March 27, 2020 Parkway Drive – Viva The Underdogs (Documentary Review)
A timeworn story of fighters who went against the grain and forged their own path in Metal, Parkway Drive’s Viva The Underdogs documentary has already debuted on select screens back in January 2020, though some of its recent worldwide showings have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a light in the darkness: the soundtrack to the film, also titled Viva The Underdogs, arrives on Friday, March 27th, 2020, thanks to Epitaph Records.
As anyone interested in one of their DVDs should know, Australian Metal band Parkway Drive formed in 2003 in Byron Bay, Australia. By 2005, the quintet would release their full-length debut album, Killing with a Smile, then go on to release five more albums—ranging from 2007’s Horizons to their 2018 masterpiece, Reverence—over the next eleven years. There have been ups, including ARIA nods, and there have been downs, but these Metalheads have soldiered on through thick and thin, touring the world.
Which is where their new documentary, Viva The Underdogs, starts and ends: on the road. Here, we get to go behind-the-scenes with Parkway Drive—Vocalist Winston McCall, Guitarists Luke Kilpatrick and Jeff Ling, Bassist Jia O’Connor, and Drummer Ben Gordon—as they begin the countdown to their 2019 headlining set at the world’s largest Heavy Metal festival, Wacken Open Air, in Germany. To set the stage, they rewind back to their earliest years, sharing footage of a 2003 show at Byron Bay Youth Center, as well as a very special moment in their van as the young men try to predict where they will be in five years. From sleeping on the side of highways to stealing food from the headlining bands, they reminisce about where they have been to get to here.
Directed by Allan Hardy, the 73-minute film takes us on a journey from the band’s humble beginnings as “surf rats” from nowhere who played Hardcore to a self-made, self-managed quintet at the pinnacle of their career. Along the way, we hear from the band themselves, along with the likes of Metal Hammer’s Merlin Alderslade; tour manager Stefan “Oise” Ronsberger; Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz, CEO of Epitaph Records; booking agent Marco Walzel; Jose Mangin of SiriusXM; Thy Art Is Murder’s Chris “CJ” McMahon; drum tech David “Skan” Bichard; Thomas Jensen, Wacken Open Air Founder; Jodi Osborne, Jia’s mom; Ray Gordon, Ben’s dad; and more.
As the band begin rehearsals for their international Reverence Tour, we glance back with them through the years, but mostly focus on the now. Involved in every single aspect of their band, the quintet gather together to design and test their epic stage production for the tour, and subsequently debate how much pyro is too much pyro. In candid sessions they discuss their goals and what they hope for their future; much of which centers around their headlining stint at Wacken. The pressure is on to deliver a performance that will live up to the blood, sweat and financial tears that they have shed to get to Germany.
What we learn from Viva The Underdogs is that Parkway Drive are a band who take their music and stage performance seriously; they are passionate and driven to give their fans 500%, even when ill or mentally fatigued. However, as individuals, they lean more toward the light-hearted; they laugh, they goof around and film Jackass-worthy antics—sometimes in the buff. On stage, they are ferocious, backstage they are just like any of the rest of us—some days are a struggle, some days are a triumph, and sometimes they bring their moms around to liven things up. (Jia’s mom even takes her ceremonial first crowd-surfing expedition for the cameras at Wacken.)
A treasure trove for fans, Viva The Underdogs succeeds on multiple fronts, not the least of which is the band’s absolutely stellar live performance and inner-fire. Thanks to the direction of Hardy, the documentary is vivid, visually striking, and it delivers the talented band in pristine form. When they return home, away from the stage lights and pyro, Hardy chooses to spotlight the natural beauty and calming serenity of Byron Bay, a perfect contrast to the Heavy Metal tour circuit. In this, we see the other, much more personal side of Parkway Drive and go beyond just another ‘tour doc.’
And then there are the trivia-worthy moments that the fans are apt to embrace. Why does McCall christen himself the “Moses of the Mosh”? Ideally, which member of the band would prefer to be beside a river “shoving a pine cone up his ass?” Who loves video games? And which dingus ended up in a wheelchair for Wacken?
All humor aside, the stress of putting together the Reverence Tour is daunting. Failure is not an option. As they travel from opening night in Hamburg, Germany—where a virus attacks the band and crew and many are violently ill—to Leipzig, Frankfurt, Prague, Nottingham, and London, we see snippets of the complicated life on tour. In London, they discuss the challenge of headlining at Ally Pally. Then, when they finally make it to the U.S., they blow out the front of house PA on their first night in Hollywood. In this, we witness the less glamorous side of entertaining.
Understandably, there’s a heavy emphasis on the summer 2019 festivals throughout Europe, with footage from the likes of Full Force, Resurrection Fest, and, of course, Wacken. While these particular shows are the pinnacle for this band of Aussies, they also take time to praise their crew members, particularly the ingenuity of their sound engineer “Fishy,” frog hop around backstage, rip through bangers like “Prey,” “Dedicated,” “Absolute Power,” and laugh. The passionate sincerity that they put into their craft shines, and so do their personalities.
Don’t forget that the soundtrack to the documentary arrives on March 27th, 2020, thanks to Epitaph Records. The 14-song disc includes 11 tracks recorded live during the band’s epic headlining set at Wacken Open Air 2019, as well as three very special new studio tracks, the German remakes of “Würgegriff (Vice Grip),” “Die Leere (The Void),” and “Schattenboxen (Shadow Boxing) feat. Casper.” If the accompanying film has anything to teach us as Parkway fans, it is that we need this live disc!
This all makes Viva The Underdogs a truly exceptional experience from a band at the uppermost echelon of Metal. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Viva The Underdogs 5 of 5 stars.