For Fans Of
I hold Skillet’s ‘Comatose’ very close to my heart. It’s an all time favourite rock record of mine and it’s filled with so many killer tunes, like ‘Whispers In The Dark’, the title track, ‘Falling Inside The Black’, and of course, the seminal ‘Rebirthing’. But the band wasn’t always that superb.
Skillet’s poor-mans hard-rock/Nine Inch Nails-like approach to gospel & worship rock music of the 1990’s was thankfully ditched following the severely average ‘Alien Youth’, in favour of darker, harder-hitting songs. Something that 2003’s ‘Collide’ triumphantly displayed with singles like ‘Forsaken‘. However, it wasn’t until ‘Comatose’ that the band reached their most consistent and what I would define as their musical peak. But ever since, they’ve not been able to recapture that former glory.
The previous album from this Tennessee four-piece was the utterly forgettable ‘Rise’ (an album the band admitted they hated making), and before that, the immensely successful but filler-filled album, ‘Awake’, which spawning their monolithic hits, ‘Monster‘ & ‘Hero‘. So while I’ve accepted that Skillet may never really impress like they used to, it still truly pains me to say that ‘Unleashed’ is such a colossal fall from grace. Whether it’s the stomach-churning rock ballads (‘Watching For Comets’ & ‘Stars‘), the mind-numbing electro-meets-metal tracks (‘Feel Invincible‘), or the huge but lifeless choruses that litter this album (like ‘Burn It Down’), this is just cripplingly lacklustre.
Fluffy and overly generic rock lyrics stifle the powerful vocals that singer & bassist, John Cooper (pictured on the cover), is usually known for. The bass isn’t even worthy of a mention. All of the guitars have an incredibly bland nu-metal tone to them, and that’s not a cardinal sin by any means, but what is, is that they carry no impact or edge whatsoever. Plus, the lack of any real memorable riffs along with all-around weaker guitar solos only made me yearn for the Ben Kasica era of Skillet. Sorry not sorry, Seth Morrison.
Drummer & co-vocalist, Jen Ledger, is a damn solid drummer but the way these songs flow and their overall structure does nothing but restrict her to boring 4/4 backbeats and indistinguishable fills & grooves. I honestly feel sorry for Ledger here. Of course, her singing is still solid, but it feels so underused here, save for a handful of tracks. The same can be said for rhythm guitarist/keys players & fellow singer, Korey Cooper; sorely underused.
The album’s tight and insanely polished mix, while immensely crisp, has removed the grit and life that the group used to have in their music, and an overuse of synth and electronic moments doesn’t help matters either. Yes, this record has great production values but then again, so did Man Of Steel and that movie ended up being utter fucking pants!
As for some specifically underwhelming songs on ‘Unleashed‘, I’m well and truly spoilt for choice. ‘Famous’ is an electronic driven and downright terrible attempt at Skillet trying to break into the pop market and it made me cringe to no end. The same goes for the blatant radio-friendly & laid back ‘Lions’, which becomes monotonous long before the final note rings out. ‘I Want To Live’ feels like a retread of the tone and vibe of oldies like ‘Rebirthing’ & ‘Awake & Alive‘, except it’s nowhere near as engaging as those two examples. The god-awful ‘Feel Invincible’,’Undefeated‘ and ‘Back From The Dead’ are just three of the watered down mainstream metal songs on offer here. Hell, these songs might appear in the next Guitar Hero or Rock Band game, but that’s only if the publishers can’t acquire the rights to bigger, better songs.
To put simply, I’d say that the band decided to keep it “simple, stupid” with ‘Unleashed‘, but they didn’t know when to stop and have gone way too far with the idea. John Cooper said that he wanted this record to be made up of “songs ranging from metal to pop”. They’ve achieved that but in the worst way possible. The frontman also said he wanted these songs to be “connected both in their lyrics and music”. Well, yes they are connected…through both being shit, that is!
Now, for the elephant in the room; Skillet being a Christian rock band.
I’m not a religious person – I’m agnostic if you must know – and I have no quarrel with those that believe in a higher power. So long as they don’t protect paedophiles, ensure the heads of all non-believers remain attached to their shoulders, don’t use their rhetoric to oppress the rights of others, and don’t hire a hitman to kill their wife than I have no problem whatsoever.
Of course, Skillet’s music will be lapped up by the Christian market regardless (this album has been topping the Christian metal and rock charts since it’s release), and I’ve never had a problem with that market, nor the band’s lyrics and themes. After all, I love Underoath, and you’re a desmond if you don’t think that Underoath hasn’t written songs praising the big G over the years (‘Moving For The Sake Of Motion’, ‘Too Bright To See, Too Loud To Hear’ & ‘Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape’ immediately come to mind). Besides, you can usually interchange Skillet’s religious undertones with that of fighting depression, standing up to “The Man”, and of past relationships & love loss. So you know, their lyrics are generalised enough that two people – religious or not – may interpret the authorial intent of a particular song differently. That’s indeed the case with this album…but I feel that that’s a minor positive.
In a desperate attempt to find more positives here, ‘Out Of Hell‘ is perhaps the only good song on offer. It’s catchy synth lines and solid riffs were all brought home with infectiously good choruses that outshine the song’s peers. Sure, the lyrics are kinda cheesy, but it’s easily the standout song. Although, I think that that’s more telling of this record’s overall quality (or lack thereof) as a whole, than it is of ‘Out Of Hell’ being a great song. Because a small mound of shit doesn’t look half as bad when it’s surrounded by larger mountains of shit.
What sums up ‘Unleashed’ the best is that it actually came out last month and I – a long time Skillet fan – only found out about its release yesterday (at the time of writing that was September 4th). Honestly, after sitting through this record more times than I could stomach, which was four times, to be exact, I have to admit that Skillet are probably a lost cause now. Long gone is the band that wrote ‘Comatose’ and ‘Collide’, and all we have in their stead is a once great band with a fucking terrible new album that should be avoided at all costs.