Hark to the tale of Parkway Drive, the Byron Bay born metal maestros who rose from exceedingly humble beginnings to their current position in the upper echelons of the heavy music scene. Coming in at a tight 72 minutes and change, their new documentary celebrates their success, using their tour leading up to their headlining set at Germany’s legendary Wacken Open Air heavy metal music festival as both a framing device and narrative spine.
Using a standard mix of talking head interviews, archival film, fly on the wall observational material, and some impressive concert footage, director Allan Hardy puts us on the road with the quintet, sharing their triumphs and their occasional fumbles.
It’s a fun trip, if not an especially deep one – don’t go expecting any MTV Behind the Music scandals or warts ‘n’ all tales of rock ‘n’ roll excess. Viva The Underdogs, as its name suggests, is firmly on the side of its subjects, and while it never spills into outright hagiography, the film is definitely here to elevate, not denigrate. Extant fans, then, are the target audience; there’s nothing here that’ll really hook new viewers into the Parkway cult, but if you’re already on board, you’ll have a blast.
Two themes emerge as the tour progresses. One is the sheer steep incline of the band’s 18 year ascendance; the film strongly plays up the contrast between Parkway Drive’s early basement and yard party gigs and the thunderous scale of their current stadium-filling shows, the latter getting an extra frisson thanks to anecdotes about pyro effects of such scale that one poor sound engineer’s hearing was blown out. The other is that, despite their current juggernaut-sized touring show, Parkway remains very much a tight-knit family affair, with many crew members having been with the group since their early days, and the band itself still self-managing to this day. Family, community, and loyalty are forefronted; indeed, the film’s defining image might be bass player Jia O’Connor’s mother popping her crowd-surfing cherry and being passed over the heads of hundreds of roaring metalheads, indelibly connecting the crowd, the band, and their roots in one celebratory act.
For the faithful, the big attraction is almost certainly going to be the climactic Wacken set, and you get plenty of bang for your buck, with almost the entire show included. By the time we get there, though, it feels absolutely earned; we’ve been through plenty of pitfalls, including one LA show canceled due to technical troubles, weather-wracked European festival gigs, and more, so when the show finally does go on, it’s a moment of pure, unadulterated triumph.
Viva The Underdogs doesn’t rewrite the rock doc rulebook, but it never intends to. This is a love letter to Parkway Drive, their music, ethos, and continuing journey, and as such it fulfils its remit perfectly.
Viva The Underdogs is available for digital purchase now.