Album review: Sum 41 – Heaven :x: Hell

In our cover story with Sum 41 last week, frontman Deryck Wibley made some bold statements about Heaven :x: Hell.

“This is the best idea that Sum 41 has ever had for a record,” he said. A bit later he doubled down: “If there’s one record that defines who we are, it’s this one.”

They’d be big words for any band, let alone one of Sum 41’s stature, but after their announcement last year that they’re calling it a day after 27 years together, the Canadians have only ramped up the pressure for themselves. So why not make a sprawling, 20-track double album that’s divided into two halves? And yes, they’re called Heaven and Hell. The former pays homage to their earliest pop-punk days and the bands that inspired them, while the latter leans – literally – more heavily into the band’s metal influences. Those, of course, were always there, but became more salient across their near-three-decades, especially as Deryck’s much-publicised, near-fatal struggles with alcoholism turned their music darker.

While significantly different in sound, Heaven and Hell are two halves of the same whole, and complement each other significantly to amplify the effect of the album overall. It all starts with the joyous, major chord frenzy of Waiting On A Twist Of Fate – a song that’s as catchy and infectious as anything Sum 41 have ever made. The band might be coming to an end, but this is no half-hearted cash-in. Landmines and I Can’t Wait are similarly impassioned, though their upbeat melodies are at odds with the angst and anguish that clearly inspired them.

Conversely, the more melancholy Time Won’t Wait makes no attempt to hide the despair within. And then there’s the blistering Future Primitive, which channels early Offspring. It’s not just a great song, but also a reminder of just how brilliant that band once were. The tempo gets turned down slightly for the second half of the first half, save for 95 seconds of the NOFX-esque Johnny Libertine, but even so, Not Quite Myself and the epic, slow-burning crescendo of Radio Silence brim with intensity and intention. The whole thing brims with heartfelt emotion, too.