Review Summary: Fanatical and ardent, Alien Youth succeeds in many regards, and is definitely Skillet at their prime. Don't expect anything akin to Comatose or Awake, this is a completely different experience.
I have a complicated relationship with Skillet. On one hand, I admire their message and passion for what they do, and on the other, I can't stand what they have been doing as of late. As of tomorrow, their eighth full length album, 'Rise' will be officially released. Four years ago, the band had released the incredibly popular 'Awake', and have been skyrocketed into the mainstream with the singles 'Hero' and 'Monster'. Unfortunately, these songs, along with the entire album, were atrocious, and alienated many fans of the band. However, many new fans have emerged, and the overwhelming popularity of their past two efforts completely overshadow any of their other work. Due to the astounding mediocrity of Awake, many critics who were unaware of Skillet beforehand have dismissed them as simply another mainstream, untalented and uninspired band that will be forgotten in a few years. While this may be true considering their recent material, to fully appreciate the band, one must dig deep into their discography.
Skillet circa 2001 was a much different band than they are now. They were still a relatively new band, and were eager to spread their message to the world. They had not established a definitive sound, with their previous efforts consisting of dirty, grungy rock, electric rock with slight funk influences and straight up industrial rock. Much of this could possibly be due to their constant change of band members. In fact, the only remaining founding member of Skillet today is the singer and bassist, John Cooper. With this album, the band continues in their journey to find their true sound. This album presents the listener with hard rock with an industrial tinge. Blaring guitars and drums layered on top of synths and keyboards and passionate vocals, this album throws quite a lot at the listener.
In fact, at this point I would like to address the vocals of frontman John Cooper. This album is when I believe his voice was at its prime. He was able to belt out his beliefs with a gritty, rough edge, but at the same time be able to sing in a soothing manner that relaxes the listener. His diversity in vocals can be found scattered across this album, with the eerie, disturbed and almost spoken word musings of 'Eating Me Away', the fanatical belting of 'Rippin' Me Off' and 'Kill Me, Heal Me' to the to quiet, peaceful ballad that is 'Come My Way'. Still in his youth, John had much energy, and his passion for the Lord was all too obvious within this album. His songwriting was also much better than it is today. While not fantastic, his lyrics were descriptive and ardent enough that they were passable. He was not afraid to address God and Jesus directly. Lyrics such as "Breathing your love, you're ferocious/You're in my lungs, resuscitate/Craving your electricity/Feet to my pain/You give wings to my fear/Your peace inhabits my blood/Your love is thick"
truly give the impression of a man who is deeply in love with God, and that is who John Cooper is.
The rest of the band have their own moments as well. Guitarist Kevin Haaland brought catchy riffs and fast, manic solos to the table. His tone was deep, loud and heavy, and his playing was above the standards one would expect from a Christian rock band. Drummer Lori Peters kept the beat well while displaying her talents within fills and strange drum lines. Her most impressive works can be found in the tracks 'Vapor' and 'Stronger'. While not an amazing drummer, she was a great fit for the band and the music they created. John's bass is present and audible throughout the entire album, and while not entirely uninteresting, his bass lines are average and passable. His tone was muddy, distorted and really complimented the heavy sound they wanted to portray. Of course, the most distinctive feature that the album has are the synths, keyboards and sound effects that are created by Korey Cooper, John's wife. They were definitely interesting and quirky, and she wasn't afraid to experiment with different sounds. From the strange synthetic voices found in the intro to 'Rippin' Me Off' to the atmospheric samples of 'Eating Me Away', her contributions were a welcome change to the band's sound. She also provided backing vocals and even partook in a duet with John on the track 'Will You Be There'.
Each of the tracks have their own distinctive features, and while all sharing a common theme, they each have their own story to tell. The title track observes how Christians are looked down upon, and that they should be proud of their beliefs. 'Eating Me Away' tells us a tale of a man who is living his life without the lord and is giving into temptation to sin. The final track, the piano worship track 'Come My Way' paints us a scenario of a session of worship, with a crowd who wishes to be healed by Jesus himself.
However, the track that stands out the most is the six and a half minute long track, 'The Thirst is Taking Over'. It presents to the listener an eerie, haunting atmosphere with John clamoring on about how he thirsts for God's love. The entire song is extremely passionate, and in the second verse, John almost screams the lyrics in his fanatical delivery. The vocals, instrumentals and message of this song are well above average, and it is easily my favorite song on this album.
With all of this praise, there are some mistakes in the album. Some of the tracks are a bit forgettable. 'Will You Be There' seems like a ballad slapped onto the album simply for the sake of there being a ballad. Some of the songs, specifically the rockers, while ambitious, tend to fall into the same themes lyric and composition-wise. But those are really my only complaints, this is a solid record.
Overall, Skillet has crafted a great Christian rock album that incorporates various influences of industrial rock. Even if one is an Atheist, such as myself, you might find yourself liking this record for its good musicianship, lyricism and delivery of vocals. It is far from what would consider 'mainstream', and unlike newer efforts of Skillet, the band was not afraid to experiment and directly proclaim their love for Jesus. It is a shame that Skillet has deteriorated to the band that they are today, as they seriously had potential here.
Eating Me Away
The Thirst is Taking Over (album highlight!)
Rippin' Me Off
Come My Way