After nearly dying from alcohol abuse, Sum 41 Deryck Whibley felt inspired to turn to that which has always been a means of catharsis for him – Music. He was so inspired in fact that out of this inspiration came an entirely new Sum 41 record, a prospect that seemed nigh impossible in the wake of the divide previous record Underclass Hero formed four years ago.
Naturally, any record made under such dire circumstances is bound to be full of life. Indeed, 13 Voices is lively. For the five-piece veteran punk outfit this is their most inspired work in years – A fiery, explosive, defiant experience that borders on being thrash metal one minute and the next feeling derived from Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory.
Any Skumfuk will realize throughout 13 Voices this is more of a return to form revival than an outright climb out of the grave. What separates it from its predecessors however is the heaviness of its content. All of the songs document the fury Deryck feels towards the current state of the music industry (“God Save Us All”), his journey to sobriety (“Twisted By Design”) and his uphill battle against his demons (“Breaking The Chain”) among other revelations and exclamations from the frontman’s imagination. It all reads like a diary chronicling the past four years that we haven’t heard much from the Sum 41 camp. Judging by the quality of the music though, their return is more than welcome.
It helps to ease the listener in dramatically to such an honest set of songs, something opener “A Murder of Crows”‘ first half capably executes before the violent mood sets in and ignites the thrasher of 13 Voices – “Goddamn I’m Dead Again”. This is THE track guitarists Tom Thacker and Dave Brownsound especially get to show their chops. This is also where Sum 41’s name experiences some surprising growth in the form of the biggest shredfest you’ll hear this year, taking up the entire second half of the song. Metallica seem to be an influence on this one.
The rest of the record bounces between brimstone intensity with anthems such as hit single “Fake My Own Death” and the brilliantly sinister “There Will Be Blood” as well as surefire, well-composed radio singles “Breaking The Chain” and “War”. The title track is a perfect blend of both modes and “The Fall And The Rise” is the perfect nostalgia trip, feeling like “Fat Lip” if Hans Zimmer had composed “All Killer, No Filler”.
For the most part though, 13 Voices refrains from repeating history while still retaining what makes Sum 41 who they are. The production is raw and expressive with plenty of vocal overlays that only work to make the songs feel bigger. The willingness to use more forms of instrumentation such as pianos and string sections certainly provides a more dramatic air to the vibe of the record whereas the new drummer Frank Zummo fits in like he’s been with the band for years. To the guitarists’ credit there isn’t a single riff that won’t get stuck in every listener’s cranium, specifically “God Save Us All”‘s main melody.
Deryck himself, the iconic ringleader and orchestrator of Sum 41, sings some of the biggest choruses and catchiest verses of his career, never stumbling when it comes to forming hooks. The grit and slight wear in his voices is suitable considering both his age, previous habits and expressions, and end up bringing him to a more intimate place than before, both vocally and lyrically. While this isn’t his personal best performance, it is his most revealing and that counts for a lot when it comes to his emotion. The years have actually been quite kind to his abilities and he is just as formidable a frontman as ever, his unique take-on-the-world attitude ever present. It sure is good to have him back.
Records that show that our heroes and rockstars are very much still human beings who struggle can end up leaving quite an impact on us. Time stops for no one, but its effects can be enough to stop a person and show them they need to change their ways before it’s too late. 13 Voices is a personal record that takes on this very subject, the regrets and even, flaws of its composer being shown quite clearly. Sum 41 have always been a band hungry to take on the world and expressing it imaginatively. Though they are growing up, they still remain defiant and outspoken in an ever-changing environment. Deryck is still overcoming his instabilities, but the progression this record represents for him as a person and his bandmates is inspiring. Sum 41 haven’t said everything they need to say yet. As a matter of fact, their end still feels pretty far off. Welcome back.