Review Summary: “Thunder, thun-thunder. Thun-thun-thunder. Thunder, thun-“oh shit, wait. Wrong band, sorry.
First off, a little bit of honesty is in order before going any further here.
I… like Skillet. Or, at the very least, I like the band they used
Skillet remind me of my teenage years, and unashamedly for all the right reasons. When the early/mid-2000s radio rock/emo explosion took off and blasted your Linkin Park’s and Thirty Seconds To Mars’, to My Chemical Romance’s and many, many more into the spotlight, Skillet’s 2006 effort Comatose
quickly found its own place among the fray. With carefully crafted lyricism that would allow for more than just a Christian audience into the fold, it was big, catchy, radio friendly rock music for the masses to easily digest, and cemented the formula that would eventually prove the band’s undoing. Or at least, in terms of critical reception.
See, Skillet weren’t always the symphonic radio rock giants they’ve been known to be for the last decade or so: 1996 debut release Skillet
leans far more heavily into the typical 90s grunge influence of the time, and with John Cooper being the only remaining member since the group’s inception, effectively stands as the work of a completely different band. Alternatively, 2001 electronic rock oddball Alien Youth
just sounds, well… strange
. True, the album is solid enough, with tracks such as the gorgeous “Thirst Is Taking Over” and hard-hitting “Eating Me Away” certainly showcasing this, but as a whole the album couldn’t be further from the band’s inception if it tried. With the following 2003 release Collide
again featuring a differing approach in style, geared towards a more straightforward alternative/hard rock direction, it appeared to be nothing more than the humble, eclectic behaviour of a group always wanting to try something new. That is, until Comatose
proves the formula, and the formula is quite simple: craft a sound that appeals to the masses, market the sound, rinse and repeat. And Skillet are good
at it. “Whispers In The Dark”, “Rebirthing” and “Comatose” all featured an immensely enjoyable symphonic rock direction with big, loud choruses and enough guitar firepower to appeal to most headbangers of the time, and Comatose
proved the breakthrough needed to do one key thing: sell. Following the release of Comatose
, the prerogative became clear enough, and John Cooper and Co. were going to do everything in their power to keep the ball rolling with Awake
, and Unleashed
Now sure, the band has always displayed a seemingly genuine adoration for the “panheads” that devotedly follow the group’s every release, and despite a huge rise in sales over the years maintain a humble appreciation toward all that even give the band a try, but this doesn’t stop an unsettling feeling creeping in. One that whispers (in the dark, yes… hilarious) that perhaps the band’s entire image is little more than a marketing ploy, and one that works too. So, here we all are in 2019, and Skillet’s Victorious
has unceremoniously dropped into the laps of many a salivating fan (no doubt). The verdict? Well, it’s… bland. Really
The biggest issue Victorious
faces is very simple, and of its own design: everything you see before you, you have already seen before. The big choruses, guitar riffs for days and “whoa-oa”s are all present and correct, and should you accidentally play Skillet’s Unleashed
instead and not notice the difference, you would be forgiven for such an “offense”. Fancy listening to “Legendary”? No need, listen to “Feel Invincible” instead. “Back To Life”’s ending solo shenanigans sounding like a fun time? Well, “The Resistance” did this s**t far better, so go listen to it.
Elsewhere, “Victorious” easily stands as the most diluted incarnation of the band’s symphonically driven material, lacking any of the punch “Awake and Alive” delivered a decade ago, whilst “This Is The Kingdom” couldn’t be more of an Imagine Dragons clone if it tried. Frustratingly, the track features some of Victorious
’s best vocal harmonisation between vocalist John Cooper and drummer Jen Ledger by a huge stretch a usually reliable positive throughout Skillet’s discography, but actually appreciating this is difficult when ‘Believer’ keeps sticking its bloated, overproduced arena pop head into your ears. On the plus side, at least the following track “Save Me” allows room for lead guitarist Seth Morrison to actually let loose a little, but… “what are you waiting for, someone save me”? Give us just one, damn good reason, because if you thought we weren’t going to notice you stole the “Beautiful People” intro in “Rise Up”, guess again.
Honestly, the most frustrating thing with Victorious
isn’t even the bland direction in material, it’s instead the overbearing fact that at the band’s core are a collective of solid musicians that can do better than this. Cooper may not exactly be the Corey Taylor of his craft, but where the hell did the ferocity of Fight The Fury’s Still Breathing
go? Sure, “My Demons” shamelessly rips off Slipknot’s “Duality”, but at least the EP gave the briefest indication of trying
before being heartlessly snuffed out by the disgusting vocal processing of “Never Going Back”’s introductory “can you hear me”. Even Seth Morrison’s guitarwork, another reliably positive element to Skillet’s recent discography, feels generally phoned in and lacking in inspiration throughout Victorious
, completely shedding the edge that boosted the solos of “Circus For A Psycho” or “Out Of Hell”.
From the point of view of a (former I guess) Skillet listener, if it wasn’t the barely passable Unleashed
that killed off interest in seeing another Collide
come to light, then this is the album that definitely seals the deal. There’s no heart in it anymore, a hilariously contradictory statement in itself when considering the fact that so much of the Christian rock group’s material generally leans towards an uplifting, fists-in-the-air message. Even 2013s Rise
, something of a concept album
revolving around breaking free emotionally from negativity to instead see the positivity in life (see “Good To Be Alive” for more elaboration on this), was starting to stretch things pretty damn thin, but Victorious
is the final straw. My glossy eyed teenage memories of blasting “My Obsession” at full volume can only sate my lacking satisfaction so far, and although “Imperfection”’s absolutely stunning personal catharsis stares unflinchingly into my face, Victorious
barely displays enough emotional investment to warrant an enthusiastic cough.
I’m sure it will sell well though.