Skillet is probably one of the most popular ‘mainstream’ Christian American rock bands out there today. They have managed to garner success in an industry that is getting harder and harder to sell a lot of records in. In many respects they have the t-shirt and they wear it well, despite some criticisms. Though there sound has become more derivative over time, again they wear it well, and one needs to just balance it out with their success to know that it works for them. Nevertheless Skillet has found a home in their style which is a very aggressive interpretation of in your face arena style rock.
The latest offering from the band exactly fits that aggressive representation of rock that they seemingly been moulding themselves towards over the last while, and thus with a title like, “Unleashed” makes for a great description, and invitation to what the listener is going to be introduced to before even turning the volume up. This is Skillet, ‘unleashed’. There is no mistaken Skillet is a big band, and with that popularity comes expectation, and thus to continue their momentum Skillet need to grow their formula and set forth a package that not only introduces new fans to their sound, but invites back the old fans that might have fallen away over time.
“Unleashed” in some way could be “that” album for Skillet, which was released on the 5th August 2016. It is edgy and aggressive, and able to hold its own in the world of derivative rock. I don’t use derivative in a bad sense here, because they honestly open up here on this album and give their audience something that can be equally as powerful on record, as on stage. For the album release, Skillet worked with Brian Howes, who previously produced their 2006 album, Comatose, along with producers Kevin Churko, Neal Avron and Seth Mosely. Cooper stated that he felt very inspired for the album and that the release would be very aggressive and in your face. I think they very much succeed in that department and kudu’s to them for pulling it off.
I have come across many bands that get that first song on the album wrong as a leading introduction to their work, but Skillet get it right on “Unleashed” with the opening title, “Feel Invincible”, a song that mixes up some of the old with new of Skillet, and some nice heavy guitar riffs to change things up a bit. You’ll find on the album familiar avenues they have gone down before with, and new avenues in which they venture into on this album. I think throwing in every now and then the not so Skillet riff or feel is a good thing, it’s in those up changes that give a derivative sound, a fresh feel. Same can be said by the song, “Back From The Dead” it’s not your usual Skillet sounding stuff, and adds a fun aspect to the unpacking of the album. The lyrically powerful, “stars” slows things down a bit and is ideally suited for fans of generically styled worship. Though “stars’, might not really be my cup of tea, it does poise the album in a very strong light in terms of introductions. Or so you would hope. “I Want To Live” Struggles to carry over the momentum and falls into the department of generic Skillet. It’s not that it’s a bad track, just wrongly positioned on the album I think.
The pace picks up again on “Undefeated”, and “Famous” introduces you to the dance rock side of Skillet. Both songs fair well despite their derivative nature, but their punch is watered down by an abrupt what can only be classed as a mainstream Christian song to reach the masses entitled, “Lions”.
Skillet return to their heavy riffy form with “Out Of Hell”, tapping into what they do best with their heavy rock arena appeal. There is no mistaken when Skillet are on form, they are a hard hitting powerhouse and “Out Of Hell” is the high note of the album, lyrically bold, musically hard hitting. They manage to keep the momentum going with “Burn It Down” that wonderfully sets the tone for “Watching For Comets” and “Saviors Of The World”, which are more your run of the mill tracks for Skillet. I actually love the final track “The Resistance”, and find it packages the album nicely as a whole.
Though songs like “Lions” and “Saviors Of The World” might come across as cliché’ and churchified worship mainstream generic-ness , I find it refreshing when what is primarily a mainstream Christian rock band are able to boldly proclaim their faith and not retreat with their words, but instead step boldly forward.
Unleashed can feel a tad disjointed as albums go in terms of flow, thus it does not have a consistent momentum to it in my opinion, almost as if two different ideas got put together, and the way those ideas got placed somehow deafened the overall product a bit and the greater impact it could have had. That said it’s an album that musically and lyrically is an encouraging package of musical energy, and lyrical boldness that often over shadows its inconsistency and breaks in momentum. I understand where they come from with “Saviors Of The World”, but it does beg a theological untruth, as Christ is the only Savior of the world, but through Him we can be a light to the world. Unleashed as a whole musically is a great album, and without a doubt will find its way into the hearts of Skillet fans. It’s bold, anthemic, mostly filled with hard thumping delivery of beats that should turn any arena into a riot, and to be honest it is going to be that hard aggressive thumping arena feel that’s going to bring the house down on this album. It’s a great introduction to Skillet, and ultimately delivers.
Written by Donovan de Necker
01. Feel Invincible
02. Back From The Dead
04. I Want To Live
08. Out Of Hell
09. Burn It Down
10. Watching For Comets
11. Saviors Of The World
12. The Resistance
John Cooper – lead vocals, bass guitar, occasional acoustic guitar
Korey Cooper – rhythm guitar, keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals
Jen Ledger – drums, percussion, backing vocals, occasional co-lead vocals
Seth Morrison – lead guitar
“Hey You, I Love Your Soul” (1998)
“Ardent Worship” (2000)
“Alien Youth” (2001)
“Rise” (2013) [review]
Record label: Atlantic Records, Aug. 2016
Video for: ‘Stars’
Video for: ‘Feel Invincible’