Review Summary: Out of the frying pan, into the fire
I’m not sure why, exactly, I decided to listen to Skillet’s new LP, Rise
. Most likely, I think it was as some sort of catharsis, forcing myself to realize Skillet is no longer the band I loved. I was in middle school and freshman year of high school not too long ago, and I was your standard gangly, pubescent kid wandering around aimlessly in the Hybrid Theory
T-shirt and blasting KoRn through cheap Apple earbuds. With that profile inevitably came Skillet’s Comatose
(or at least the singles). I thought songs like “Comatose,” “Better Than Drugs,” and “The Last Night” were the greatest things since sliced bread, and at this point I’ve listened to those three so much that they’re ingrained in my psyche, forever intertwined with my idea of adolescence and growing pains.
Of course, my tastes have matured since then. Radio-friendly hard rock is no longer my favorite genre, and I’ve realized good music spans far wider than the Breaking Benjamins and Halestorms of the world. Alive
was one of the first records to broaden my perspective: past the superficial catchiness and “heaviness” of “Awake And Alive” and “Hero,” Skillet was just capitalizing on what worked in the past, knowing full well that many would snap up the pop violins and male-female vocal split over power chord after power chord. The mediocre and boring album stung especially hard for me, as a (I thought then) die-hard fan of the band. Initially, I refused to give up on Skillet, shi
tty-ass “ballads” be damned. I hated critics’ negative receptions of the release - couldn’t they just be satisfied with Skillet’s skill at creating kick-ass hard rock riffing?
As time went on, though, my musical horizons inevitably expanded. I realized that “kick-ass hard rock riffing” I loved so much didn’t change much between any of the songs I appreciated so much. I found countless bands who made catchy hard rock better and more interestingly than Skillet, and as I grew older Awake
fell hard in my eyes. I stopped hoping for Skillet to redeem themselves with their next album after seeing that they had no reason to change - Awake
sold so well that Skillet had no need to switch their sound to be more “critically acclaimed.” In my mind, there was so much anti-hype surrounding Rise
that Skillet had near-insurmountable obstacles on their path to creating a quality album.
It hurts more than I expected, though, that Rise
is exactly what I thought it would be. There’s a lot of mindless power chords on every song, there are a lot of overtly “force-feeding Christian” lyrics and imagery all over, and the album will most likely appeal to those who drank in the toxins of Awake
with no inhibitions. It’s possible to argue this is just Skillet doing what they know how to do best, but what’s really disappointing is that Rise
is way too watered down, even for Skillet. “Salvation” is essentially a bad clone of “The Last Night,” piano intro and cheesy Hollywood strings kept virtually the same. The only real difference is that Jen Ledger is far worse of a vocalist than Korey Cooper, as her auto-tuned “Whoa, oh, yeahs” fit rather poorly with the rest of the song.
Much like Awake,
the ballads are on the whole horrendous. “Fire And Fury” is grating, with its male-female dynamic that sounds vaguely like if an infinitely less talented Lady Antebellum decided to make their lead singer gruffer and replace acoustic and slide guitars with simple string arrangements and uninteresting keys. “American Noise” is an even worse offender, as if Skillet tried to make a Hinder-esque stab at hitting the radio and failed almost as badly as the latter usually does. The “la-da-da-da”s from John Cooper are almost a summary of the half of the album made up of ballads - mindless and unnecessary.
If there’s any salvaging factor on this album, it’s that Skillet is still arguably being Skillet. As much as “Not Gonna Die” is essentially a carbon copy of “Awake and Alive,” at least it’s still got that classic Skillet kick in the chorus: catchy, singable, and striking the perfect balance between heavy and easily listenable. However, the biggest successes on the album (and they are few and far between) are arguably so because they’re no different than either of Skillet’s previous two albums - “Salvation” and “The Last Night,” “Not Gonna Die” and “Awake and Alive,” “Circus For A Psycho” and “Monster” (regarding the third of these: see if you can listen to Cooper’s calls of “Circus For A Psycho!” in the chorus and not think immediately “I FEEL LIKE A MONSTER!”).
It’s painful to realize Skillet is no longer interested in releasing another Comatose
will inevitably sell quite well, Skillet will make mountains of money off merch and touring, and everyone goes home happy except for some disgruntled fans. However, it’s also strangely liberating to realize I don’t have to rely on Skillet to come through with every release, every song. Just as my freshman year is safely behind me, so too is my adoration of Skillet, and while it’s sad to let go it also frees me from my bond. I’m no longer tied down to the same album released ad infinitum until the cash stops rolling in - I’m done with the relationship. The cheesy violins in closer “What I Believe” sum up my feelings: sure, it’s sad that Skillet is basically dead to me, but I’ve grown out of them. Who I put my trust in next is for me to decide.