|Skillet - Rise|
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Reviewed by Mike Rimmer
Without doubt John Cooper, the creative force behind Skillet, has the heart of an evangelist. He always has and always will have and yet there are some longtime fans of the band who haven't liked the transition of the band from the cosy Christian rock scene into a credible mainstream rock act. There's a sense in which because they are no longer writing obvious "Christian" material, somehow they have sold out. The reality is the band have entered into a new phase of reaching out to the disaffected, struggling, damaged youth of the current generation and they're offering an alternative to the prevalent nihilism and delivering songs that are infused with hope and the possibilities of change. And they're delivering it in an album which rocks hard! The title cut which opens the album is a call to rise in revolution to "unite and fight to make a better life". It places the individual within a wider decaying society and a "world gone mad" and encourages them not to give up. In case you missed the idea, the breakdown at the end of the song brings a montage of modern woes via dramatic clips and the obvious intention that we can rise and make a difference. The power of that message continues into "Sick Of It" which delivers that message of hope to the individual who is sick of the empty life that comes with the pursuit of worthless things or who has been abused or damaged. If you're sick of the way your life has turned out, Skillet offer an alternative to "raise your hands and get rid of it" - a metaphor for turning to God and allowing him to bring life change. The powerful video that accompanies the song spells out the message even more clearly. Later in the album, "American Noise" continues the theme of 'Rise' with the plea to "let love cut through the American noise" and once again Cooper is advocating that the individual can make a difference. Thankfully the album doesn't continue at the level of intensity of the opening two cuts or I'm not sure I would have survived to the end! "Good To Be Alive" is a lighter celebration of the simple joys of living. The band's new guitarist Seth Morrison stamps his mark on the sound of the album with shredding solos and powerful thumping riffs and Korey Cooper's keyboards and vocal input simply widens the range of the band and brings added melody. Those who worry the band have sold out should check out the prayerful psalmlike "Salvation" or the groovy "My Religion" which is effectively a modern update of "Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus" where Cooper nails his colours to the mast: "Who's gonna heal my pain? Nothing makes me feel like you do." He even breaks out into a verse of "Amazing Grace". So perhaps the accusations of a sell out are a bit premature! This is spiritual and cultural revolution disguised as a rock album and it's dangerous stuff. The message may be cleverly packaged up for the mainstream but the underlying intention of the band is as powerful as ever. For those who have ears to hear, there's enough here to radically change lives.
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|Skillet recently made headlines when their last album, Awake, became 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. The news that Skillet had sold more than a million albums in the U.S. came as a shock to all but the band's wildly diverse horde of fans, male and female, young and old - known as "Panheads" - whose still-swelling ranks now officially number in the seven-digit range. This remarkable achievement was announced just as Skillet was putting the finishing touches on their eagerly awaited follow-up album, Rise.|
"Rise is the story of a typical American teen coming into adulthood and facing the massive world problems," says Skillet's Cooper, who is deeply concerned about the erosion of belief in young people today, as well as their deeply felt desire to belong. "Facing world problems as an adult is different from when you're growing up and under someone else's care. All of a sudden, you realize that the world is a dangerous place. It's dark and scary, there's acts of God happening, there's war, there are all these terrible things, and you thinking, 'How can I have hope in this place?' But at the same time, you also think, 'Even moving all those huge problems aside, I look at my own life and I'm not even comfortable with the things I can change. I'm fighting with my parents, my parents have split up, I'm here in this home getting yelled at all the time that I'm never gonna be good enough, and I'm starting to believe that I'm never gonna be good enough. I constantly fail myself, and I just want to have a reason to live. I want to matter, and I want to know that my life counts for something.'"
"So the story is basically about rising up out of your downtrodden life, rising up from that place where you feel like a failure, rising up to be comfortable being yourself, to stand up for what you believe in," Cooper continues. "It's not about pleasing your friends, it's not about doing what's cool; it's about being who you are and being comfortable with that. And lastly, in the grand scheme of it all is, if I can be somebody I am comfortable being, maybe I can even rise up and help change the world. Can one person make a difference? Can one person actually matter?"
On Rise, then, the message is both spiritual and social, as Skillet reaches out anew to its ever-growing, ever-changing following. "I think music should be bringing people together and bringing them hope. That's certainly what it does for me," Cooper says, continuing to say that "we believe there is hope and there is love and there is a God that will be there for you; if you reach out to Him, He will reach back out to you. That message is in all of our records and most of our songs. It certainly is the message of this record."