25 years ago, three members from different musical acts (and styles) got together to start a band. They remarked how it was like throwing their musical influences into a skillet, and so they went with that as their name and released their debut album. From the raw grunge rock sound, it's hard to imagine that this little grunge rock outfit would become one of Christian Music's most iconic and successful bands ever. While only vocalist John Cooper remains in the band today, this debut album was where the magic all began. As both the album and the band celebrate their silver anniversary, we take a look back at this unpolished first chapter and the traces of the greatness that was to come.
Into The Frying Pan
We previously looked at how different Skillet sounded circa 2001 in Alien Youth. Travel back just 5 more years and most people would hardly believe the band playing as Skillet in 1996 was even the same band as any of their later albums. With a raw grunge sound heavy on dirty guitars and frenetic vocals coupled with angsty melodies, this Skillet bears little resemblance to the polished melodic rockers known for their cinematic, arena-ready sound.
Lead single "I Can" offers a bridge with a glimpse of the melodic powerhouse Skillet would become in the future. But the majority of the song carries a gritty headbanging hook. "Promise Blender" is a rough and gritty exercise that is a stark contrast to even the crunchiest of modern Skillet offerings. Just listen to that chorus in all its unpolished glory! And "Gasoline" is just so unlike the melodic anthems of later Skillet.
Skillet still proved masters of the ballad with songs like "Saturn." "Safe With You" and its worshipful structure made the song one of Skillet's first forays into the worship music scene, a genre they'd dabble in quite a bit in the coming years.
Turning Up The Heat
It would be easy for listeners in 1996 to write Skillet off as another band following then-cookie cutter styles, who would vanish from the scene within a few years. Even after Skillet did some radical sound changes over the next few albums with their industrial rock era, this still felt like a small little indie rock band. A few catchy earworms aside, it felt decidedly small scale. John Cooper's vocals had a signature rasp, but they were rougher and less produced than on later albums.
Songs like "Paint" carried some of Skillet's notable melodic touch, but they still felt like an underground presence. Someone you could feel almost rebellious for even knowing about. It would take the better part of the coming decade and the influence of future members before this little rough-and-tumble rock act began to resemble the headlining symphonic rock behemoth they would eventually become.
On paper, Skillet's still one of the most successful Christian bands in any genre, with several of their albums and singles certified Gold or Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. But their legendary status goes a bit deeper than raw commercial success. Skillet's success is of a more intangible kind. People don't just know them for their songs. They know them for their brand. Each member of Skillet is well known and popular in their own right. How many bands do you have where the drummer is almost as popular, iconic, and well known as the lead singer? As for that singer, founding member John Cooper? He is one of the most iconic presences in Christian music. People know him for his quirky personality, corny dad jokes, hilarious self-awareness, nerdy comic knowledge, and his iconic hair styles (including the signature beard of recent years, for which he has a line of beard products. A Christian Rock singer has his own beard oil!). Not to mention his Cooper Stuff Podcast, where his foray into political and social issues of the day have netted him additional notoriety.
Skillet is one of few bands where any news they drop instantly becomes a point of discussion among the community. When they dropped the tracklist for their upcoming album Dominion, fans immediately began speculating as to what each song might sound like. The unveiling of the album cover for their new album felt like a legitimate event unto itself. Skillet is one of the true superstars remaining in Christian music, with a career still worth buzzing about. And even their critics can't deny that when Skillet does something, people pay attention. Even if it's to criticize the band's current musical direction, Skillet is still a topic that gets people in Christian music talking. And that's nothing to shrug off.
And this all started rather unceremoniously with a little post-grunge rock debut with a frying pan on the album cover. These hits might not see play in concert anymore and fans who came aboard after Comatose likely have no idea what "Gasoline" or "My Beautiful Robe" sounds like. But sometimes the greatest of things have the humblest foundations. And for the rock powerhouse known as Skillet, that foundation started with this album.
So as the album and the band behind it celebrate their silver anniversary, we invite you to take a look back at the raw and unlikely roots of the most legendary band to ever take its name from cookware.
J.J. Francesco is a long-time contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. He is currently working on releasing a brand new novel.
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