“It’s about having reverence for what you have because it’s so fucking frail and we don’t realise how quickly our lives can be changed, or gone,” says Winston McCall, lead vocalist of Australian metal outfit Parkway Drive. He’s discussing the title of their upcoming album, ‘Reverence’. It’s their sixth full-length release, and undoubtedly the most personal material they’ve ever put to tape. “Every record is a snapshot of our lives, and it’s been two years of dealing with a lot of shit.”
The album follows 2015’s ‘Ire’, a record that saw the band embracing new soundscapes in an effort not to repeat their past glories. “It was make or break, in the sense that if there’s a time to change it’s now and if it fucks up we won’t be doing any more,” admits Winston of the more traditionally minded, but no less heavy, verse-chorus sound they found themselves adopting.
By the time 2012’s ‘Atlas’ arrived Parkway Drive had become figureheads of metallic hardcore and established a solid setlist of the genre’s biggest tunes, but fans were beginning to notice a pattern emerging. “We’re not going to remake something that we did perfectly the first time,” adds Winston. “The real break moment would have been if we hadn’t done ‘Ire’, that’s where the band would have started back-sliding.”
Thankfully the bold, grandiose new direction taken on ‘Ire’ paid off in spades, seeing the band ascend to bigger stages across the globe. “It went from a couple hundred more people turning up after each album to just thousands more after ‘Ire’, it was mental shit,” even now almost three years on from its release there is an air of disbelief in Winston’s voice when he explains their career trajectory.
In quintessentially Aussie style he continues: “If someone came to me now and said, ‘One day you’re going to write this album that has all this weird shit on it, and you’ll headline a stage at this festival called Download’ I’d say, ‘Who the fuck let this tripper in the room?!'”
For all the band’s success on the ‘Ire’ cycle, things were taking a turn for the worst in their personal lives. “We were playing the best shows we’ve ever had; the record’s going far better than we could’ve hoped. But at the same time we have friends and family being diagnosed with incurable diseases, and then we’re going on tour, coming home, and they’re not there anymore. It was fucking horrendous.”
It’s during this trying time that Parkway Drive began the writing process for what would become their most heartfelt and ambitious record to date. “It’s a dark record, written in what’s probably the darkest period of our lives. I was writing words as they came to me and I knew that they couldn’t be screamed, it wouldn’t make sense, and the music was going to have to go around that. That’s where everything went off in a very different direction.”
A very different direction is exactly what ‘Reverence’ is for Parkway Drive, with Winston embracing clean vocals for this first time ever and everything from synths to strings being incorporated. “This time we thought if we can do ‘Ire’ we can do anything. We focused on the idea that there was nothing sound-wise that was off limits.”
“I can safely say that I can sing,” muses Winston. “It’s given me an amazing way to express myself, which I’ve been looking for for a really long time. I just assumed that a decade of screaming had fucked my vocal chords.” Knowing that the nature of the new album’s lyrics would require a different approach, Winston sought to discover just how far he could push his vocal ability.
“I had a camera shoved down my throat to check, and the doctor said, ‘Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it fine, you’ve actually got really strong vocal chords’. So I was like, ‘Whoa, maybe I can try these other things’. I wanted to be able to reach into someone and make them understand that there’s a reason this song isn’t screamed. It wasn’t a case of listening back to takes and making it sound more shimmery or polished it was just picking the one that you connect with on a human level.”
All this isn’t to say that the band have abandoned the heaviness on which they built their name, although anyone that has heard lead single ‘Wishing Wells’ should know as much already. Winston makes it clear that it’s about adding layers to their sound, not watering it down. “I think it’s always going to be heavy. I listen to a lot of heavy music, some of it resonates, but a lot of it doesn’t. I listen to a lot of other stuff in my spare time to make me feel something, and then I find a way to put it into what we do.”
Despite the darkness that birthed it, ‘Reverence’ isn’t all sonic doom and gloom. Songs like ‘Prey’ and recently released single ‘The Void’ are what Winston terms “anti-anthems”. Although they’re as upbeat, chant-able and mosh-inducing as Parkway’s usual fare, they’re steeped in sarcasm and cynicism. “It’s not about singing along because you can beat the world, it’s just about acknowledging that the world is shit right now and we’re all fucking stuck on it,” he explains. “They’re like ‘Vice Grip”s villainous brother.”
As they gear up for the album’s release on May fourth, it’s clear that Parkway Drive will never be the same again. Life will continue to shape them as people, and their music will always reflect that. “When we started this band the modus operandi was to write beat downs and fast parts for circle pits. That’s because we were just kids playing to thirty other kids in a youth centre. But when you take those kids and drag them all the way around the planet for fifteen years that translates into the music.”
“I’m not sure what other sounds will creep in, but you’ll never hear another Parkway record that sounds predictable. Predictable means it’s been done before, and we’re past doing things we’ve done before, time’s too short to keep running on a treadmill.”
‘Reverence’ is the product of a perspective that can only be gained through fifteen years of traversing the globe and experiencing all the ups and downs life has to offer. It embodies everything the band have come to learn during the darkest time of their lives, “Life’s too short to worry about the shit you’re worrying about.” is the message he wants listeners to take from the record. “We always worry about volcanoes, or tidal waves, or terrorism when it can be as simple as slipping over in the bathtub or having someone be diagnosed with something you can’t cure. Take the time to realise that every little thing you have is precious and cherish the fact that you still have it.”