Parkway Drive’s fifth album, Ire, claims that anger is a legitimate response to the state of the world. If anger is the chief motor of ‘metal’ as a musical genre, Ire thus becomes a metal album with existential ramifications for its own artform: either Ire is legitimate, or metal isn’t.
The thought experiment isn’t quite as perfect in reality. Ire could be correct in its sentiment but musically lacking, or it could be a beautiful edifice constructed on flawed foundations. There are also plenty of metal musicians – and musicians who use the techniques of “metal” as one colour in a varied palette – who might dispute whether fury is so integral. Take Agalloch’s ambient soundscapes, or the simple dumb joy of Andrew WK; both could be called metal. Neither is based on anger.
Genres in any artform are like this; they wriggle like a bag of cats if you try to put them in boxes. This may be hypocritical of them. Genres are boxes. But let them have their way; even toning back on such bombastic reductionism, Ire’s claim to validity remains worthy of examination in the context of a musical form which, at the very least, places aggression on a high – ferociously high – pedestal.
No, it’s not a concept record, unless you consider anger a concept. It’s a really, really angry record and that came out in the lyrics. When you look at the functioning of society and the way that the world is going and the ideals and the things that we seem to champion and fight for and die for, the system that we have in place, and then see what’s coming out of it, it doesn’t seem to add up. It doesn’t seem like this is the best that we can do as a species.
I have little quibble with the claim overall; see my thoughts on The Grapes of Wrath and Rage Against the Machine (surely the two best angry names ever) from a few weeks ago. If you can contemplate a world of institutionalised police brutality in first world countries; of Libor rate rigging causing global bankruptcy without punishment or structural reform; of the richest 62 people being as wealthy as the poorest three and a half billion; of religious zealots butchering women’s genitalia on the grounds of cultural tradition, without at least a glint of fuck this in your eye – then you’re completely disengaged. And Ire is good. It could do with more specificity: when singer Winston McCall rails against “the rats and the snakes”, and “kneel[ing] before the crooked few”, it would improve the song if he would name some names, or at least some particular issues in greater detail (the way that Steinbeck does with dustbowl landowners, the way that Orwell does with state surveillance, the way that “Killing in the Name” does with racism in American police forces). But for all that, the song “Crushed” from which those lines are taken is a mightily impressive slab of wrath. Ignore the cringey video, and listen to it before you read on.
Tell me, can you find a cure
When you can’t see, and you can’t feel the disease?
Can you seek a higher truth
When you’re living on your knees?
Where freedom grows from blood soaked soil
In the lands of hypocrisy.
Another vehement, animalistically rageful track from Ire is called “Bottom Feeder”. The lyrics “No mercy / no peace / you can’t escape this beast” repeat, building in volume and intensity. They rise from spoken-word to dry-throat yelling. The drums thunder behind a high-pitched, noteless swirl of guitar noise – then abruptly stop. In the moment that the music cuts away, McCall’s simple incandescent anger punches the fourth wall into shattered shards: “you can’t escape; NOW SNAP YOUR NECK TO THIS”. It’s a brutish grunt of a demand, which demands instant obedience in the adrenaline-charged carnival of Parkway Drive’s live performances.
This is where the context I mentioned before becomes interesting. Is Ire’s manifesto of justified rage legitimate? Yes, undoubtedly. And it executes those principles well. But I saw Parkway Drive perform an accomplished gig at the beautiful Brixton Academy the other night, and I didn’t leave feeling furious. I left feeling that my fury had been purged, through heat and sweat and the crush of the moshpits. If Ire is frustrated at “the disease”, why do Parkway offer an alleviation of its symptoms?
(I should here interrupt myself to say that I’d like this article to be longer and better researched. I might write a longer and better researched version of it later. But my friend Buchan is in town this weekend for the Parkway gig, and we’re off to do tourism around London very shortly, so this blog is getting done on the fly.)
“I couldn’t be happier to be here tonight: I couldn’t be more fucking thankful,” said McCall in his introduction to the song “Vice Grip” (a great song, but a weirdly cheerful cut among the more livid tracks on Ire). Mikhail Bakhtin wrote of the carnival as an opportunity to subvert hierarchy and suspend the normal rules by which society is governed; the oppressed are oppressed; and what Jacques Rancière called “the distribution of the sensible” (very roughly, the allocation of the world into those with speech (haves) and those without (have-nots)) is maintained. This is present and valuable in the metal show, in the Parkway gig. But there is also this feeling of catharsis; of anger burned off. Dissipated through its own expression.
Ire emits ire, with admirable potency – I’ll love it if Parkway can keep the flame of that fury alive for as long as the circumstances that inspire it persist. I’ll love it if their next album weaves in the unavoidable, blunt political references that The Grapes of Wrath or RATM’s ouvre (or even certain sections of Beyoncé’s recent “Formation”) use as a lens to focus their fury. But for metal itself, whilst the live performance remains the widely accepted pinnacle of metal-as-experience, and the carnival nature of this live perfomance still spins around exhortations such as “are you having a good time tonight!?”, then the controlled aggression of the moshpit will remain to some extent muzzled and undangerous. Like an extreme sport, or scripted wrestling, it’s adrenaline administered in reasonable doses.
McCall tells us to snap our necks to this, and we do. It feels good and it should and that’s a good thing. So long as we don’t pretend that it hurts the bottom feeders when we do. So long as we know that it’s a release, not a realisation, of that righteous ire.