At this point, Skillet’s eighth album, Rise, has been released and heard by a lot of people. Personally, I‘ve heard Skillet having special segments on XM Radio Octane and seen tracks from Rise show up on Octane fairly often. Rise debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and sold 60,000 copies in the US during the first week of release. Skillet is definitely riding a wave at the moment and will be touring in August as part of the Carnival of Madness Tour with Shinedown, Papa Roach, In this Moment, and We as Human, followed by some dates with Nickelback in Europe.
For those not familiar with Skillet, they hail from Memphis, Tennessee and actually are a husband-wife act with John Cooper on lead vocals and bass and wife Korey handling rhythm guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals. One other piece about the band is the tendency toward female drummers since around 2000 with Jen Ledger on board since 2008 following Lori Peters who handled drums the previous eight years. Skillet has found great success in their recent endeavors with the 2009 album Awake being recently certified platinum in the US (> 1 million sold) and was one of three acts to achieve platinum status in 2012 with the other two being Mumford & Sons and The Black Keys. According to news items on their site, they have sold over 2 million units in the US alone in the last few years, have over 150 million YouTube views and have a fanclub of “Panheads” that numbers in the millions. Regardless of what one thinks about their music, it obviously does strike a chord with many.
Rise actually ended up being a concept album where the storyline is that of a American teen having their eyes opened to the pain in the world. In the beginning the protagonist faces the world with a sense of optimism and almost challenging defiance which then turns to self-doubt and an almost sense of defeat at which point our hero comes to the realization that there is only source of redemption. This transition is set off at the end of “Madness in Me” which concludes with a spoken section of Isaiah 53:6…”yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all”.
In one sense, just knowing that Howard Benson (POD, Blindside, Red) produced this album and their previous one should give you a sense of what the sound will be like. Production quality is top notch and the album has that “arena rock” like quality to it. There are monster hooks, heavy rock songs, quieter ballads, and everything in terms of formula that I remember from the bands in the 80’s and 90’s that would fill stadiums. This is a very commercial radio friendly release, plain and simple, and I don’t say that as criticism as this is where Skillet’s fan base lies and this is the direction they have taken in recent releases.
In addition to the concept view of the album, it can also be divided up between the heavier rock songs and the ballads. In the rock songs, “Rise”, “Sick of It”, “Not Gonna Die”, “Circus for a Psycho”, “Madness in Me”, and “Freakshow” John Cooper’s trademark gravelly voice works well with the crunchy guitar grooves and is nicely contrasted at times by the ultra-clean sounding backing vocals and shared lead vocals of Jen Ledger. Many of the songs also feature some prominent keyboards in the formula and new guitarist Seth Morrison provides some decent solo work. Seth gets his best workout in “Circus for a Psycho” with a very cool guitar riff that carries through much of the song and a prominent short solo. I do feel many of these songs fit into a formula with a verse that builds into a shouted, groove-laden chorus section built so well for a live setting. These are decent songs but given the formulaic nature, I am left with the feeling that I’ve heard them before and they do seem sort of generic, and yet are still entertaining.
Some of the ballad songs simply scream arena rock and the older listeners will be transported back to the 80’s and will have to find their cigarette lighters to wave around. “American Noise” starts out with a lone piano that instantly brought back visions of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home”. Meanwhile parts of “Salvation” sound as if it was an Evanescence track except that Jen Ledger’s vocals are simply too clean and bright in terms of tone and seems a bit out of place at least for this song. Overall, her tone is very distinct, which is a good thing throughout the album as it is so clean and perfect that in plays well with John Cooper’s rough, gravelly sound.
In some ways, this is a tough album to review. It is not metal or punk, is not trying to break new ground, is aimed at a very large audience, has good performances, catchy hooks, and was expertly produced. At the same time though, this is a safe, formulaic album as longtime Skillet fans (“panheads”) will be accepting and it will appeal to many of those who have only heard a couple of Skillet songs.
1. “Rise” 4:20
2. “Sick of It” 3:11
3. “Good to Be Alive” 4:59
4. “Not Gonna Die” 3:45
5. “Circus for a Psycho” 4:31
6. “American Noise” 4:09
7. “Madness in Me” 4:17
8. “Salvation” 3:45
9. “Fire and Fury” 3:56
10. “My Religion” 4:12
11. “Hard to Find” 3:48
12. “What I Believe” 3:19
“Hey You, I Love Your Soul” (1998)
“Ardent Worship” (2000)
“Alien Youth” (2001)
John Cooper – lead vocals, bass and acoustic guitar
Korey Cooper – vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, synthesizer
Jen Ledger – vocals, backing vocals, drums, percussion
Seth Morrison – lead guitar
Record Label: Atlantic Records Group, June 2013
Video below “Sick Of It”