Monday, March 25, 2013

Parkway Drive - Atlas

It’s not unknown to those that don’t live under a rock that August Burns Red is pretty much leading the metalcore scene. But surely they can’t be leading it all by themselves; it would be too much responsibility! Well, that’s why Parkway Drive is there to take some of the weight. Why didn’t I mention Bullet for My Valentine, Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, and As I Lay Dying? They’re fucking huge, yes, but they’re not the groups that 80% of the bands that make up the metalcore genre are practically worshipping let alone creating music that’s identical to theirs (i.e. I The Breather, For Today, Architects, Haste the Day, Texas in July, etc.). Back to Parkway Drive, they, along with August Burns Red, are pretty much the leaders and primary representatives of the “generic” metalcore sound that people keep referring to. Does this mean that they’re shitty? Hell fucking no it doesn’t, a band’s popularity never determines their quality. For example, I don’t know about you guys, but I fucking love August Burns Red. They’re not my favorite metalcore band, but they are, by far, one of the best groups that the genre has to offer. The reason why is that although they have all of these other bands that sound extremely similar to them, they still manage to sound different. Parkway Drive, on the other hand, has a little bit more of a difficult time with that.

Instead of supporting their status as being one of the most influential metalcore bands of all-time, Parkway Drive’s 2012 release, Atlas, blends in with all of the other smaller bands and doesn’t stand out in any way, shape, or form. I’ve known about Parkway Drive ever since I got into metalcore and deathcore in 2007, but I’ve never bothered to look them up until the cover of their new album was shoved in my face via ads on nearly every fucking YouTube video I watched before it was released. I’m not usually one to judge albums by their artwork, but the cover for Atlas is one of the coolest metalcore album covers I’ve seen since Threat Signal’s Vigilance in 2009 (one of my favorite metalcore albums too). So, with the artwork sparking my interest, I decided that it was time to listen to the band that I hear about online, from friends, at concerts, and from other places I can’t remember.

After listening to Atlas, I decided to get some of Parkway Drive’s other albums to do a bit of compare and contrast work. After doing that for about a week I concluded that Atlas is pretty much the best and most solid piece of work that Parkway Drive has put out. But that really isn’t saying much because they haven’t changed much over the ten years that they’ve existed. The other album that I listened to that isn’t too bad at all by them is Horizons. Although easily comparable with their newest album, Atlas pretty much crushes Horizons as far as solidity and catchiness. The reason why Parkway Drive has been a leading force in metalcore is because of how confident their music sounds, and the confidence is due to the large hardcore punk influence in their music (in other words, they’re more hardcore punk than metal). I think that they aren’t truly as confident as they sound; the hardcore punk influence makes their music sound more confident. This is what I hear in all of Parkway Drive’s albums except for Atlas.

Unlike their other albums, Atlas practically screams with power, confidence, and readiness. Parkway Drive sound much more sure of themselves as a band than they ever have before. This is why Atlas speaks out to me more than any of their other records. To me, Atlas’ predecessor, Deep Blue, sounds forced, uninspired, and somewhat dry. Although Atlas isn’t drastically different than Deep Blue, it sounds fresher, more confident, and more original. Parkway Drive do a LITTLE bit of experimenting here and there by creating unusual guitar riffs and breakdown patters that you might not be used to hearing from them. But other than that, the maturity and the confidence of the sound is what’s made this album their best so far.

The guitars are very deep and meaty. There isn’t much treble aside from the crunch of the heavy distortion (which is mostly bass anyway). As far as the composition goes, don’t expect anything from the guitars beyond your typical deep chugging, typical metalcore guitar harmonizations, and the occasional high-pitched guitar harmonics used as melodic leads. To be honest, the guitar work on this album is boring. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, though. The guitarists don’t ever fuck up, they don’t do shit that causes me to cringe in disgust, and they don’t play overly-simple stuff; they just don’t do anything (and I mean ANYTHING) out of the ordinary. The distortion of the guitars is very wide and powerful, so it pretty much completely covers up the bass (why is this such a common trait in this genre??).

The vocals are fairly generic when it comes to the general style of Parkway Drive’s music. The vocalist almost exclusively does mid-ranged growls with the occasional high-pitched screams, but that’s more common in their earlier works. There isn’t really much singing at all except for when the whole band is singing a line in the background. His growls are good, but they aren’t any better than For Today or As I Lay Dying. The drums, on the other hand, are something worth talking about. The drummer isn’t outstanding, but I’m glad to hear a drummer that doesn’t ONLY play generic metalcore and hardcore patterns, especially during the breakdowns. Probably my favorite thing about him is that he plays blast beats. And it’s not the fact that he actually chooses to play them that make me smile, it’s the fact that he’s fucking good at them. The unconventional patterns and fills that he comes up with show that he’s got something interesting to offer to those that are tired of hearing the same simple breakdowns, fills, and triplets during fast parts. Yes, he does play all of those, but he keeps you listening by throwing in those fills or pulling off those odd breakdowns when you’re not expecting it. The problem that I’m having is that he’s not doing this enough. If he played that interesting shit more often on this album, the music would be much more engaging.

As far as songs go, the entire album is one big wall of monotony. Every song has the same sound, similar composition, and the same goddamn high-predictability. There is one song that speaks out to me, and that is Wide Eyes. The entire first minute and a half (that’s 1 minute 30 seconds) is probably the album’s ultimate climax. The intro is awesome, the beginning with the breakdown and the melodic guitar lick is fucking epic, and the blast beats just make me smile. But it’s not just the first half of the song that has all that, the whole song does. This song alone is enough proof to show that Parkway Drive is, in fact, a solid, confident, and fucking powerful metalcore band that cannot and will not be stopped. Although this album will fail to impress anyone beyond the hardcore and diehard metalcore fans, Atlas has helped me fully understand why Parkway Drive is as powerful and influential as they are today. I would give this album 12/20.