Back in the early 2000s, Sum 41 hit the mainstream with a Pop-Punk classic called ‘Fat Lip’. Unlike most of the songs in that genre circa 2001, its Pop-Punk ratio was more heavily favoured toward Punk. It separated itself from the crowd with an angry edge. Unlike their contemporaries, who all seemed to be using teen angst to make a quick buck, Sum 41 were genuinely riddled with it. The record had a dejection, a bitterness, and a rage at a society, community and patriarchy that had not so much lost faith in them, but, in fact, had never really had any.
This wasn’t just lacking from other band’s songs, it was lacking from most other Sum 41 singles. It was as if the band were hiding their true emotions behind adolescent mischief and immaturity. This was exemplified by the band members’ use of monikers like ‘Brownsound’ or frontman Deryck Whibley calling himself ‘Bizzy D’.
In later albums, there would be a similar spark that would outshine the rest of the output. Routinely, Sum-41 records would contain one song that would eschew the frathouse antics in favour of saying something deeper. ‘The Hell Song’, ‘We’re All to Blame’, ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’, ‘Little Know it All’; these were the songs that betrayed Deryck Whibley’s deeply embedded, unresolved issues, and were, without fail, the best songs on their respective albums. It’s what has allowed the band to endure past the point of relevance in the popular music scene. It’s the reason why their hard-core fan base haven’t abandoned them even when the radio and TV stations did.
Unfortunately, in recent times, Whibley’s issues seemed to have gotten the better of him. Struggling with alcoholism, he had a near-death experience in 2014. His time away from the world recovering taught him a few things. He laid those lessons out in 13 Voices.
In 13 Voices, Sum 41 do something that they’ve been threatening to do for a while now. Drop the pop from the punk. Well, that’s not strictly true. It’s still in there, but it’s barely audible underneath the hollering vocals and thrashing guitars. There’s even less punk too. Sum 41’s affinity for metal has never been a secret. The band procliamed in Fat Lip, ‘Maiden and Priest were the gods that we praised’. They sound closer to their self-proclaimed idols on this album than they do on any previous. One track even ends on such an abrupt note I was reminded of Napalm Death.
As well as having a darker sound, their themes are much darker too, and this time around, that portentousness is consistent throughout the entire running time. The first three songs alone have some variation on the word ‘death’ in their title. Opening track, ‘Murder of Crows (You’re All Dead To Me)’ is Whibley drawing a line under his life and cutting all of the hangers-on out of it. It is a declaration of a track. He isn’t messing around anymore. He is living his life and making music for himself and no one else.
That isn’t to say that the album is full of cynical masterpieces. Sum 41 are just as capable of padding out their album with average tracks here as they were in 2007. Just because they are sticking to a formula they’ve had more success with in the past – and more consistently – that doesn’t make the hit ratio more reliable.
But it does make it the best thing they’ve released since ‘Does This Look Infected?’. 13 Voices is a blast of punk energy, full of noise and fury, and songs written with a bleak honesty that achieves the element of catharsis that was so important for the frontman to achieve. ‘Bizzy D’ is dead. Long live Deryck Whibley.