Many are the bands that can’t effectively reproduce their studio sound in a live setting; few are those who excel live to the point they can’t recreate the magic on record. Parkway Drive might be the biggest single example of the latter – each of their gigs is a ceremony of sonic intensity, mosh nirvana. None of the four LPs in their back catalogue totally capture their brilliance – Horizons came closest but was held back by the lack of songwriting diversity that’s consistently plagued the band. Its members have admitted as much, and though 2012’s Atlas began to push in new directions it remained too closely married to the Parkway bread and butter (gang vocals, sweeping lead guitar lines, more breakdowns than a car insurance company deal with daily) to represent a new watershed. A change as conscious as the one on Ire could have been disastrous, but by retaining the same enthusiasm for the heavy stuff as any of their other music it has instead provided a long-awaited new dawn.
Warning bells began ringing when fans first got their ears on the fist pumping mid-tempo testosterone of “Vice Grip”, but its 80s leanings and shamelessly cheesy chorus make far more sense in the context of its parent record – likewise the Eastern samples and eerie nu metal crunch on “Crushed”. Both are far easier to swallow when preceded by steamrolling opener “Destroyer” and the viciously heavy “Dying to Believe”, which puts a fresh spin on the rhythm-oriented metalcore of past records. The riffs are as tightly drawn and filled out as ever, and though the drum patterns have been simplified, Luke Kilpatrick puts his stamp firmly on Ire with a series of gorgeous melodic guitar leads that often represent the central melody.
The least surprising news is how good Winston McCall’s vocals are. He’s somehow got even more impressive, punching the gut with visceral lows more guttural than ever before and even tapping into clean singing on stirring, epic finale “A Deathless Song”. Cutting the record down the middle is its most dramatic departure, “Writings On the Wall” pulling off the Nick Cave-goes-metal atmospherics far better than King 810 have ever managed. Here too McCall excels, his baritone grit building in power until a swaggering final chorus gives way to melancholic piano. “Fractured” if anything strays too close to older anthemic Parkway material to really take off, and is one of the weaker tracks alongside “Vicious”, which tries to repeat the “Vice Grip” success but lacks the same commitment to its additional pop rock dimension.
What ties Ire together is that for all its experimentation, it remains quintessentially a Parkway Drive album. “The Sound of Violence” and “Dedicated” are heavy metalcore of the highest order, the latter complete with a breakdown section to rival anything on Horizons or otherwise. “Bottom Feeder” may pinch the shuffling riff from Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” of all things, but it hits as hard as you want it to for the entirety of its length. Though the band have stretched their wings far farther than ever before, they’re still retaining the same core aggression that won them a fanbase in the first place – and crucially, the bulk of the songs that make up this album are still primed to be dropped like heavy metal nuclear bombs in the live arena.
Lyrically, there’s more to say here than most of their discography put together; musically, Parkway Drive have finally put paid to suggestions that they’re a one trick pony and, in escaping the trappings of the generic metalcore of old, delivered their best album to date. Ire may be more diverse, but it’s no less heavy than its predecessors and twice as exciting as any of them.