In fact, the stage raised for both guitarists during the instrumental close of the song.
Despite the new stagecraft and pyro, the true essence of a Parkway gig remains. It’s always been about having fun, and that’s just what happens. From the start the crowd is jumping, moshing, throwing fists into the air and holding their lighters up when it slows down. I first saw them eight years ago at Sonisphere, riding on the success of Deep Blue – probably the best album of the metalcore genre. And what I saw then is still here now; five down-to-earth blokes who want nothing more than for the crowd to have fun, get sweaty, and leave with a smile.