Pop-punk powerhouses Sum 41 say goodbye on ambitious final album

Ever the ugly step-sibling of pop punk’s largest acts, Sum 41 have consistently brought their unique brand of metal-injected energy to the table regardless of critical perception. They’ve always been too pop for the punk crowd and too punk for the pop crowd to really capitalise on the mainstream explosion of the genre in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. This newfound popularity saw the likes of Green Day and blink-182 soar in the charts, with records like American Idiot and Enema of the State dwarfing the success of Sum 41’s standout albums, All Killer, No Filler and Does This Look Infected?

Despite this, the band have managed to pave their own path over the last two and a half decades, amassing an impressively varied discography while doing so. Their first two albums stuck primarily in the pop punk wheelhouse, with commercially successful singles such as “In Too Deep” and “Fat Lip” becoming staples at rock nightclubs the world over. However, the band began to incorporate more influence from their heavy metal heroes (Maiden and Priest were the gods that we praised”) as time went on. The previously mentioned Does This Look Infected? and (the highly underrated) Chuck saw Sum 41 include more riffs, more guitar solos and a high-octane metal energy into their sound. This only continued with records like 13 Voices and Order In Decline merging the two genres of pop punk and metal as if they were always meant to be together.

With Sum 41 announcing that Heaven :x: Hell is to be the band’s final album, it was only right for them to take this unholy genre fusion to its logical conclusion – a double album presenting a more straightforward pop punk side (‘Heaven’) and a metal influenced second half (‘Hell’). 

Kicking off with ‘Heaven’, the first three tracks, “Waiting On A Twist Of Fate”, “Landmines” and “I Can’t Wait” show Sum 41 have not lost any of their early pop punk charm with stadium-ready choruses and breakneck speed power chords galore. It’s clear from the onset, that the band intends to go out on a high. Following on from this, “Time Won’t Wait” and “Dopamine” serve the listener slices of pop punk a la Machine Gun Kelly’s recent forays into the genre to great effect, with the latter in particular no doubt slotting straight into the band’s final tour setlists.

“Johnny Libertine” is another high point on ‘Heaven’, with its no-nonsense punk steamrolling through its short runtime, aiming a spotlight at the standout performance on the record. That is, Frank Zummo’s excellent drum work. Zummo has been behind the kit for Sum 41 since the departure of founding member Steve Jocz in 2013 and has shown time and time again why he’s the perfect fit for the job.

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‘Heaven’ is not without its faults however, as a couple of the tracks do feel a little undercooked. “Bad Mistake” (which sounds suspiciously similar to The Offspring’s “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid”) is a slightly underwhelming moment with its repetitive post-chorus chanting and lacklustre verses. The closer “Radio Silence” is a saccharine sweet slower number that never really seems to get going. But it does fill the obligatory Sum 41 ‘sad song’ quota on the album. 

Things start to heat up with ‘Hell’ however, as pre-release single and opener “Rise Up” kicks off the metal half in incendiary fashion. Chunky riffs and octave leads pepper this track that sounds like a modernised take on the band’s Does This Look Infected? style. This song also features perhaps the heaviest riff Sum 41 have ever written, evoking similar vibes to Bring Me The Horizon’s Sempiternal era. “I Don’t Need Anyone” features groovy bass-laden verses and a much needed shredding solo from guitarist Dave Baksh – Sum 41’s secret weapon that continues to set them apart from other acts in the genre.

Unlike the last few Sum 41 records, Baksh doesn’t get quite as much time to shine on this double-album. And that’s to its detriment. No song exemplifies this more than “House of Liars”, which is full of forgettable riffs and phoned in performances that could have really used that signature Baksh boost. 

“You Wanted War”, on the other hand, suffers from no such problem. The song fluidly moves through its thrash-like guitar passages, virtuoso solo section and anthemic chorus with ease, resulting in one of the finest tracks on this double-album package. Following this is perhaps the most bizarre inclusion of a cover I’ve ever seen on an album. “Paint It Black” is a fairly uninteresting and bland cover of a Rolling Stones classic that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The band quickly regains favour with the punky rage of “It’s All Me” before closing the record out with “How The End Begins”. This final track unfortunately fails to continue with the same vigour found in “It’s All Me”, leading to the album fizzling out with a pop instead of going out with a bang.

Heaven :x: Hell is clearly an ambitious record to end a career on but the result ends up being somewhat of a mixed bag. A few career highlights stand aside some songs that should have been left in the vault or remained confined to a post-release B-sides EP. Overall, it’s a solid final offering that cements their legacy as one of the best acts in the genre, despite its flaws. Not many bands can say that their final release contains some of their strongest material but with Heaven :x: Hell, Sum 41 can and that’s more than enough.

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