Byron Bay’s finest are back with a brand new album. Following on from 2010’s Deep Blue, Atlas has seen a flurry of press releases waxing lyrical about the band being world beaters and the cream of the metalcore crop. That’s all well and good, but does the album live up to expectations? Here’s the verdict…
Metalcore is an extremely tough market to crack. There are countless bands pushing the boundaries of musical possibility and Parkway drive are up against some very stiff competition. Metalcore may be at the zenith of its popularity right now, but, as with any burgeoning genre, that only means that there are ten times as many crap bands as there are good ones.
Parkway Drive, while possessing a distinctly metal approach, have never been influenced by metal to any great degree. Their influence comes primarily from old school US hardcore punk, and this is reflected in their being signed to the legendary punk label Epitaph Records. This seems to have changed slightly in recent times. There are some very “heavy metal” moments on this album. Vocalist Winston McCall still employs his trademark scream, but there are some guttural roars scattered throughout the record which suggests he’s been listening to some pretty brutal death metal of late. There are also some ‘Maiden-esque chanted vocals and twin guitar melodies, which break up the album nicely and prevent it from becoming one dimensional. Continuing the metal theme, drummer Ben Gordon executes some pretty quick double kick flurries and blast beats, so he’s obviously been on the same musical diet as McCall.
Having said that, the album isn’t all apocalyptic brutality. There are many quieter moments featuring clean guitars, a few string sections thrown in here and there and some nice female backing vocals. The title cut, “Blue and the Grey” and “The River” are the tracks that most showcase these more mellow sounds, although they do crash into pummelling riff-o-rama at about the one minute mark.
The instrumental performances are nothing to complain about. Luke Kilpatrick has added some pretty decent guitar solos to the record and there are some quite captivating 6 string melodies present, particularly on the track “Wild Eyes”….But….as adequate as the performances are, they do fall short of the (very high) metalcore benchmark set by the likes of Periphery or After the Burial etc. When broken down (no pun intended) most of the instrumental phrases are relatively rudimentary. It’s unclear whether this is an intentional tactic employed so as not to confuse the less musically savvy listener, or an inherent limitation in their musical abilities. Whichever it is, the album suffers slightly as a result. You wanna play metalcore? You better be at the top of your game because there is some mind blowing stuff out there. I get the feeling that the band’s immense popularity is due more to the fact that they’re Australian, and as such they’re “our” metalcore band, rather than due to any outstanding musical or compositional ability. Their admirably relentless touring is also a factor of course, and they can only be commended for that.
Adding to the slightly restrained feel of the record, McCall’s screams become a little monotonous after a while. Interspersed only with the aforementioned death growls, his vocals seem quite forced and insincere at times, particularly in the parts where the instruments all stop and he shrieks venomous lines such as “There is a price to pay!”, “You want a piece of my mind!”, “I’ll bring the gasoline!” and “My heart was built for war!”. These moments are frankly quite hilarious, and unintentionally so at that. A good laugh during a listening session is no bad thing however, and after a few listens I found the lines to be rather endearing!
Despite the slightly forced and restrained nature of the album, it’s certainly not without its highlights. “Wild Eyes” features some great guitar melodies from Kilpatrick, along with some epic, chanted backing vocals and is a great up-tempo thrasher. “Swing” has similarly creative guitar lines and some very good, pounding, polyrhythmic drums from Gordon. “Snake Oil and Holy Water” begins with one of the brief side-splittingly “heartfelt” monologues, but quickly redeems itself with an Iron Maiden like chord progression, smatterings of blast beats and liberal doses of hardcore intensity.
Perhaps the album’s best track is its closer “Blue and the Grey” which begins with a disquieting solo trumpet intro, and then builds into what is the most interesting musical moment on the record. An ascending melodic riff winds its way around a thrashing rhythm which is manipulated in such a way as to have a kind of demented 3/4 waltz-like feel to it. A fascinating moment, and I wish there were more of this kind of left-field experimentalism on Atlas. The track (and album) ends with some more spiralling guitar overdubs and quite an epic feel is generated, which doesn’t really represent this work as a whole.
It ain’t bad. Not by a long shot, but it ain’t great either. They may be “our” metalcore band, but they can do better. Part of the blame for this mediocrity lies with certain glossy publications (you know the ones I mean) who ceaselessly throw themselves at the band in a sickening display of orgiastic arse-licking and doe-eyed simpering . No group ever benefited from being put on a pedestal and worshipped. Stop it at once!!
They are a good band. A very good band in fact, but I’d be very disappointed if Atlas was considered their masterwork.
While this album contains some interesting moments, I’m still waiting for a classic anthem or an instrumental performance that blows me away. This record possesses neither, and the band are surely capable of both.