Review Summary: Caution: the Skillet is getting warmer.
Skillet’s undeniably successful brand of shiny radio-ready mom-rock and soft-metal has rarely piqued my interest as a rock music fan. I spent years pretentiously rolling my eyes when friends and fans would point to the band as the watermark for quality Christian rock, as if their sales figures and frequent sports event placements were sole indicators of lasting artistic value (the phenomenal Collide
excluded). But after spinning up 2019’s catchy single “Legendary,” my then-two-year-old son must have heard something in their formula that I did not. Thus, the album Victorious
soon became a regular spin on the Saturday-afternoon coffee runs that became a staple of peri-pandemic toddler-parent life that served as a poor substitute to “date night” for my wife and me.
And a strange thing happened - I began to actually enjoy listening to Skillet. Art snobbery is a young man’s projection of ambition upon that which he deems inferior to what he strives to achieve, but time can be revealing; as a guitarist, I realize that my riff-writing tends to be more “Monster” than “Master of Puppets.” So when I stumbled upon the latest single “Surviving the Game,” I was willing to give it a chance. The introductory statement: “To be more than a conqueror, you have to learn to enjoy the pain - if you want to survive the game.” Yep, this is a Skillet song, alright.
But wait! A riff! A real, genuine, head-banging riff, replete with the occasional scream! And they show up with unusual frequency (for a Skillet album) throughout the record’s runtime. I recognize that would be damning with faint praise if not for my opinion on guitarist Seth Morrison’s craftsmanship on the title track - which contains one of the best guitar solos in recent memory - and the encore performance on “Beyond Incredible.” Likewise, singer John Cooper’s laser-focus on delivering solid melodic hooks pays dividends, especially on album highlight “Standing in the Storm,” where Cooper’s rap-like flow melds perfectly with his soaring vocal performance. Drummer Jen Ledger gets a chance to shine both rhythmically and vocally in the Comatose-by-way-of-Korn rocker “Destiny,” and even wife and rhythm guitarist Korey Cooper lays down a solid performance in the surprisingly-tender “Forever or the End.”
The real surprise from Dominion
comes from its versatility, as made evident by album highlights “Valley of Death” and “Destroyer.” The former is the strongest ballad the band has ever penned, beginning with the hauntingly soft percussion of a quiet piano and little else - granting Cooper a massive space to let his weathered voice explore the limits of its impressive dynamics and range. The latter finds Skillet fully embracing a bass-forward industrial groove-metal sound not unlike the best of Death Therapy, and I fully expect many a fan of “The Older I Get” to be reaching for the “skip” button on their minivan dashboards - more of this, I say! Closer “White Horse” is perhaps even more polarizing, leaning heavily into apocalyptic industrial rap-rock. I’m not quite sure I love it, but I can’t help but applaud it.
Unfortunately, the somewhat juvenile party-rock anthem “Shout Your Freedom” adds little of value, and neither does “Ignite,” which sees Skillet retreating to their comfort zone a little too heavily, even if it does manage to one-up many of the band’s previous radio rock numbers with an infectious groove. Ultimately, Dominion
could dispense with either or both of these tracks and not really lose anything in the process, but I get along with them well enough to stop shy of saying it would be a better album without them.
Likewise, while the ballads here do exhibit a touch of newfound maturity to the lyricism, the rest pretty much falls into the “God will help you overcome” encouragement schtick that Skillet is known for - it’s perfectly fine, and difficult to elaborate further.
Despite the title making it sound like an unnecessary retread of 2019’s Victorious, Dominion
manages to consistently vault the bar set by Skillet over the past couple of decades and is arguably their strongest offering since 2003’s sludgy masterwork Collide
. There’s not much on offer here to listeners seeking technical prowess or a unique musical experience. But for the first time in quite some time, Skillet has crafted something that’s as equally enjoyable with the volume cranked up as it is providing a backdrop to coffee-fueled car-ride small talk and garage DIY shenanigans. The Skillet is not quite hot yet, but it’s warming up - and I look forward to what Cooper and company cook up in the future.