Music documentaries come in various forms. There’s the rise-fall-rise film that provides a warts and all perspective of a loved band across their career – see Dig! -, or the faithful ode to a legend who has passed away – the recent Slim & I for example -, or the pseudo-promo piece that gives what eager fans want: ala Viva the Underdogs, a brash and brutish ‘documentary’ about Aussie metalcore band Parkway Drive.
My perspective on Parkway Drive and the plentiful array of Aussie metalcore bands was often one driven by derision. Often they’d appear in a Triple J Hottest 100 countdown and I’ll be scratching my head as to how they were included. But, thanks to the likes of Simon Blackburn and his brilliant podcast Take My Tone, my appreciation and understanding of the skill and talent of metalcore bands has grown over time, and while they’re not the first thing I’d reach to listen to, they’re also not something I’d skip straight away if it came on.
With that in mind, Viva the Underdogs was never going to be a film built for me. This is, quite simply, a fan service film – and that’s perfectly fine. Parkway Drive have made quite the name for themselves, and as a self managed band, that means that they’re able to pump out a bunch of DVD’s that help build their brand. Viva the Underdogs follows up from previous outputs including the highly praised Parkway Drive: Home is for the Heartless, a film that followed the band on a massive 42-country tour.
Here, Parkway Drive gives a small bit of insight into their origins, with the metal music scene dubbing them as surf rats who may or may not have a right to be playing metal music. They landed on the scene with the community’s perception that they were poseurs imposing themselves onto a music scene without clear evidence of their talent. That evidence came quick enough though, with Parkway Drive being more than eager to prove their worth, and instilling a powerful drive to be at the top.
Viva the Underdogs follows them on the journey to be the headlining act of the Wacken Open Air music festival – one of the largest metal music fests in the world, where bands like Motorhead, Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth have all topped the bill. To have that honour means that they’ve made it as a band, and have transformed themselves from being ‘surf rats’ to genuine music legends.
That drive for success is matched by their distinct Aussie aesthetic that fuels a freedom to be harder, more intense, more explosive, giving them the power to carry on that short.fast.loud vibe that comes with heavy metal music. Chuck on the fact that note about being a self managed band, and it’s clear how Parkway Drive have managed to maintain their own relevance and image across fifteen years. They only have themselves to answer to, and as such, their mateship helps create a feeling that these are just a bunch of blokes having a lark around the world.
As such, the jovial nature instills a workman-like ethic to their performances. They’re there for the audience, not themselves; with one band member swallowing down a mouthful of vomit as they blast an audience’s ears apart, all the while being horrendously ill, highlighting this distinct fact.
As with many metal bands, the amount of theatrics and showmanship is immense, with an array of pyrotechnics, a signature Molotov cocktail that ignites their PW symbol, seizure inducing lights, and a unfurling spool of metal mosh pits with people thrashing around in a circle, all highlighting the theatrical nature of metal music. This is not a regular gig. It’s almost operatic, transforming the proscenium arch into a fourth wall breaking event that invites the audience to participate with the band completely with crowd surfing and deity-like praising with members of the audience bowing on hands and knees to the band.
As it is, Viva the Underdogs is less of a documentary and more of a marketing film, providing a slice of paraphernalia for the Parkway Drive faithfuls and heavy metal fans. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, as it takes me back to the birth of the DVD era, where bands embraced the ease of pushing out concert films and homemade documentaries on the format, giving fans around the world access to their faves in a way that was once restricted. There’s nothing objective about the film, with it being full of praise and celebration of Parkway Drive, leaning into the notion that bands and artists have to be in control of their own image.
While a catalogue of films full of unending praise may be detrimental to their legacy, that doesn’t really matter in the moment. There are moments of frustration – a blown centre console ruins a sold-out show, ending it early, and later an empty Molotov dampens an otherwise great event – but nothing that would scar the bands legacy or devoted fanbase. Any negative issues surrounding the band (if there are any at all) will inevitably arise in the history books of time, but for now, the enthusiasm and positivity that the band have is welcome and enjoyable to bathe in for seventy or so minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, Viva the Underdogs is an entertaining film, albeit replete with some fairly obnoxious interstitial graphics of a burning globe, it’s just not delivering anything that’ll convert the unconverted. For Parkway Drive fans, this is the kind of film that’ll be on high rotation, but for music documentary aficionados like myself in search of the next Meal Tickets, well, we’ll just have to keep looking.
Director: Allan Hardy
Featuring: Parkway Drive, Ben Gordon, Luke Kilpatrick
Writers: Macario De Souza, Allan Hardy, Blayke Hoffman, Mick Soiza