Album review: Sum 41 – Heaven :x: Hell

Canadian punk icons Sum 41 bow out of the game after almost three decades with one hell of a final record…

Album review: Sum 41 – Heaven :x: Hell
Mischa Pearlman

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.

When Heaven comes to end, Hell bursts into flames. It does so timidly at first with the operatic intro of Preparasi A Salire. That roughly translates to ‘prepare to climb’, serving both as a metaphor for the idea of escaping Hell and also describing that happens musically over the next nine songs. Because Hell ramps up the energy to phenomenal levels – I Don’t Need Anyone and You Wanted War are Sum 41 at their most fun and frenetic, but also heaviest, all insane riffs and even more insane guitar solos that prove Sum 41 are just as adept at this metal-inspired style as they are at the lighter, popper stuff that made their name.

Hell is – obviously, understandably – the darker half of the record, and that’s something that’s substantiated by their vicious, dramatic cover of The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black, and the glowering, ominous closer How The End Begins. The latter is, clearly, a knowing, self-aware title, but it’s also a truly emphatic statement in terms of the song itself, which proves what Deryck said in that interview absolutely right.

There will be doubters and there will be haters, but Heaven :x: Hell is Sum 41 at their zenith and is, without any shadow of a doubt, the album of their career. What a way to leave.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: The Offspring, NOFX, Strung Out

Heaven :x: Hell is released on March 29 via Rise.

Catch the band at Download, which takes place from June 14 – 16, 2024 at Donington Park – get your tickets now. You can also see Sum 41 live at Rock For People this summer – get your tickets here.

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