Prime Cuts: Sick of It, Not Gonna Die, My Religion
"Rise" is essentially a rock opera. Almost sounding like an oxymoron, a rock opera like a traditional opera is a musical that moves along an unfolding narrative plotline except that the music here consists of elegant electronics, heavy metallic rock, soaring skyscraper ballads and a touch of theatrical symphonic. Skillet has up the ante as far as creativity is concerned. "Rise" is unlike any of their eight other albums. It is in fact going to overshadow their previous album "Awake." And that's a tall order; "Awake" is one of just three rock albums to be certified platinum in 2012, forming an improbable triumvirate with the Black Keys' "El Camino" and Mumford & Sons' "Babel." In this day and age of illegal downloads and piracy, for a Christian rock album to sell in the 7 digit range is simply remarkable. For the sake of those who are not Panheads (the affectionate term given to their ardent fans), it may be proper to say a word by way of introducing the quartet. Skillet hails from Memphis, Tennessee and this ensemble consists of founding member, bassist and lead vocalist John Cooper, wife Korey Cooper who plays rhythm guitars, keyboards and provides supporting vocals, drummer Jen Ledger and lead guitar extraordinaire Seth Morrison.
Since this album is a rock opera that revolves a storyline, it is not advisable to just listen or download a track or two. All twelve cuts need to be listened together as they weave to form a tapestry of a story. The storyline of the album revolves around a typical American teenager coming of age as he enters into adulthood. In this period of adolescence he slowly emerges out of the clasp of his parents' care into the world. Suddenly he discovers himself walking into a daunting environment. He has to wrestle with the question of truth in a world of eroding absolutes and morals. He has to engage the tension of evil, war, violence and sufferings. Nucleus around such themes is "Circus for a Psycho" and "Madness in Me." Most telling is the former, a heavy duty metallic rocker paced with Korey Cooper's auto-tune vocals repeating the song's title like it is a ticking time bomb of frustrations ready to burst in the character's soul. While "Not Gonna Die" deals with the issue of mortality and life after death in ways that echoes the cries even teenagers can understand.
"Sick of It," the album's lead single, is the most cavalier sounding song where frustrations comes to an explosive outburst as John Cooper vents: "When everything you do/Don't seem to matter/You try but it's no use/Your world is getting blacker." Yet such blackness finally does meet its light on the narrative's denouncement "Salvation." Just as Christian in John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" meets the Lord of the Celestial City, here Skillet's protagonist finally meets Jesus Christ in "Salvation." "Salvation" uses the proven recipe of staccato guitars, piano, orchestration and Cooper trading lines with his wife to being out the celebratory message. Such spiritual positivism beams right through "My Religion" where John Newton's traditional "Amazing Grace" gets mesh in for a metallic rock nexus. Producer Howard Benson (Flyleaf and Kelly Clarkson) is again to be congratulated for the joyous "Good Day to be Alive" which mixes acoustic instruments like accordion, mandolin, dulcimer and bells to their trademark slashing electric guitars, strings, churning synths and pummeling drums.
On their sophomore single from this record is "American Noise" which according to the diagnosis of Skillet is what contributes to our societal mess. In our sinfulness we have inadvertently silence God's voice through our busy noises. Such is a cautionary lesson for each of us not to distance ourselves from Christ. "Rise" continues Skillet's template of hard-hitting drum beats, heavy guitar down strokes but this time around they are grittier, louder and fiercer. And augmenting their heavy metallic rock base is this intricately thought out story line unfolding across the songs that is going to opportune them to rise to even greater heights this time round.