Sum 41 - Heaven :x: Hell (Cover Artwork)

Sum 41

Heaven :x: Hell (2024)

Rise records

Ajax, Ontario's Sum 41 is bidding adieu with a long winded farewell and an anthology of their musical tastes with Heaven :x: Hell.

The double album and eighth official studio release from the quintet was in discussion as early as 2022 to be the last release ever from the band following a final victory lap of tour dates and festival stops. The Canadian rock band, which have gained career notoriety for taking jagged genre dives between skater pop-punk, emo, metal, and everywhere else between, settled on nestling a long promised "return to their pop-punk sound" into side A, or Heaven, while the heavier tracks were reserved, as you can guess, on the Hell side, which is in itself a blessing to any grumpy Sum 41 fan favoring either camp.

Heaven delivers on the promise, firing up with previously singled "Waiting On A Twist Of Fate," breaking skater double-time drums to bubble gum pop vocals from Deryck Whibley and heavy shout-and-response backups from the group. An opener more reminiscent of 2001's All Killer No Filler. "Landmines," a tongue-in-cheek anthem about the artists' ultimate disbanding, has Blink-182 standard all over the place, much to be found in excess with 2007's Underclass Hero. This is, of course, nothing new for Sum 41, who have always hoisted their musical influences proudly in the air, "I Can't Wait" smashes the former with some heavy Green Day riffs, while "Time Won't Tell" even shimmers a glimpse of the early 00's genre at the very pinnacle of its success on the airwaves.

This isn't to suggest that Heaven is all without edge, "Future Primitive" cruises at the Offspring's highest beats-per-minute, and in under two and a half minutes. As with his entire time with the band, drummer Frank Zummo carries the entire record both stylistically, and with smart technical choices. "Dopamine" dips back into Billboard chart territory as far as pop sensibility, and Zummo's playing, as well as Whibley's vocal delivery, adapt effortlessly. Guitarists and bassist Dave Baksh, Tom Thacker, and Jason "Cone" McCaslin hold down the lighter stuff with ease, as their instrumental expertise out-grew that style of playing very early in the band's history. There is definitely a thing about perfecting such a particularly simplistic genre, but the three tastefully accompany side A with the right amount of magic in their picks to keep the songs memorable without overdoing it. "Not Quite Myself" is a great example, taking a self-reflective piece and loading it full of jump-along guitar octaves, clever hardcore chugs, and single-string solos.

"Bad Mistake" is a no-nonsense sing-along pop-rock downer, while "Johnny Libertine" digs way back into the band's roots with ninety seconds of quick sneering skate punk. "Radio Silence" reverts to the type of piano nuanced slow epics that Whibley just can't help but sneak into the end of most tracklistings, thus closing the book on the poppier half of Heaven :x: Hell, with some additional guidance from Hell opener "Preparasi A Salire." The bizarre interlude, borrowing familiar melodies from "Time Won't Tell" or "Dopamine" mixes in chromatic vocoder effects and a dissonant build. I will applaud them for connecting the two dots, and I'm sure Whibley is proud of the production-side of the piece.

Heavy hitting single "Rise Up" rips open next with riffs almost identical to "Mr. Amsterdam" from 2002's Does This Look Infected? but with flawless solo work from Baksh and Thacker. "Stranger In These Times" bangs even harder, upping Zummo's double-time and Whibley's rhythm guitar to truly unlock the band's carefully resourced three guitar player architecture. "I Don't Need Anyone" is a tough number that borders the same numetal corners as "Fake My Own Death" from 2016's 13 Voices. "Over The Edge" is a killer tune, dodging between quick thrash verses and a wide open chorus. This is the sound that the band ultimately perfected in 2019's Order In Decline, and is a nice moment to reflect on the first half of the release and admire the complete product for what it is.

"House Of Liars," while riddled with minor chord progressions and lyrical themes, is actually quite pretty, and perhaps some of the most timeless and successful writing out of the twenty songs. "You Wanted War" is also a banger, a kitchen sink of metal drum and guitar church, with Whibley's vocals directing every instrument. Very good song. The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" rolls in next with its signature high leads, and is performed and crafted damn well. It makes sense given the limitless talents of the instrumentalists that they can sprinkle their flavor on such an acclaimed song. (See their RATM "Sleep Now In The Fire" performance online,) the gentlemen have the chops to pay enough respect to the originals and pull these ideas off. "It's All Me" fires up with more tough vocals on fast double-time drums, an absolutely pitted guitar solo, and carries a sense of dread that thoughtfully shifts the mood towards the final chapter. "How The End Begins" creeps in with a quite intentional "dark outro" theme to the entire double-album, digging from the heavy, hopeless, almost-Linkin Park vibe held by several moments of 2004's Chuck.

Heaven :x: Hell is a very good release. Could it have been a bit shorter? Sure, but the good songs are great, and there are spectacular moments everywhere else. The sonic mix is fantastic, and swells and breathes alongside the entire production. Triumphant way for the band to call it quits. Much recommend.