Written by: Abby Baracskai (7/29/2016)
Before I begin this, I want to explain a few things. I’ve been caught in Twitter wars because of a few opinions I had shared and some fans jumped at the chance to correct me and try to explain to me why I was wrong. I will not go into the details, as they are not relevant to the review, but I do want to give a fair warning in advance. If you are a die-hard Skillet fan who does not want to listen to an opinion that is different than your own, this review might not be for you. With that being said, I also want to point out that although I may not agree with most of the fans’ views, I have not, and will not, bash, disrespect, or say mean things just to say mean things about the album, Skillet themselves, or anything else that is not my own musical opinion. After all, Skillet is the band that really brought me in to Christian rock, and I am forever thankful to them for that.
Since this album seems to have a large following and people want to know which songs are rock vs. which ones are not and which songs have good Christian messages vs. which ones do not, I will be writing my review a little differently than I normally do. Instead of choosing a few songs to highlight and talk about, I want to give a short synopsis of each song to maybe help show people which songs they may like or not like, along with a 1-5 rating based on my personal preferences. So let’s get started.
“Feel Invincible (3/5)” released and fans were super excited about it. Personally, it didn’t impress me that much. I like the emphasis of John’s vocals during the verses. I think it makes the song sound a little mechanical, which works for this song. There is a small guitar solo that sounds pretty good. Lyrically, I believe they’re talking about how God’s mighty love and grace empowers them to feel invincible, although it never outright says “God” or “Jesus.” In my opinion, it’s a decent opener song, but I expected a little more.
“Back From the Dead (1/5)” released more recently and fans accepted this one really well, too. In my opinion, I don’t like the song at all. The repetitive “ba ba b aba-ck” lyrics annoy me. I also really don’t understand the meaning of the song. With that being said, I have seen them perform this song and it was a neat song to see live. The song does feature heavier drums, which is a plus for rock fans. The slight touch of the call and answer of “back” in the chorus adds a cool highlight on the lyrics.
“Stars (4/5)” released and has been playing on some Christian radio stations. The song seems like a proclamation of faith and acknowledging God’s power, but again, never states that they’re talking about “God” or “Jesus.” I’m assuming it’s to help keep the meaning open to interpretation. I like the harmonies between John and Jen’s vocals. It sounds smooth and also makes the chorus more impactful. It’s a softer song, which is probably why more radio stations have picked it up, but I really like the message.
“I Want to Live (4/5)” opens with the classic mix of strings sound that Skillet has known to feature. Musically, the song feels as if it was pulled from Comatose and updated slightly to make it sound new but still be a killer rock-sounding track. It is probably one of the most, if not the most, rock song on the album. The structure of the song is a little lackluster because it’s a lot like a lot of other Skillet songs (play between John and Jen’s vocals, Jen getting the slower and quieter bridge, louder chorus that ends with an “emphasis” which is just the title of the song, repeat). Lyrically, the song leaves me wanting more; since the main point is declaring the choice to live. A plus is that it will probably be a song that can help a lot of people that deal with suicide and depression since it’s talking about choosing to live every day and fight the battle. It reminds me of a modern day “The Last Night” which I think a lot of fans will enjoy.
“Undefeated (3/5)” features many different vocal patterns. The chanting in the chorus is a nice touch and adds variety. The drums and guitar are simple and basic but add a slight rock edge, though not enough to make a large impact. The lyrics are another call to fight for something you believe in, a message seen quite often in this album and previous ones. It’s an okay song overall.
“Famous (1/5)” made me do a double take to make sure I was actually listening to the Skillet album. The song has a poppy and electronic sound to it. I understand bands have to evolve with the times to grow and continue to make music, but this doesn’t work in my opinion. I also have an issue with the message of this song. It talks about wanting to make Jesus famous (well, assuming it’s Jesus since it doesn’t actually say that). I understand the intent is to spread the Word for people to come to know Jesus, but I think “famous” is the wrong word to choose. Biblically, Jesus didn’t do anything “famous” people would be doing in today’s world. He ate with sinners, rode into town on a donkey, and so many more things that common people did. The song just doesn’t work for me.
“Lions (3/5)” continued on with the confusion and astonishment that I truly was listening to a Skillet album. It has a lighter feel with uplifting lyrics and smooth harmonies. The drums are soft and there is a heavy focus on piano, which is a nice refresher. Honestly, it sounds like a Christian contemporary radio single that starting-out artists release that sound like other popular songs to get plays. The saving grace here is that the song is actually lyrically rich and can be connected to biblical references, something that has been lacking in previous songs.
“Out of Hell (2/5)” grinds my gears. I think it has a lot of potential to be a really great rock song. The guitar has some strong notes, but the drums sound simple and the same as a lot of other Skillet songs. It’s nice to hear little bits of Korey infused with the hints of electronic touches, but unfortunately it makes it sound a little too poppy. The repetitious “oh oh oh ohs” hinder the impact of the lyrics too. I also have an issue with the lyrics. I understand people call it “hell on earth,” but I’m not sure that’s really true. I have an issue that they claim to be “suffocating” and that “angels don’t fly down here” because that makes it sound like being a Christian is a negative sort of thing. Which, don’t get me wrong, we all go through trials and tribulations, but God never leaves us. Maybe it’s supposed to be an illusion or reference to a specific dark time of life that felt like that, but I don’t get that sort of vibe with the song.
“Burn it Down (2/5)” opens right out of the gates with some impactful, strong guitar plucks, flip flopping with a quick drum slam, paired with electronic plinks that add flair. The song does have a pop rock vibe because of the upfront electronic elements. Unfortunately, it’s another song about fire, uprising, and burning things: something seen in the album already and in previous albums. Because of the lackluster of the message and lyrics to me, it brings the song down as a whole.
“Watching for Comets (1/5)” literally opens up with a piano note and “you burn so bright.” At this point, I’m really getting tired of lyrics about burning and fire. I also don’t understand the song at all. “You are a comet and I lost it. Watching for comets, will I see you again?” That doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever, even as an illusion. The song is slower and has soft guitars, so another more contemporary feeling song. It just doesn’t work for me.
“Saviors of the World (3/5)” has a strong electronic pop opening paired with, once again, those “oh oh oh’s.” The drawn out vocals are a unique feature that makes it stand out. There is a slight pre-chorus that has “ohs” meshed with an old cathedral sounding organ, which is really neat. Unfortunately, the lyrics and meaning of the song are off-putting for me again. The song claims that “we are the saviors of the world,” but the Bible tells us there is only one Savior and one way to salvation; and that’s Jesus alone, not us or our works. It also ties in the message of uniting and fighting against the world, an all too common and overused concept throughout the album.
The album wraps up with “The Resistance (3/5).” The song opens with a guitar melody that sounds awfully similar to “Hero” which is a little tacky to me. Thankfully, the song is pretty heavy, as it features subtle chanting and screams in the background. The vocal creativity is awesome. There is a spot on balance between John and Jen’s voices and cool effects to create different sounds. Sadly, the lyrics bring the song down. It’s another song about rising up against something, and uses imagery of storms, which is also overused. There is a bridge point where the lyrics say “we’re rising up, up, up,” which sounds EXACTLY like Fall Out Boy’s lyrics “light em up, up, up,” in “My Songs Know What You Do in the Dark.” That really doesn’t sit well with me because it shows lack of uniqueness. The song features a hard rock outro that is pretty epic. Unfortunately, the lyrics really put a damper on the song’s overall feeling.
Honestly, I expected more from the album. A lot of the songs, in my opinion, are crying for contemporary Christian radio plays. I know Skillet has roots in softer and more electronic sounding music (just take a listen 10 or so albums back), but they seemed to have evolved more into the rock genre. With this album, it sounds like they took a step in a different direction and tried some new things, which is great to test different waters, but for me it just didn’t work that well.
Lyrically, the album repeats certain words and phrases a lot throughout the album and it starts to sound repetitive. Listening to the album straight through and hearing this over and over kinda brought the quality of the album down in my opinion. A lot of the messages of the songs also sound really similar from previous albums and I was hoping for some new inspiration, not just recycled meanings with different word choices and different music. For example, “I Want to Live” is a lot like “Awake and Alive” where they talk about being awake and living for God. Also, “The Resistance” is a lot like “Battle Cry” or “Rise” in the sense that they all talk about rallying up against some other force. The saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” might be an argument here.
Overall, I liked bits and pieces but was sad to hear the album (Unleashed) be mostly on a lighter side and to immediately start making lyrical connections to previous albums. I think a lot of fans will probably really like this album, as most Panheads seem to embrace and love anything and everything Skillet does. The softer songs will probably bring more contemporary listeners on to the scene and the open-ended lyrics might attract some unbelievers. Although I don’t particularly care for this album, I am still a Skillet fan and love what they do with their live shows.