Australian metalcore group Parkway Drive return from the raw production of their controversial 2010 album Deep Blue with the more adventurous and nuanced follow-up, Atlas. Some fans and critics squabbled over Deep Blue's intent and production. The songs trudged on full-bore for most of the record's duration, relying heavily on chunky breakdowns and production so guitar-centric it obscured a lot of finer sonic points completely. Atlas was deftly produced in brilliant colors with help from metal producer Matt Hyde, accentuating some of the subtleties of an admittedly not very subtle band. While the band still leans on moshy breakdowns a good deal over the course of the album, technical dual guitar leads sneak into a lot of the better songs, varying from the tenuous and slow New Wave of British Heavy Metal-esque leads on "Dark Days" to straight-up speed shredding on "The Slow Surrender." Songs like "The River" are where Parkway Drive really diversify their sound, incorporating clean wandering guitars and even melodic female vocals into the intro before exploding into a creepingly melodic thrash workout. Title track "Atlas" also goes into experimental waters, with a treated drum sample and chiming acoustic guitars providing an unlikely backdrop for tortured vocals, eventually incorporating plucked orchestral instruments and a dramatic string section. Vocalist Winston McCall's guttural singing is one of the best parts of the band. His versatile growls, spoken parts, and gut-busting screams convey a sense of sincerity, whether it sounds desperate, ferocious, or simply impassioned. Though it will be difficult to catch a lot of what he's saying without a lyric sheet, McCall's lyrics tend away from the usual approach to topics of pain and anger that a lot of hardcore bands deal with, touching instead on environmental concerns, religious confusion, and disappointment in a thoughtful, ponderous way. While the album's not without its share of awkward moments (McCall's ham-fisted proclamation "THERE IS NO GOD!!" on "Sleight of Hand" comes off more like metal parody than actual sentiment), the album's depth and openness to straying away from typical devices of the genre make Atlas one of the more engaging and thought-provoking metalcore releases amid a sea of the interchangeable riffs and howls of other bands.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas