Atlantic (2013)

Let’s start by saying that hard rock band Skillet are an anomaly. It is not that uncommon these days for people of faith to form bands who succeed in the mainstream, but it is a rarity for a band to find mainstream success while being notably outspoken and open about their faith. It’s even more rare these days for a band that got its start deep within the Christian music niche market to break out of that mold and find appeal with a wider audience. It takes some very clever wire walking to be open about one’s faith without sounding preachy, and thereby finding an amicable audience who doesn’t necessarily believe the same way you do.

But with their ninth studio album Rise, Skillet is poised to do all these things in one fell swoop. Not only does the album carry a positive message with a universal appeal without watering down the band’s foundational beliefs one iota—it’s just plain fantastic rock & roll destined to win props from the most dedicated of hard rock fans.

Rise is certain to scratch the itch for listeners on a couple of levels. From one perspective, it’s filled with fist-pumping anthems that are likely to go over well in live shows—particularly songs like the opening title track, “Sick Of It,” and “Not Gonna Die,” among others. From another perspective, this is a concept album that takes the listener on an emotional journey from start to finish. It’s a coming-of-age album reflecting the modern-day journey of a typical American teen, grappling with the internal struggles of growing up while also dealing with the pain and horrors of a world in turmoil. The opening tracks sort of establish the every-teen character, while the next section begins delving into the struggle. The punchline occurs with the last few tracks, where Skillet unabashedly points to faith and hope as a compass to navigate the troubled waters of life, exemplified with tunes like “Salvation,” “My Religion” and “Hard To Find.”  Yet, by the time the audience reaches this point in the journey, they are invested enough in the album’s theme that they are likely to forgive and even embrace the band’s openness.

And then, of course, there is the music itself: chunky guitar lines, ripped solos, and a strong electro/industrial vibe throughout—which, coupled with John Cooper’s gravelly, half-screaming voice, will no doubt draw comparisons to the likes of Linkin Park. Add to that the vocal interplay between Cooper female drummer and vocalist Jen Ledger, and you have a musical palatte that can stand toe to toe with the best of them.

It always presents a risk to be so vocal about one’s faith on a public stage like mainstream rock, and there are likely to be some hostiles who will find Skillet’s boldness a bit off-putting. But the larger crowd of rock fans who naturally respect a band’s willingness to be honest about what makes them tick will certainly not be offended by this band’s candor, and they’ll enjoy some incredible music in the process. As a band, Skillet have floundered a bit in recent years, but with Rise, they have found fresh footing, producing an album that is likely to stand as a hallmark for their career.

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