One of the great things about following a band throughout the arc of their career is being there for the moments when they hit on periodic successes and evolve over time. On the latest offering from Canadian punk vets, Sum 41, we get a glimpse at their continued growth and a maturation process that feels as if it’s still yet to reach its peak. I, like many people, am more familiar with the young and snotty approach of this band that, arguably, peaked with the success of their first three albums. The band never really went away so much as popular music moved on.
Of course, over any period of time people, artists, and their work should, and usually do, change. That is definitely the case with Sum 41 and is front-and-center on Order in Decline. Deryck Whibley’s subject matter here is deeper and more personal even while veering into the political climate without making this a political album. The abilities and talents of Dave Baksh (lead guitar) and Frank Zummo (drums) remain unquestionable. Where the band truly excel here is in crafting an album with disparate influences and styles that create a cohesive whole. That’s without mentioning that, in places, this is the heaviest the band have sounded.
“Out for Blood”, the lead single, is best listened to very loud and features all of the parts that make the band uniquely compelling while situated in territory between Senses Fail, Bad Religion, and their former pop punk glory. Another ready influence on this album, especially Baksh’s leads, is classic metal and thrash. No, really. Even Jason “Cone” McCaslin’s basslines have more bite this time around. Similarly heavy tracks are “Death in the Family”, which borrows here and there from late-90s hardcore, in the guitar riffs and “45 (A Matter of Time)”, which is about exactly who you think it is, brings more heavy guitar riffs reminiscent of System of A Down and others. “The People Vs…” channels fellow Canadian thrash-punks, Propagandhi, filtered through some Bad Religion-esque singalongs which is another sign of how heavy the band can be.
The other side of that coin is that the band branch out in a lot of other directions over the course of Order in Decline. While it never strays too far from the alt-pop-punk with metal overtones that has typified their sound over the years, it does give us some new stylistic angles with which to view the band. “Catching Fire” and “Turning Away” feel heavily accented and effected by the likes of late period Alkaline Trio and Blink-182. Meanwhile, “Never There” is, at its core, a heart-on-sleeve ballad. Both “Eat You Alive” and “The New Sensation” feature interesting turns at Wolfmother and Muse, respectively, influenced tunes particularly in riff construction and guitar tones. That said, as “all over the place” as that may sound on paper, the actual results as an album come off deeply satisfying in part due to excellent sequencing of tracks.
The most remarkable thing about this album is the way that all of the various and disparate rock influences come together to create what turned out to be the most mature and in-depth release of Sum 41’s career so far. What’s exciting is that Order in Decline really just begins to scratch the surface of many new potential directions the band can go. It’s pissed off, aggressive, and wildly articulate in a way that few groups can achieve. To say it might have been unexpected from Sum 41 might be putting it mildly. However, the commentary on a world in decline here shows no sign of such for this band.
Order In Decline drops July 19th via Hopeless Records.