Posted June 28, 2008
Classic rock riffs, swirling drums, monstrous hooks, and undeniably catchy choruses … hints of old school progressive rock mixed in with modern alternative flourishes … touches of classical influence as swelling strings intersect with sonic adrenaline rushes. It's indeed a fusion unlike any other, marking the latest chapter in the continuous evolution of Skillet, whose moniker couldn't be more fitting for their explosive new Lava/Atlantic/Ardent/SRE Records release, Comatose.
The project follows Skillet's 2004 Lava/Atlantic debut Collide, which launched the group into the mainstream with the single "Savior," and garnered the quartet a prestigious nomination at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards in the "Best Rock Gospel Album" category. Collide went on to become their best-selling project to date, with over 200,000 units sold, while the band played some 200 dates a year—including tours with the likes of Three Days Grace, Saliva, Shinedown, and 12 Stones—in the process becoming one of the hardest working, heaviest rocking, boldly witnessing, and most broadly appealing acts of its generation.
"We're proud of where we've been in the past, but I feel like this is our strongest record," says vocalist/bassist John Cooper of Comatose. Recorded at Chicago Recording Company (Smashing Pumpkins, Michael Jackson, R. Kelly), the album was co-produced by Brian Howes (from famed Canadian TVT band Closure and Hinder's hit debut) and the band's John Cooper, and mixed by maestros Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, Hoobastank, Bon Jovi, P.O.D.) and David Bottrill (Tool, Staind). "There are so many different influences that it won't just be about rock audiences or metal audiences," notes Cooper. "I think there's something here for everybody."
That's not to say that the group has watered down its message or cheapened its sound by a single cent, but rather stepped out on several limbs to continue its influence on the mainstream, while holding firmly to its faith-based roots. Pop in the project for a matter of seconds and it's obvious Skillet has raised the bar yet again, building off the refined musicianship found on Collide and taking it to even more jaw-dropping extremes. A case in point is first single, "Rebirthing," a complex but accessible amalgamation of piercing strings and humongous power chords calling all to come alive in Christ. In sharp contrast, but equally compelling are tracks like "The Last Night," "Say Goodbye" and "Yours To Hold," all oozing with ethereal orchestration and insanely infectious sing-a-long potential.
On the other side of the Skillet, Comatose shows the band flexing its experimental muscles, adding several piano-based and progressive-influenced pieces. A careful dissection of "Whispers" unveils nods to the current prog crop via the channels of Yes, while "Better Than Drugs" (focusing on an eternal destiny rather than earthly gain) is a delightfully schizophrenic barnburner that is one of the disc's most aggressive displays. "The Last Night" takes a more delicate twist, merging John's vocals with his wife Korey Cooper's keyboard cadences.
"It's a new era for both Atlantic and Skillet," exclaims Andy Karp, head of A&R for Atlantic Records. "It's the first record where we've really been one on one with the band, and it's the latest step in our unique journey together. I've been at the label seventeen years and we're known for having so many great rock n' roll bands: Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, Bad Company. There really aren't a lot of labels that have that kind of pedigree for rock acts, and Skillet is yet another in a long line of great bands."
Cooper and company can certainly relate, citing several from the label's lineage as influencers since its infancy. "Growing up, I was a prog freak and loved bands like Yes and Dream Theater," he confirms. "I also grew up with my mom as a classical piano teacher and took lessons for eight years, along with playing in the marching band and symphony. It's funny because every once in a while there was a touch of that on Collide, but until recently, I didn't see what that background had to do with rock music. On this record, we were able to make it work structurally with the piano and strings, plus there's enough prog to make me happy."
Aside from Skillet's musical strides, Cooper's songwriting has expanded to cover a vast range of topical territories, some of which follow spiritual and socially conscious ideals, while others vulnerably mirror his personal life and struggles. Take, for instance, the aforementioned "The Last Night," which talks about someone considering suicide after living life in despair and not having support from their parents. Rather than calling it quits, a supportive friend reminds of God's unconditional love and they're eventually talked down from that ledge. Even closer to home for Cooper is "The Older I Get," which picks up after his mom passed away, tracing the rocky relationship he had with his dad and the eventual forgiveness they reached.�
"My dad got remarried two months after my mom died, and my stepmother's husband had also passed away a few months earlier," he recalls of the admittedly faith-tested time. "It was a really bizarre situation and they didn't get along, which was also the point when my dad and I started fighting. From the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I don't remember having a single conversation with him for about four years that didn't have to do with fighting. But a lot has mended since then and we've been able to move on. You can only go through life so long living in regret, and while those situations certainly affected me, I don't hold onto the anger anymore."
Those introspective visions tie in with the group's overall goals of promoting positive messages that will give fans something to digest beyond pre-conceived clichés or trite topics, and open the gate for spiritual seekers.
"The funny thing about Jesus is that He wasn't just all talk, but as much or more about relationships and communicating to people in a relatable way, as He was solely preaching to them," he observes. "The way we tend to evangelize in today's Christian society is actually often times much different than the way Jesus reached out. As I was writing for this record, I realized bands like Linkin Park and Staind and Korn were being more relevant to people than I was. We prayed about these sessions, and we knew this is the direction God was leading us. It allows us to reach out to people who've maybe been turned off by what they think is 'Christian music,' which may get them out to a concert to hear even more of our message. I'm very passionate about evangelism, but love begets evangelism and we want people to know we care about their needs in a practical way."
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