Still On the Rise
Posted June 14, 2013
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Skillet's career is a success story 16 years in the making, covering what might be the most varied musical span of any band in the contemporary rock arena.
Fans from over a decade ago might remember them for the high octane electronica worship stylings of Alien Youth, while a younger generation knows them best for the massive symphonic rock sound concocted for Comatose and refined for 2009's platinum hit, Awake.
After four years riding Awake's wave around the world in non-stop touring, this summer sees the release of an album synthesizing the perfect storm of elements from the band's diverse discography. Rise fuses the gritty guitar edge of Collide and Comatose, the intricate synth programming of Invincible, and the worshipful heart posture of Alien Youth to create an album that is a highlight of Skillet's already remarkable history.
From the album's kick-off with the title track, "Rise," Skillet clearly defines a theme of coming of age in a chaotic world. The imagery of a broken nation is as visceral as the gritty guitar bed, balanced by the haunting layers added by a children's choir as the song portrays a world deeply in need of change. The song concludes with the first of several musical interludes, combining pieces of sobering news reports with the harsh words of a parent tied together by a chilling electronic backdrop.
The album's lead mainstream rock single, "Sick of It," provides a response of discontent to the world portrayed by the opener. This is the most straightforward track on the album lyrically, channeling trademark hard rock aggression into a call for rejecting the broken status quo.
"Good to Be Alive" is the first signal that this album is going to hold some musical surprises for Skillet fans. This feel-good, shimmering summer anthem employs a youthful pop sound that might be surprising coming from a rock outfit, but is masterfully executed nonetheless as it declares "you and me against the world, it's a beautiful night. It's good to be alive." This track ends with a second interlude, hinting at an unsettling darkness through chilling choral work as it transitions into the next track.
"Not Gonna Die" draws the signature symphonic rock sound to the fore with complex violin chasing the soaring interplay of frontman John Cooper's brutal voice and drummer Jen Ledger's spine-chilling soprano. This is a blood-stained battle hymn; a declaration against despair.
One of the best riffs on the album crashes onto the scene next with "Circus For A Psycho," a selection that showcases well what guitarist Seth Morrison is bringing to the table on his first album with Skillet. The guitar work is both technically clean and intensely aggressive, perfectly backing a song that lyrically takes a stand against chaos and cultural lies. Another interlude of radio chatter and alarms ends the song.
The CHR single "American Noise" follows with a much gentler sound, answering the previous few tracks with a call to "let love cut through the American noise." The ballad sound is closer stylistically to the older "You Are My Hope" rather than more recent soft offerings, providing a refreshing but familiar break in the hard rock whirlwind.
Another rocker follows with "Madness in Me," a song thematically similar to "Monster" but with more complex and mature undertones. The final interlude of the album wraps it up, serving as a transition from chaos to haunting stillness.
"Salvation" marks a thematic transition on the album from recognizing the need for change to the process of redemption itself. Here Jen Ledger's vocals take the lead in a darkly beautiful melody, which frames a desperate and honest plea for salvation. This is a conversation with God from a heart at rock bottom, acknowledging that the only source of rescue is found in Him.
"Fire and Fury" provides an aftermath moment of vibrant but vulnerable worship, layering Korey Cooper's keyboard programming skills under John and Jen's impressively complex and controlled vocals.
"My Religion" melds the grooving finger-snapping rhythm of a Southern spiritual with a classic rock-and-roll vibe, paralleling hymns lyrically as it sets God in place of all the trappings of religion. This is another musical surprise, though again they pull off the different sound with impressive effectiveness that immediately earns credibility. "Hard to Find" carries a more matured reaction to a broken world than is heard earlier on the album, singing more from weariness than anger as it offers the reassuring reminder that "You are my light when faith is hard to find." This is a song of comfort for sleepless nights.
"What I Believe" closes the album with a string-driven sound similar to previous hit song "Awake and Alive," though with more of an electronic edge. This final song concludes the collection with a declaration of commitment to Christ as the only reason worth living for in an empty society, coming full circle from the confusion and frustration expressed at the album's beginning.
This is the closest Skillet has ever come to crafting a concept album, tracing the journey of those coming of age in a confusing era—an experience that is intensely present for many of Skillet's listeners.
Despite being the most thematically unified of Skillet's eight studio albums, this might also be their most musically complex and diverse offering. The narrative of faith and fear is woven with crushing guitar riffs, dynamic dual vocals, alternate pop and rock melody styles, varied instrumentation, vivid electronic beds, and stylistic exploration that constantly pushes beyond the limits of their genre.
Skillet's Rise is an achievement well worth the wait, and it promises to set the bar high in the rock and roll genre for years to come.
Song to Download Now:
"Rise" (Get it on iTunes here
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