If you were to ask someone to pick out a band from the early 00’s pop-punk scene that never really reached their full potential, some would choose Sum 41. After releasing perhaps one of the genre’s strongest debut albums in the form of ‘All Killer No Filler’, the Ontario natives went on to forge a career based on increasingly hard-hitting punk rock anthems. However by 2014, it seemed to many that the wheels might have been coming off the bandwagon when frontman/guitarist Deryck Whibley was suddenly hospitalised with liver and kidney failure caused by “extensive drinking”. Luckily this illness wasn’t the end and, five years on from their last album ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’, the band returned with a new release entitled ‘13 Voices‘.
Given the band’s more classic material, it still feels somewhat jarring that opener ‘A Murder of Crows (You’re All Dead To Me)’ essentially opens with a full minute of atmospheric buildup before a powerful chord and Whibley’s vocals suddenly come crashing into the mix. Sonically, there’s actually more in common with the most recent Bring Me The Horizon material here, as strange a comparison as that might seem. As far as introductions to a record go, it’s by no means bad, but the more alternative sound might be enough to turn some casual listeners away at the very first moments.
‘Goddamn I’m Dead Again’ follows, and shows the band suddenly bursting out at breakneck pace in a style far more reminiscent of their older punk leanings. This is the first glimpse of the band’s now three-man guitar setup, which sees Whibley accompanied by Tom Thacker and most-importantly a returning Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh, and the trio concoct a brilliantly chaotic sound that basically serves as the strongest moment on the entire record, with spiralling guitar solos punctuated amidst Frank Zummo’s furiously-paced drumming.
As a record, ’13 Voices’ really can feel like two separate releases. Where it really succeeds is when Whibley and co. really go all-out – the likes of ‘Fake My Own Death’ pack maybe one of the most anthemic choruses the band have produced since their early years, whilst the record’s title track alternates between furious punk riffing and something not dissimilar to Black Parade-era My Chemical Romance.
Where it could be said to fall apart, however, is immediately after this when the band take a slower and more ballad-like approach. ‘Breaking The Chain’ effectively kills off all momentum that the previous two tracks had amassed, falling off instead into a mid-tempo snooze-fest that can be summed up as something akin to what Green Day might consider a B-side these days. In particular, ‘War’ stands out as one of the weakest tracks, with the kind sugary-sweet chorus tone that sounds like it’s been done to death by hundreds of other bands (often to a higher standard).
Picking the tempo back up slightly as the album draws closer to it’s end is the somewhat combative titled ‘God Save Us All (Death To POP)’. This number begins with yet more boring gang-vocals, before pulling a reverse of ‘Breaking The Chain’ and kicking back off into a high-speed punk track that reminds you of what it is that Sum 41 do best. It’s a motif that somewhat carries on into penultimate track ‘The Rise And The Fall’, which features some genuinely great vocal interplay and a fun rhythmic beat set to soaring guitar lines.
It’s a bit of a shame then that closing track ‘Twisted By Design’ essentially sees the momentum once again fall off a cliff, as the band essentially try combining these two styles for what ends up as a bit of a mess. The aforementioned slower sections serve only to highlight really how Whibley’s voice doesn’t suit the more melodic style, whereas the quicker moments fail to inspire anything much other than feelings that this is a retread of the album’s earlier and better sections.
Overall, ’13 Voices’ can really only be described as a half-decent entry to the Sum 41 catalogue. Boasting a couple of standout tracks that should make it into the band’s live set with relative ease, it’s by no means up to the same standard as their first few albums, and the weaker moments genuinely sound as though the band have attempted to imitate bands who are much better than they are in those areas. Hardcore fans will still likely lap this one up, but for everyone else, it’s difficult not to wonder by now if Sum 41’s time has now passed.
’13 Voices’ is out now via Hopeless Records.