Artist: Sum 41
Album: 13 Voices
Reviewer: Ryan Panny
For Fans of: Green Day, Escape the Fate, My Chemical Romance
For the first time in over half a decade, the music industry’s increasingly cluttered calendar of every possible thing imaginable includes brand new music from Sum 41, the Canadian five-piece responsible for ubiquitous punk-y radio smashes like “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep” in the early 2000s. However, the tunes responsible for this band’s rise to fame – as massive as they may have been and continue to be – feel obsolete and nearly irrelevant here; not only is planet Earth a different place in 2016 than it was back then, but the band are too. Now entering their late 30s, maturation and growth are only natural, and 13 Voices, their sixth full length, is a far cry from the snot-nosed Pop-Punk Sum 41 shelled out a decade and a half ago.
It won’t necessarily be a surprise to anyone has heard their last LP – 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder, which found the band harnessing a roaring metallic edge – but casual listeners may find themselves a bit shell-shocked. 13 Voices often embraces influences that drift away from Pop Punk and towards the Hard Rock and Metal end of the spectrum. Take “Breaking the Chain” for instance, which features a blistering bridge section with chunky, chugging guitars that break into sugary harmonies – it’s straight out of the Bullet for My Valentine playbook. Or there’s the snarling riffage in the “God Save Us All” bridge – something that could’ve easily been plucked from Zakk Wylde’s unreleased Black Label Society recordings. These short dips into more aggressive territory add a sober earnestness to these otherwise hooky tracks.
Another commendable feature of 13 Voices is the band’s meticulous layering and experimentation with different instruments. The exceptional title track, for instance, finds clean and distorted guitars working side-by-side during the second verse, and later adds a taste of acoustic guitars to the mix. In the aforementioned “Breaking the Chain”, a string section is cleverly used as the main counterpart to frontman Deryck Whibley’s vocals. On the anthemic “There Will Be Blood”, a few subtle piano notes pop into the second verse. Not to mention the cinematic intro to album opener “A Murder of Crows”, which sets the stage for a seamless transition into Bring Me the Horizon-esque angst, as Whibley hollers, “you’re all dead to me!”
Even more impressive is Sum 41’s commitment to extra doses of musicianship. The second guitar solo in “Goddamn I’m Dead Again” is peppered with some fairly technical arpeggios, some Kirk Hammett-style wah pedal fireworks and ends with an explosive, triumphant harmony section that is a strong contestant for best moment on the entire LP. Meanwhile, drummer Frank Zummo dials in some particularly blistering grooves on cuts like “Fake My Own Death” and the title track. While technical proficiency is by no means integral to Sum 41’s M.O., these quick displays of skill that are sprinkled throughout the record add a whole new dimension to the band’s sound.
Sure, the lyricism on 13 Voices is not poetry. The already tired phrase “take me away” is recycled twice in the album’s first three tracks – on “A Murder of Crows” and “Fake My Own Death” – not to mention There Will Be Blood’s “we’re gonna burn this down!” declaration. And the latter half of the LP finds the tracks “War” and “God Save Us All” jockeying for a gold medal in campy lyrics. It’s not a new issue in Sum 41’s style of music, nor is it a new criticism, but depending on the value the listener places on what is being said versus what is being played, it’s a potentially significant drawback.
Also, “The Fall and the Rise” is to be singled out for its unwarranted resurrection of early-00s Nu Metal – Whibley delivers his words in a clumsy half-rap that falls somewhere between dated and charmingly retro, but closer to the former. Luckily, the rest of the track compensates with a pounding chorus and infectious alarm clock guitars in the verses.
When all is said and done, 13 Voices is a tight, energetic ten tracks that sits comfortably at the intersection between Punk and Hard Rock. The band dip their toes into a bit of Metal, a bit of Alt-Rock, and some Pop influences as well, helping the LP remain dynamic throughout. While the Sum 41 legacy is inextricably linked to their early hits, 13 Voices is one of the strongest and most engaging releases in their catalogue.