Album Review: Sum 41 – Order In Decline
Sum 41’s musical evolution has been an intriguing one to watch. They originally emerged as the clown prince heirs to blink-182’s pop-punk throne but, as the years have gone by, they’ve morphed into something a little bit darker, a little bit edgier and a surprising amount heavier. In 2019, 23 years since they formed (albeit as a covers band working under the name Kaspir), they’re not entirely unrecognisable from the band that brought us the sunny fun of mega-hits like In Too Deep and Fat Lip, but they’ve grown up a hell of a lot in the intervening decades. 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder was the band’s sharpest turn away from their pop-punk starting blocks, setting them up to do pretty much anything they wanted. A line-up collapse and frontman Deryck Whibley’s hospitalisation for alcohol-related organ failure threatened to derail the whole thing but, heroically, the band rallied, regrouped and came back stronger with 13 Voices in 2016. Again, it branched out into the realms of heaviness, ballads and whatever else they fancied.
Order In Decline picks up exactly where that album left off, taking a similar approach with dynamic, punk-tinged rock and metal forming the base. This time out, though, everything has been ratcheted up a notch. The punkier passages are tighter and faster, while the more metal-edged riffs hit like a hammer. Taken as a whole, it’s the hardest and heaviest album they’ve ever made, and across its 10 tracks, it’s also Sum 41 at their most creative and willing to explore their frontiers.
A sombre piano starts things off before Turning Away kicks in proper with a high-tensile stuttering riff. Add a blazing solo straight from the band’s heavy metal alter-egos Pain For Pleasure, and things are off to a flying start. Out For Blood keeps the energy up with a crashing skate-punk edge and some downtuned riffing, before The New Sensation throws the album’s first real curveball. The pulsing groove and phrasing come across distinctly Muse-esque, although Deryck’s voice doesn’t attempt to emulate Matt Bellamy’s vocal acrobatics, instead doing his own thing which adds a rough-edged balance to the song’s vast sheen.
On the subject of Brit-rock references, Heads Will Roll comes in on a gigantic riff similar to the stomp of Royal Blood’s Figure It Out, before the boisterous chorus heads off in its own direction. Eat You Alive features some seriously weighty metallic riffs, while 45 (A Matter Of Time) takes Donald Trump – the 45th president of the United States – to task via a rolling punk charge that also features a surprising hint of something close to Deftones.
Despite the Trump-baiting, Deryck insists that this isn’t a political album as such. There’s an underlying sense of tension and paranoia, however, and even the album title suggests a world sliding towards chaos. The frontman and chief songwriter has, by his own admission, been influenced by the global state of play, but it’s represented in a more human manner than a political one. In fact, two of the stand-out moments are both the most personal and most musically restrained on here: the emotional Never There addresses Deryck’s relationship with his absent father, while Catching Fire is a multilayered ballad that aches with themes of loss and love.
It’s a wonderfully nuanced end to an album that is otherwise direct and often razor-sharp. The edges are softened by those pop-punk melodies that still lurk deep in Sum 41’s DNA, but this is certainly not a pop-punk album. The evolution continues, and it remains an impressive thing indeed.