Skillet is arguably the commercial household name in Christian rock of our generation. Regardless of one's opinion of them, almost anyone who knows Christian rock knows Skillet. They've almost come to define the genre. But they've come a long way from the quirky industrial rock band they were at the start of the 2000s. Many point to 2003/04's Collide as the turning point in their career. This year, that album's original release turns 20. To celebrate, we're looking back at the album that turned Skillet into the powerhouse we know them as today.
Skillet was known to almost completely reinvent themselves with each subsequent release in their early years. Their 1996 self-titled debut sounds nothing like their sophomore album, and the trend continued into 2003's Collide. While 2001's Alien Youth showed that the band was trending toward a harder guitar-driven sound, nothing could prepare fans for the raw rock goodness that greeted them with Collide. The opening riffs of album opener "Forsaken" boasted an aggressive energy that even now casts a long shadow of Skillet's discography. Lead single, "Savior," and the title track introduced the violin hooks that would define the band's sound for many years. Add to it, this album featured the greatest abundance of John Cooper using screaming vocals during the intense highs of many songs. While it's been peppered in since, this album has it in spades.
Songs like "My Obsession" and "Fingernails" still rank among the hardest Skillet has ever hit musically. The slick and crisp production that would define hit albums like Comatose and Awake is gone here. The vocals are raw and edgy, allowing John Cooper's signature rasp to take center stage. The guitar solos are dirtier, and there's less emphasis on radio-ready hooks. Yet, there's an undeniable catchiness to the music. It takes little to see why this record caught the attention of Atlantic Records. They quickly signed Skillet to a record deal, and re-released this album with the bonus song "Open Wounds" the next year. While subsequent releases would refine the Skillet sound into the cleaner symphonic stylings that would make them popular, many fans still long for this more aggressive side to the band. (John Cooper's side project, Fight the Fury, is arguably the closest they've come to recapturing this aggression.)
Needing a Savior
Skillet has never been shy about where they stand in their Christianity. While this album arguably began their trend of exploring broader themes relating to mainstream audiences, the band always knew to point to Christ, as done in songs like "Savior" and "My Obsession."
Still, the band offered frank looks at sin and brokenness that stand among the most honest in their entire catalog, including the confessional "Fingernails" and the moving "Imperfection." "Forsaken" and "Open Wounds" also explore a gritty and angrier side to the band's lyricism that is a stark contrast to some of the pump-up optimistic cuts they might be known for nowadays. Even songs like the more generally themed "Monster" from Awake don't quite match the unfiltered honesty of some of these tracks.
A Little More
After this release, it's easy to argue that the band took off. Follow-up Comatose was certified Platinum and still has a commanding influence over their setlist. 2009's Awake would be certified Multi-Platinum and give the band some of their most successful singles of all time. Suffice it to say, Collide is probably the last album that could be considered part of "old Skillet" and yet also the first album of "new Skillet."
For those who only know the band from their more recent output, the grit of Collide might catch you off guard. But for those willing to strip back some of the album's rougher moments, they might just find a lot to love about this classic album. As it turns 20 years old this year, it's a great time to revisit this pivotal turning point in one of Christian rock's all-time legendary bands.
J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, 'When Miracles Can Dream,' is out NOW!
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