Review Summary: Four years gone - a look back on Awake.
When a band I enjoy is building up hype for a new album, whether it be by releasing samples, tweets, singles, contests etc, I've always found myself re-listening to their older material. You wonder to yourself if it will be as good as their previous work or, in some cases, will it be better than a past album that wasn't up to par with their other releases? When Stone Sour released Audio Secrecy, they were criticized for reducing things to a more radio-friendly, pop sounding record, but when House of Gold and Bones Parts 1 and 2 were released, fans knew they were back. Now this brings us to Skillet, a band on the eve of releasing their 8th studio album, Rise, and you have to wonder... what was it about Awake that fans disliked so much?
Now it's undeniable that the pressure was on Skillet for this one. Comatose and Collide had been huge successes for them and they had successfully carved out a notch in modern mainstream rock, and over the years the band's sound has evolved and changed as has much as their line-up, with John Cooper remaining the only founding member left from the original three-piece band. From their original grunge-y sounding roots to electronic industrial rock, through to their signature symphonic rock style, Skillet's sound has continually evolved, little by little, and this is where Awake begins to trip up.
After the success of Comatose, three years passed before Awake saw the light of day, and in that time you would expect a band to pour a huge amount of effort into their next release, and it's obvious that Skillet did indeed try to do that. The trouble is, instead of feeling like the soaring breath of fresh air that the title 'Awake' would have you believe, Awake instead feels like a timid album peeping round the corner, hoping you're not quite fed up of Skillet yet.
The entire album feels restrained, like a caged monster, if you will. Whatever happened to the raw aggression of Collide and the epic classic that was Comatose? Awake should have been a strong combination of that with new elements added, but instead it plays it safe, attempts to recreate Comatose's success, and ends up with a bunch of ballads and far too few good rock songs.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not all bad.
Hero and Monster are both great solid rock tracks and as an album opener, it's all looking rather optimistic with Hero's soaring chorus. The addition of Jen Ledger's vocals also marks a great new element to the band's overall sound, but then we hit Don't Wake Me, the first of quite a few on this album that are, to be blunt, on the verge of being boring. The song drones on and does absolutely nothing for me, but on a plus side, the remix of Don't Wake Me in Awake and Remixed is fantastic, and I recommend you give it a try. So now we move on to Awake and Alive, the album's namesake and arguably one of the very best tracks on the record. Jen Ledger returns to take supporting vocals and with a great symphonic backing and an awesome solo, we've recovered from Don't Wake Me's droning completely.
But now we start to stumble again. The hard-hitting It's Not Me It's You and decent sounding Believe attempt to salvage the middle of the album, but One Day Too Late and Should've When You Could've have been thrown in the mix, and we have two songs that don't really do anything but seem like filler, further highlighting the fact that there are just far too many ballad-y tracks on here and not enough substantial rock songs. There's nothing really wrong with ODTL and SWYC, but in the context of the album, with an already decent amount of slower songs, they stand out along with Don't Wake Me as being the weaker tracks and in turn, sound boring and repetitive.
The final act, however, recovers the album's pride nicely. Forgiven shines as one of the better emotional songs on the album, and Sometimes proves that Skillet can still deliver a good Collide-style rock track. Never Surrender showcases a message of never giving up and sounds great, and the album ending track, Lucy, with John Cooper's crooning vocals and beautiful instrumentals, sounds absolutely fantastic, and shows ONTL, SWYC and DWM how it’s done.
(Also if you're lucky, you bought the Deluxe Edition, which features two great extra songs as well as Monster's radio edit; the rocking Dead Inside, and the simply stunning Would It Matter. I recommend you look them up if you've missed them.)
So now here we are in 2013 and 'Sick of It', Rise's new single, has just hit our eardrums and it sounds like Skillet has been doing a bit of tweaking to their sound. The departure of Ben Kasica and arrival of new guitarist Seth Morrison may also have had some effect to that, and my hopes remain high that Rise will hail Skillet's return, blow Awake out of the water, and be an album that truly seems awake, and alive.