Skillet released their self-titled debut album in 1996. Some of my favourite songs by them over the years have been: ‘Whirlwind’, ‘You Take my Rights Away’, ‘Alien Youth’, ‘Collide’, ‘The Last Night’, and ‘Lucy’. Current group members are: John L. Cooper (vocals, bass, only founding member remaining), Korey Cooper (keyboards, programming, John’s wife), Jen Ledger (drums/vocals), and Seth Morrison (guitars, newest member). Jonathan Chu plays violin, while Tate Olsen plays cello. RISE (2013, Word/Atlantic Records) is Skillet’s ninth album. The producer is Howard Benson who has won two Grammy Awards and has worked with the likes of Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson, and P.O.D. RISE sold 60, 000 copies in the U.S. in its first week of release. It debuted at Number Four on the Billboard 200 and Number One on the Rock Albums and Christian Albums charts. I am reviewing the Deluxe Edition CD/DVD of RISE. The CD has fifteen songs on it and runs 61 minutes and 9 seconds.
Skillet performed the heavy rocking title track ‘Rise’ on Conan’s late show. The song touches on domestic violence, high unemployment rates, and a general loss of hope for many in today’s society. Skillet is proactive in addressing these problems: “Sound it off, this is the call!/Rise in revolution!/It’s our time to change it all/Rise in revolution!/Unite and fight to make a better life!/Everybody one for all/Sound off, this is the call, tonight we rise!” ‘Sick of It’ was the album’s first single. It is a pulsating rocker that could be referring to the ills of society or a vice someone is struggling with: “Are you sick of it?/Raise your hands/Get rid of it!/While there’s a fighting chance/Are you over it?/Bored to death?/Have you had enough regret?/Take a stand, raise your hands/If you’re sick of it.”
‘Good to Be Alive’ has more of a pop music feel to it, at times sounding like Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’. Here are some of the words that praise human companionship: “Driving down this highway/Soaking up the sun/Got miles to go before we get home/And the journey’s just begun/We hold onto each other/You are everything I need/You feel like forever/You’re a second chance for me/This life could almost kill ya/When you’re trying to survive/It’s good to be here with ya/And it’s good to be aiive.” John Cooper and Jen Ledger trade off vocals on several tracks including ‘Not Gonna Die’. This song seems to be about a couple whose relationship is on the rocks. They vow to save it: “No, not gonna die tonight/We’re gonna stand and fight forever/(Don’t close your eyes)/No, not gonna die tonight/We’re gonna fight for us together/No, we’re not gonna die tonight/Don’t you give up on me/You’re everything I need/This is how it feels when you take your life back/This is how it feels when you fight back,”
‘Circus for a Psycho’ starts off with an AC/DC style electric guitar solo. It contains these interesting lyrics: “Tonight, get ready for a fight/So now you know it’s time/To ride my circus for a psycho/Round and round we go, look out below/Because I want off this/Circus for a psycho.” ‘American Noise’ is a nice ballad that should connect with audiences. It stresses the importance of each individual in our chaotic society: “Times will be bad, times will be good/Things I wish I hadn’t done and some i wish I would/Cutting through the American noise/You’ve got a voice and a song to sing/Drink deep in the morning (2X)/See what the day will bring/La da da da/Lift up your voice/Let love cut through the American noise.../No matter who you are, you’ve got a voice/Why don’t you use it?/Sing your own song, take all the noise/And make it into music.”
’Madness in Me’ speaks of inner turmoil: “From the fire that burns inside, consuming/I fight to stay alive but I can’t breathe/The voices scream, the enemy takes over everything/This is the madness in me/Madness in me/The madness in me/Madness in me (2X).” On ‘Salvation’ Jen Ledger carries the lead vocals. At the beginning of the song one of the Cooper’s kids talks about how Christ was bruised and wounded for us. Christian listeners and seekers alike will be drawn to the following words: “Touch You, taste You, feel You, need You/Give it all just to find You/Hold me, heal me/I will find You/Keeping me alive/You are my salvation/Touch You, taste You, feel You here/Our love will never die/You are my salvation/Hold me, heal me, keep me near/My heart will burn for You/It’s all I can do.”
‘Fire and Fury’ is a lighter track musically and includes these passionate sentiments: “I will burn, I will burn for you/With fire and fury, fire and fury/My heart hurts, my heart hurts for you/Your love burns within me/With fire and fury/Let it all fall down to dust/Can’t break the two of us/We are safe in the strength of love/You can stop the aching/Because you’re the one I need.” ‘My Religion’ is a great track that blends blues and rock music. It reflects the mentality of many in today’s society: “I don’t need to stare at stained glass and a steeple/I don’t need to dress to impress all of the people/Don’t need no priest, don’t need no pew/You are my religion, my religion is you/I don’t need no other purpose, you give me a reason/Ain’t their business what I want to believe in/You are my priest¸ you are my truth/You are my religion, my religion is you.”
‘Hard to Find’ admits that we need others in our lives to help us through life: “If I fall will you hold on to me?/Through it all, promise me you won’t lose me/These days hope is hard to come by/And tonight I don’t know how I can survive/You give me faith to believe there’s a way/To put the past finally behind me/And hope to make it through another night/You give me strength during these dark times when I’m blind/You are my light when faith is hard to find.” ‘What I Believe’ is a rock song that uses strings. It is the song of one who is totally captivated by another: “You are what I believe/I’ll live and die for you/This is all that I need/When nothing is real you are my truth/In the darkness you shine/Can you keep me safe tonight/When I’m down on my knees/You are what I believe.”
Three bonus tracks are included on the Deluxe Edition CD. ‘Battle Cry’ is an inspiring song. It is an optimistic call to action: “Let it rise like a prayer in the night/Shout for love, shout for hope/Let them hear us/I believe we can’t lose/Even mountains will move/It’s our faith, it’s our life/This is our battle cry/They can’t take us down/If we stand our ground/If we live, if we die/We will shout our battle cry.” ‘Everything Goes Black’ is a relatively soft song that deals with emotional pain: “Whenever you’re gone away/The darkness hides the day/Whenever you’re gone the bleeding won’t stop/It hurts till you come back/Everything goes black.” ‘Freakshow’ includes these introductory words that put the spotlight on us as Christians: “Step right up ladies and gentlemen/Come and see things your eyes won’t believe/Some say they are aliens/Some say they are strangers/Some say they are not of this world/We will not conform to the masses/Whether they scorn or whether they attack us.”
RISE will not likely give Skillet’s Christian fan base as much spiritual nourishment as past releases. The lyrics are not that deep and some of the themes are repeats of other Skillet songs. The songs focus more on the emotions and feelings of everyday youth. In that sense, the album tells a story. This album could serve as a bridge to lead someone to Christ if it gets them thinking about the emptiness and hurt in their lives. I do wish Skillet would have included a couple more songs that point more directly to Christ by Name. RISE is a solid mainstream rock album though. The vocals and music are top-notch. At least Skillet isn’t promoting evil in their lyrics. Perhaps a non-Christian who likes RISE will pick up Skillet’s earlier albums and find hope in Christ. I’m rating RISE 87% as a rock album.
The Deluxe Edition of RISE comes with the AWAKE & LIVE DVD. It includes nine of the Skillet’s past hits live in concert at Winter Jam in Michigan. The stage show includes great pyrotechnics and lighting. The group makes good use of the stage and there is always something to look at! Jen Ledger really hits the drums with gusto! Onstage John Cooper lets the crowd know he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation. He also tells the burdened to come to Jesus for rest. The DVD also includes behind the scenes and before the show goofy antics and preparations. John Cooper talks of how he was influenced by Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Stryper, and Amy Grant. Fans also get a look at the making of RISE and a look at the band’s promotional photoshoot. Also included on the DVD is ‘Heart and Passion’ by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It documents Skillet’s performances alongside Franklin Graham. John Cooper sees what he does as mission work. I’m rating the DVD portion of RISE 90%. This year Skillet will tour with such respected mainstream bands as Shinedown, Papa Roach, and Nickelback. For more info visit www.skillet.com.