LIVE: Parkway Drive / Killswitch Engage / Thy Art Is Murder @ O2 Apollo, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

It’s been more than twelve years since Parkway Drive first made their way to Manchester from their native Australia. Back then, they were playing venues like the much-beloved and long-defunct Jillys in support of the likes of Comeback Kid, but tonight sees them returning to one of the city’s largest rooms in the o2 Apollo. There’s no clearer marker of their phenomenal ascension through the ranks than tonight’s main support act being none other than Killswitch Engage – a band Parkway were once supporting themselves.

This is a band who have never stopped evolving, without losing their heaviness and fury, and the broad appeal of the music they produce is reflected in the diversity of tonight’s crowd – aside from a handful of metal t-shirts, you’d be hard pressed to guess who you were about to see. They’ve long since transcended the metalcore label and are, quite simply, just Parkway Drive. And they’re here to put on one hell of a show.

It’s immediately evident, even to the uninitiated, that openers Thy Art Is Murder are no strangers to the stage – and the crowd are no strangers to their music, either.  As they crash into the title track of 2017’s ‘Dear Desolation’, pits open almost immediately in the already packed room for a furiously heavy half hour of metal. There’s only time for six songs, but boy do they make it count with eardrum-splitting walls of sound and thrashing guitar solos; alongside the brutality, their set is also just plain old good fun. This sound may be better suited to a grungy, dark basement room than this cavernous theatre, but vocalist CJ McMahon knows just how to play up to the crowd – whether it’s riding into the circle pit on the shoulders of possibly the bravest man alive, or debating the finer points of Australian usage of the C-bomb, it makes for lively and entertaining start to the night.

A band like Killswitch Engage really need no introduction – especially not to this audience – but, if an introduction must occur, their entrance to Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ seems like a pretty good way to do it. The arrival of these indisputable legends of metalcore turns the atmosphere in this already amped-up venue into something more like that of a festival main stage – it’s rare to see three bands of such outstanding quality in quick succession in the same space, and it feels incredibly special. Killswitch pack eleven songs into their 50 minutes on stage, and while they barely scratch the surface of their twenty year back catalogue, it’s a melodic, fast-paced, and tightly delivered set. There’s plenty enough time at least for major crowd pleasers in the form of ‘My Curse’ and ‘Rose Of Sharyn’ – Killswitch Engage are clearly beloved by most of tonight’s crowd, and with the closing thrashing notes of ‘In Due Time’, the stage and mood is set for a truly exceptional ride.

Darkness soon descends on the Apollo theatre, broken by thunderous crashes and flashing lights that are soon to be realised as little more than a misdirection trick when Parkway Drive appear – seemingly from nowhere – not on the stage, but flanked by torch wielding figures in the middle of the crowd. Making their way through to the backing of refrains from ‘Absolute Power’ before easing into the atmospheric ‘Reverence’ album opener ‘Wishing Wells’, it’s an astounding entrance – but if the audience think this is where the spectacle ends, they’re certainly mistaken.

The bulk of the show is dedicated to tracks from 2018’s ‘Reverence’, and it doesn’t disappoint; the thunderous ‘Prey’ converts the floor into a mass of elevated bodies and voices, whilst ‘The Void’, ‘Absolute Power’ and ‘Shadow Boxing’ are staggeringly huge. Anyone in the crowd harbouring any doubts about Parkway’s latest offering have surely had their minds changed by the intensity of these songs in a live setting. There’s still enough time given to older tracks, too, with ‘Wild Eyes’ eliciting mirthful, chanting singalongs, whilst ‘Carrion’ and ‘Dedicated’ fill the room with passionate rage (and plenty of mosh pits).

“The whole plan for this is always to level up,” vocalist Winston McCall said at the outset of this tour, which seems like something of an understatement. Parkway Drive are no strangers to spectacle – drummer Ben Gordon’s rotating ‘Cage of Death’ is a notable example – but tonight’s show feels like a whole other level of theatrical performance. The stage is plunged frequently into darkness in spells that split the set into acts, with each one stepping things up a gear as fireworks, light displays, elevating platforms and pyrotechnics lend a hand for jaw dropping visuals.

Of course, none of this spectacle means anything much if it’s not backed up by the music, and this is where Parkway Drive really prove themselves. Their delivery is nothing short of flawless; from McCall’s guttural roars, to Jia O’Connor’s rib-rattling bass – which takes particularly pleasing centre stage on ‘Absolute Power’ – and Jeff Ling’s exquisite solos, it’s a masterclass in heaviness combined with melody and defiant, uplifting hope. The appearance of a small string section late in the set showcases the band’s dedication to their craft, and ‘Shadow Boxing’ is testament to everything Parkway Drive are: visually exciting, and aurally perfect.

This is a stadium sized show without the stadium; never has the Apollo seen quite so much pyro (and, for the safety of the curtains surrounding the stage, they’d probably prefer that it never does again). The quieter moments of ‘Reverence’ in ‘Cemetery Bloom’ and the emotive ‘The Colour of Leaving’ do nothing to detract from the phenomenal energy in this set, instead adding layers of atmosphere; the latter is particularly haunting with its accompanying cellist, and the crowd are hushed in their own reverence.

As the night is finally closed with the pounding, brutal ‘Ire’ track ‘Bottom Feeder’ – after McCall has lit the stage once more with a Molotov cocktail – there’s no question that this performance is the kind to be talked about for weeks (or months) afterwards. Theatrical yet still full of passion and a genuine connection with their audience, it’s no surprise that this is a band who’ve ascended to festival headliners, and it’s unlikely they’ll be confined to stages the size of the Apollo much longer either. Parkway Drive have already cemented their place as one of the greats – and we are lucky to have them.