Sound — 4
As pop punk bands make a name for themselves with a few simple and catchy hits, the journey after that initial success is one that many have had a tough time navigating. For Sum 41, they made a confident first step in a different direction with 2004's "Chuck," which peppered in alt rock and alt metal moments with their pop punk sound, but things would go downhill from there. 2007's "Underclass Hero" received much critical panning for its attempt of a more mature pop/rock sound clashing with the straightforward pop punk appeal of the band, not to mention the moments where the album felt like it was ripping off bands like Green Day, Blink-182 and Smashing Pumpkins. Whether dismissing that criticism or acting directly in spite of it, Sum 41 would commit even further to those musical aspirations with 2011's "Screaming Bloody Murder" - though this only continued to polarize those who hated the new direction, between that outcome or seeing Sum 41 high-tail it back to their dependable pop punk style, it was actually a decent step in another direction.
The recent activity of Sum 41 has been framed as a revival of sorts. After frontman Deryck Whibley's health issues put a damper on the band's activity, 2015 was a major rebuilding phase, with Sum 41 starting a crowd-funding campaign for their intended sixth album, and reuniting with original lead guitarist Dave Baksh. It's a helpful narrative, especially when many have adhered to the idea that the band had lost their way in the last couple of albums, but with their sixth album, "13 Voices," Sum 41 don't return to their pop punk, but instead, don themselves with all the bells and whistles of contemporary pop rock that they can. Along with big and empty arena rock characteristics of stomp/clap beats and singalongs in "There Will Be Blood" and "War," orchestral components that were reasonably dabbled with in "Underclass Hero" now act as an overly grandiose crutch, heard in "A Murder of Crows" and "Breaking the Chain."
This ostentatious pop mentality in the composition of "13 Voices" is a clear example of how building too much around a good, simple idea buries its virtues, often being the kiss of death for bands who veer in this direction. At the base of Sum 41's songwriting, numerous songs wield some alright riffs, but get encumbered with a mess load of other components (see the overstuffed eponymous song and "God Save Us All (Death to POP)") or cramped and tinny production jobs (see "Fake My Own Death" and "The Fall and the Rise"). The guitar aspect of the album also tries reaching a new peak in the shredding guitar solos of "Goddamn I'm Dead Again," a throwback to the notable guitar solo activity in "Chuck," but it overshoots the mark, coming off as hyperbolic as DragonForce or Falling In Reverse.
Lyrics — 4
With Whibley's lyrics in Sum 41's previous couple of albums upping the ante in substance, his lyrics in "13 Voices" tumble from those previously higher levels, despite the general themes being a mix between the rebellious likes of "Underclass Hero" and the existential subject matter in "Screaming Bloody Murder." This time around, Whibley sounds much more vague and aimless in his declarations of resistance ("I'm ready to settle the score / Get ready 'cause this is war" in "War"; "And now I'm coming back stronger and I'm shooting just to kill" in "The Fall and the Rise"; "I'll be there just to put a bullet in your head" in the eponymous song), and numerous lyrics just seem like reiterations of the same themes, like that of time ("I've got a lease on borrowed time" in "Goddamn I'm Dead Again"; "Days pass me by like I'm saving wasted time" in "Breaking the Chain"), selling one's soul ("At least I've still got a soul to sell" in "Fake My Own Death"; "Just sell your souls for the lowest bargain" in "There Will Be Blood"), and dealing with the devil ("Make no mistake, I've paid my price / I've done my time with the devil in disguise" in "Breaking the Chain"; "I've been to hell and back still, I've paid the devil his bills" in "The Fall and the Rise"), being as cookie-cutter as the album's sound.
Overall Impression — 4
While at face value, it's more commendable of Sum 41 to make a comeback album that takes a new step forward rather than trying to be "All Killer, No Filler, pt. II," the attempt to sound larger than life in the arena rock output of "13 Voices" rings hollow with its overloaded arrangements and embellished production value heard by plenty of other pop rock acts. Compared to the more mindful songwriting in "Screaming Bloody Murder" that made efforts to be reserved and dynamic, "13 Voices" wants to be as big and loud as it can be, making it a very boring, exhaustible album.