Sum 41’s 2016 release, 13 Voices, saw singer/guitarist Deryck Whibley reckoning with the infamous drinking habit that nearly killed him. With that out of his system, he approached the band’s seventh album, Order in Decline, from a renewed position of strength. Inspired and energized by the unwavering fan support he experienced on the band’s comeback tour, Whibley went on a writing frenzy while still out on the road. “It got to the point where when I got home from the 13 Voices tour cycle, I just had all these ideas and started putting them together,” Whibley tells Apple Music. “All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Holy shit—do I have a new album already? I guess I do!”
But while looking for lyrical inspiration, Whibley found himself wrestling with a destructive force more formidable than alcoholism: the polarizing political landscape of post-Trump America. (And he’s not just being an armchair Canadian critic—the Ajax, Ontario, native now calls Los Angeles home for part of the year.) Sum 41 isn’t known for being a particularly topical band, and Whibley is quick to note that Order in Decline “doesn’t include any lines about immigration policy.” But it’s impossible to ignore the unsettled undercurrent that courses through the album. The band's playful pop-punk has always been counterbalanced by a sincere appreciation for '80s metal, which is all the more pronounced now that they've settled into the triple-guitar formation (featuring Whibley and original foil Dave “Brownsound” Baksh alongside the latter’s onetime replacement, Tom Thacker) introduced on 13 Voices.
Free of the band’s characteristic snark and smirk, Order in Decline is Sum 41’s hardest and angriest record to date, marked by thrashing diatribes like “Out for Blood” and the wholly unsubtle “45 (A Matter of Time),” where Whibley tells a certain sitting president that “a number is all you are to me.” But as Whibley explains, he’s not so much expressing his anger at the current administration—he’s more expressing his frustration with a world that has gotten so messed up that even a band like Sum 41 is compelled to write political songs.
“The world does seem in disarray, but I’ve always used music as an escape from that,” Whibley says. “I’ve always felt like, ‘I don’t want to talk about all this shit!’ But as I was writing the words to ‘45,’ it was the first moment where I thought: ‘Now this fuckin’ asshole is taking over my music? That’s not supposed to happen!’ So I tried to change the words and go somewhere else, and now the song just feels like I could be talking about anybody. If it wasn’t called ‘45,’ maybe you wouldn’t even know who it’s about.”
More than providing a window into Whibley’s current state of mind, Order in Decline is also a testament to Sum 41’s ongoing evolution and maturation. Twenty years after they signed their first record deal, the band barely resembles the fun-lovin’ brats responsible for Warped Tour generation classics like “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep.” They continue to stretch their musical parameters in unexpected directions: “Catching Fire”—a song Whibley claims has been bouncing around his head for 10 years—is a stirring breakup ballad from the U2/Coldplay school of arm-swaying arena anthems. And with the acoustic-to-symphonic serenade “Never There,” Sum 41 effectively comes up with its own “Wonderwall.” But while such changes of pace may take some old-school fans by surprise, no one is more surprised by their appearance here than Whibley himself.
“I didn’t write ‘Never There’ for this album,” he reveals. “I didn’t think that would ever see the light of day. I played it for our manager and said, ‘I’ve got this song, I don’t know what to do with it—do you know anyone we could give this to?’ And he was like, ‘Why would we give this away?’ I said, ‘Well, it doesn’t sound like a Sum 41 song to me, especially for this record, which is much heavier—this song is not a heavy song.’ And he said, ‘This is a heavy song, just in a completely different way.’”