Fresh off of the release of Darker Still, Parkway Drive arrived in Cardiff for the final stop of their Europe tour. Headlining arenas for the second time around, they once again brought a stage production big enough for those all-important European festival headliner slots and a stacked bill. If the last time around on the Reverence cycle felt like a throw of the dice, Parkway Drive came with a loaded hand proving that they have ascended past their underdog status.
From one quick 360 of the crowd piling into the venue once doors opened, it’s very clear that the first band of the night was not going to be your ordinary first support slot. Floods of Lorna Shore t-shirts poured in and got their place to watch one of the biggest breakthrough bands in recent years. Bringing deathcore to the metal masses has been their biggest achievement thus far and they don’t feel out of place playing on stages as big as this. The gargantuan breakdowns and citadel-sized guitar and synth melodies give their sound this massive scope that still feels like it has room to grow. The sound did become very muddy at points down to the sheer amount of things that were happening at once and this replaced some of their razor-sharp moments into more of a death by a thousand cuts feeling. Newcomers may have struggled to latch onto the songs themselves at points but when you did get a blast or vocal line really push its way to the front, it’s clear to see that this train of momentum isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Overall score: 8/10
One of the most proven live bands in the UK scene, While She Sleeps are supporting maestros at this point. A certified guarantee to whip a crowd up with their energy, huge singalongs and some of the most fun riffs to jump along to that you can currently find, Cardiff felt like a walk in the park for them. Whilst that could breed negative connotations of a band that has found their comfortable home, the promise of their biggest headline show to date next year at Alexandra Palace has turned the last stretch of this tour into Sleeps showing everybody exactly why they deserve that night in London. Their performance is already at that level and they’re always going to win crowds over so this was a perfect lay-up for Ally Pally. Look no further for proof of this than the crowd reaction to EYE TO EYE, a track that was released on the re-released special edition of 2021s Sleeps Society.
Overall score: 8/10
Parkway Drive sure know how to make an entrance and whilst this time around, they come onto the stage accompanied by druids instead of making their way through the crowd, they’re a band that just nails the theatrical side of being an arena/festival headliner. The opening four tracks which each take the defining song from a different era of the band are all home runs that show the meeting of Parkway fans new and old. Whilst Glitch, Prey and Vice Grip are just made for huge rooms, Carrion has earned its stripes in this setting. Back on the theatrical side of things, there’s obviously a lot of pyro, most notably in The Void and of course in Crushed, but it’s also about the performance.
Winston McCall’s ability to instantly transition from loveable Aussie to either a marauding juggernaut or Nick Cave if he wore a cloak has been a huge element of their ability to play bigger and bigger slots. He can become that larger-than-life persona that can hold a room in the palm of his hand and then seconds later be straight back to being the champion of the people. The back-to-back placing of Dedicated into Ground Zero is another great parallel between two tracks that might not have defined their respective records but have proven to be fan favourites. Dedicated is Parkway at their most swaggering whilst Ground Zero has such lofty ambitions. They may not always have their place in the set but both are more than deserving of their time here.
After the crowd experiences the whirlpool that is Karma, the next three tracks take the pace down a few notches, though that isn’t saying much given the previous song. The Darkest Fear doesn’t seem to bring out that same intense reaction as some of the others but that track, in particular, feels built for a field full of people headbanging along to the steady groove. The introduction of some added violins brings with it a symphonic element to Shadow Boxing which only speaks to how many single-worthy tracks Reverence managed to pack in. This is then followed up with the title track off of Darker Still which is by far the most well-realised and executed version of the Parkway ballad.
They’ve added more strings to this bow in particular from album to album and Darker Still feels like the culmination of their previous efforts, it’s captivating, dramatic and flat-out gorgeous when Jeff Ling gets a guitar god moment, ascending on a platform as he plays the whistle melody that recurs throughout the track. It’s hard to see them writing another ballad for a while that removes the need for Darker Still in the setlist, that being said, the pacing of the last three tracks does really bring the energy levels right down.
This of course doesn’t last for long as now the crowd has had their break, it’s time for Crushed and Wild Eyes. Whilst Vice Grip may be the moment where nights like this started to come into speculation for Parkway, Crushed is the reason they feel so at home here. The spectacle of it alone is worth the ticket price but pushing that aside, it’s a crowd pleaser that doesn’t sacrifice how devastating it is. Whilst, as mentioned at the beginning, Parkway Drive can no longer be considered the underdogs now that they are playing slots that are reserved for the biggest that the genre has to offer, Wild Eyes is the perfect closer. It strips away all of the theatrics that have been added over the last few years, leaving you with a guitar melody so good that it begs to be sung at the top of your voice and the ‘us against the world’ mentality that Parkway have defined themselves by.
Away from the reception of sections of the fan base, Darker Still at the very least has reaffirmed Parkway’s position that they were able to climb to on Reverence. With some added tracks, that whilst they worked well in this setting, just feel built for those huge open European stages, their trajectory to the top is still on course and they’ve done it whilst still having tracks like Karma and Carrion in the live set. Not a whole lot has changed from the Reverence cycle but everything just feels more polished and set in stone, a percentage increase rather than an overhaul. After the statement that had some fans worried about the band’s future several months ago, it’s great to see that Parkway Drive are still here, through blood, sweat and tears… unbreakable.
Overall score: 8/10
Photos by Matt Higgs from the Alexandra Palace show.