WhamBamSam music review: Skillet - Collide, Comatose, and Awake

Today for your reading pleasure I present my review of the recent works from the band Skillet.

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Skillet seem like the sort of band that I should despise. They presents themselves as Christian Rock and enjoys a reasonable degree of mainstream success in the modern music industry, and so would appear at first glance to be doing something very wrong in the eyes of an agnostic elitist like myself. Also their three most recent albums have been titled Collide, Comatose, and Awake which opens them up to snarky, derisive comments about how much of a car wreck they might be. Still, perhaps the pleasant surprise of the latter two albums actually being quite good is better than having something to savage in a user review.

Let's get one thing out of the way before getting too far along. Skillet is not a Christian Rock band. They are a hard rock band whose members happen to be Christians. Their earlier works may involve their Lord and Savior a bit more, but the most overtly religious of their latest three albums is Collide, and even it has a considerable degree of abstraction to the message. Most of their songs are not "love of Christ" songs, but rather simply love songs (and of course the counterpoint break-up songs), often with distinct implications of boning and enjoying it no less. Yes, it might be possible to twist certain songs into a more gospel-esque interpretation, but it would require greater logical leaps and more convoluted justification than, say, deriving a "faith in Jesus" theme behind Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast album[1] and that seems to be a more than generous threshold value beyond which I am well within my rights to declare them secular. It's possible that certain aspects of their use of keyboards and pseudo-symphonic elements, and the slight rasp to the main singer's voice, have roots in church music, but having never gone to church, I'm not wholly qualified to make such an assessment. In either case it has little thematic impact. There, now we can move on to the actual music.


"Rebirthing" from Comatose

Collide has a few decent songs ("Forsaken," "Savior," "Open Wounds," "Collide," and "Cycle Down," are okay) but nothing that really stands out as a great song. In many places the vocals just come out a bit wrong. Given the higher quality of the later albums' vocals I would put the issues down to inept mixing. Also songs often run a bit long for my liking. Every band has their own time limit after which a song starts to overstay its welcome unless it's really fucking good. For Skillet that limit is around 4 minutes. All but two of the album's songs exceed that limit. There's really not much more to say about the album, don't bother with it.

Comatose is a much better album, and remains solid all the way up until the very last song, "Looking for Angels" which is more than a little on the awful side. The opener "Rebirthing" is the best song of the album, but despite having a hard act to follow and being a tad sappy "The Last Night" and "Yours to Hold" are both welcome entries as well. "Better Than Drugs" is probably the heaviest song on the album, and it's frankly astonishing that it hasn't had any backlash from the Jesus Freak faction of their audience. A statement like "You're better than drugs/Your love is like one" really implies having sampled both the love and the drugs extensively enough to make the comparison (the references to the "heartbeat" of the entity being addressed make it seem much more likely that they are human and not divine). The title track is the next best song after "Rebirthing." The quality drops a bit in the second half of the album, but as I said it remains solid up until "Looking for Angels." "Falling Inside the Black" is notable, and the remaining songs at least hold their own. The backup vocals become more prominent in this album, and the balance between the clear female voice and the aforementioned slight rasp of the heavier lead vocals is nice. The two singers are married apparently, and have good musical chemistry.


"Monster" from Awake

Their most recent and most varied installment Awake features a wide range spanning from heavy rock songs ("Monster," "It's Not Me It's You," "Sometimes," and "Dead Inside"), to snappy, faster-paced songs utilizing the back up vocals ("Hero" and "Awake and Alive"), to shitty ballads ("Don't Wake Me," "Forgiven," "Never Surrender," and "Lucy"). As frontman John Cooper himself said at a concert my brother attended "power ballads are songs that girls like, and that guys pretend to like so that girls will like them." Much of the album is forgettable, but the first six songs mentioned are all fantastic - intense, quality rock music that shows the band's considerable musical talent, and is easily accessible to just about any rock audience.


"Hero" from Awake

On the whole, I'd say give the band a chance - at least in their latest two albums - if you're a fan of the genre. That genre of course being Hard Rock, and not Christian Rock. Why they would give themselves the latter label is something I truly cannot fathom. Perhaps it makes it easier for them to get their Grammy nominations, but if so they're guilty of the sort of lying that makes Jesus cry. It's also a bit sad if they truly think they need such a crutch. At any rate they're making good music, which I like a good deal, even if it does make Facebook think that I'll also enjoy other Christians' forays into the medium.

[1] I'll happily provide such an analysis if requested.

Nice review - I first came across Skillet via my ridiculously elaborately inter-linked Pandora station, and I ended up picking up Comatose a while ago; all things considered my impressions of that album are almost identical to yours, though we approach them from considerably different backgrounds (The vocalist's raspy voice isn't a common element of church music by the way, or even other CCM-style bands).

I've only heard selections from Awake, but everything I've seen written about it has pretty much echoed what you've just said - it's got some quality hard rock offerings and a bunch of so-so ballads. Still on the fence over whether I'll pick it up or not.

Gildan Bladeborn:
Nice review - I first came across Skillet via my ridiculously elaborately inter-linked Pandora station, and I ended up picking up Comatose a while ago; all things considered my impressions of that album are almost identical to yours, though we approach them from considerably different backgrounds (The vocalist's raspy voice isn't a common element of church music by the way, or even other CCM-style bands).

I've only heard selections from Awake, but everything I've seen written about it has pretty much echoed what you've just said - it's got some quality hard rock offerings and a bunch of so-so ballads. Still on the fence over whether I'll pick it up or not.

Good to know. Church to me growing up was really just something that prevented my friends from coming to play on Sundays. I just thought that the raspiness sounded a little bit like the caricatured gospel choirs that sometimes show up on TV. Also, my younger brother sings in choir and due to his bass voice a good number of his solos are spirituals, which tend to be in the lower ranges, so I thought there might have been a connection.

 

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