LIVE REVIEW: Parkway Drive – AO Arena, Manchester – 01/10/2022

Parkway Drive
Credit: Dave LaPage

For Parkway Drive, this has unquestionably been a long time coming. Not just this run in particular, now an ever-common bounce-back after being put on hold for the best part of three years, but where they fully graduate into a truly big deal. This is not their first arena show, by any means (it’s technically not even their first arena tour in the UK), but they’re finally at the stage where they can properly fill the profile out. Now with three albums of material that have sculpted their past metalcore into a lethal, king-size beatdown fitting of this environment, it certainly makes sense to roll it out here. As does the fact that, from the off, the arena fills out pretty fast; Parkway Drive are one of modern metal’s most lauded live acts, after all, and they’ve only brought two others meeting the same description in tow.

Well, perhaps that’s a bit preemptive for Lorna Shore, but they’re going to get there. Even if the voracity of online hype doesn’t seem to translate one-to-one, this is still very impressive, a showcase that, particularly in Will Ramos as the clear focal point planted at the end of the stage’s walkway, cuts a considerable figure of superstars in the making. With Ramos especially, they’ve already got a frontman that not only has magnetism, but brings the enormity that this incarnation of Lorna Shore is founded on, a hen’s-teeth occurrence of a deathcore band actually equipped to handle an arena show.

There’s nothing about the heaviness that feels diluted, coming most heartily in the pit-of-the-stomach depths of Sun//Eater’s low end of Into The Earth’s final breakdown; similarly, Ramos’ screams undergo approximately no degradation in a flawless live translation. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Lorna Shore’s more ornate elements, not helped in the first place by being piped in amid a sound system that’s hardly the kindest to bands this extreme anyway. As impractical as it would be—doubly so as an opening act with only half an hour to play with—with a live orchestra, this would be one of modern metal’s great live experiences. That’s still years off from happening, but the fact the idea feels plausible already is a testament to the ripples of potential that Lorna Shore are so profusely exhibiting already. The buzz is not for nothing, y’know.

It’s almost enough to feel a bit sorry for While She Sleeps at first, a band who don’t seem to inspire the same fervour as they once did, sandwiched between established heavy-hitters and metal’s more incandescent prodigal sons. Though then you remember that While She Sleeps’ live presence and consistency have frequently vaulted over any fleeting hype cycles, and when Sleeps Society heralds exactly that on an arena scale, any trepidation quickly withers away. In fact, let’s go a step even further—this is the environment that While She Sleeps should be hitting on their own now, because it’s by far the most impressive showcase of their arsenal they’ve pulled out in a long time.

It’s compounded by the fact that they don’t bear the hallmarks of a ‘typical’ arena band, and that never discounts them. The punk attitude is still alive and well when Taylor is jumping into the crowd, and there’s an easy transition that their more gnarled style of metal undergoes. Other than some of the cleaner guitars being mixed a bit too loudly and sharply, this is set where everything falls into place practically flawlessly, where songs like Anti-Social or The Guilty Party drop thick and fast with genuine weight and vigour. It’s actually somewhat astonishing how this band continues to ramp things up as basically just a regular occurrence, and how it doesn’t go unnoticed. This is a close to a hometown show as they have on this run—“Open up a circle pit for my fucking mother,” Taylor declares at one point—with a crowd that’s more than game to indulge in that, in what feels the latest grand moment for a band who’ve come to be known for subtly racking them up. Hell, on a cursory look, you’d almost mistake this for their own headline show; that’s the level that While She Sleeps find themselves at now.

The ‘almost’ is a necessary concession to make though, because they’re followed by Parkway Drive, and if there’s one band in the contemporary metal space who’ll display such an immense determination to not have their thunder stolen, it would be them. Their reputation isn’t for nothing, and they’ve clearly pulled out all the stops to live up to that feel of the titanic arena-metal bands they’re now right on the edge of joining. It’s visually arresting, for a start; before even a note is played, the metal spikes strewn across the stage foster that big, imposing feel, as do the hoodie-clad torchbearers that herald the exacerbating factor of a band who are all presence and power. Sure, the columns of pyro on opener Glitch leave a mark, but not more than Winston McCall himself. For the most part, he’s at the end of the stage’s walkway, clad in a white vest and cargos that, at an angle, cuts a figure not dissimilar from that iconic Freddie Mercury image at LiveAid. Coincidental or not, it’s apt for the scale that Parkway Drive are exploring now.

It’s the most obvious upside to where their brawnier, classic-leaning metal approach has taken them, in what effortlessly transforms what some might view as a more ‘limited’ palette into proper arena-ready magic. There’s still some love offered to the classics—the volume of reaction to “This is an old one” before Carrion speaks volumes, as does the notably different energy shift with how multiple circle pits form for Karma—but they primarily stick to the last three albums for the bulk of the set, and feel supremely strong for doing so. The enormity of Vice Grip or Ground Zero or any number of other songs speaks for itself, bolstered by the cleanest of lead-work from Jeff Ling that perfectly encapsulates the sweep they’ve tapped into so resolutely. When he’s raised on an elevating platform at the walkway’s end for Darker Still’s solo, in true hair-metal fashion, it feels duly earned.

That further reinforces the role of showmanship that this current incarnation of Parkway Drive feels even more dedicated to than usual. They know how to put on a spectacle befitting of the venue their in, not just through the pyro but bringing onboard a string quartet for Shadow Boxing and Darker Still, as well as a handful of costume changes for McCall for good measure. The latter song encapsulates the upper limit of this Parkway Drive better than anything else, a shamelessly slow-burning, layered ballad that’s almost exclusive to this version of them, complete with acoustic touches and the live strings to round off how arresting and cinematic it is. It feels fresh and interesting, a flair for the dramatic and a grasp of showmanship that metal bands might otherwise scoff at, only to miss out on how clearly elevating they can be.

It’s not one or the other either, where heft is sacrificed as a means of proctoring style. There are definite peaks and troughs as far as intensity goes, but it never tapers off or feels like Parkway Drive are straying too far from what makes them special. At the end of the day, they’re still playing music that isn’t reasonably embraced in the mainstream in the UK’s biggest indoor arena, and to have that knowledge buoyed by breakdowns as lethal as that on Bottom Feeder, or a flame-laden, oppressively heavy atmosphere on Crushed. Rounding off with Wild Eyes, it becomes abundantly clear how far Parkway Drive have come, how they’re nothing close to the spent force their detractors might proclaim, and how legitimately unstoppable they now feel. Viva the underdogs; viva Parkway Drive.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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