Skillet – Rise
Record Label: Atlantic Records
Release Date: June 25 2013
During the whole time I’ve been reviewing albums, and listening to a lot of music, there are bands I’ve come across and bought albums from that are quite popular and are years into their careers, but I just know nothing about them. Recently this year, I was introduced to a lot of bands who could fall into that category for me. A few examples would include Three Days Grace, Poison the Well, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and finally, enter Tennessee Christian hard-rock band Skillet. I’ve seen their records everywhere, but I’ve never been curious enough to listen to them. Well, a friend of mine is a huge fan, and suggested that I check out new album Rise. After being rather skeptical, merely because I didn’t know what I would expect, I noticed it was on sale at my local Target, so I picked it up. I took a shot in the dark by checking this out, but I was quite surprised with what I found. It ultimately was a hard-rock record, mixed with elements of electronic music, pop-rock, and symphonic metal, of all things. It was very cohesive album, even if I wasn’t terribly impressed with it. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it, either. Mainly, that was due in part to lead vocalist and bassist John Cooper. His voice can get rather grating at times. Granted, it’s not bad, but he doesn’t really change pitch the whole time, and considering the record is 48 minutes, it can drone on a bit. But that’s where two things come in – drummer and vocalist Jen Ledger, and the overall instrumentation of the record. At many points throughout the record, Ledger contributes vocals, with her and Cooper trading off lines. It’s a bit different, because not many bands do anything like that, yet it works. While I said that Cooper’s voice can be grating, it’s not awful. His range is really limited, however, so his voice sounds the same on almost every track, which is a bit bothersome. For the first few songs on the record, it’s actually not bad, because you don’t really notice it, but once you hit fifth track “Circus for a Psycho,” which honestly is a track I didn’t care for much to begin with, the grating-ness becomes much more noticeable. Thankfully, Ledger’s vocals save the day, so to speak, because she brings that much needed variety.
Before I dive more into the album, Rise is ultimately supposed to be a concept record. At least, according to the band. The record’s “concept” is that it follows the story of a teenager coming of age, trying to find his place and identity in a world full of so many problems. That’s another thing that I don’t like much about this CD – the overall concept. As I was listening to this record, I didn’t feel like I was hearing a concept record, even with the loosely tied “interludes” towards the end of a few tracks. The messages were really jumbled throughout the record, and it just came off as vague and forgettable. Although the concept is relatable, as many of their fans are teenagers or young adults still trying to find their identities in this chaotic world, it’s still something that I’ve seen over and over again, whether it’s in music, TV, or movies. The “coming of age” story is all too common, and despite that, the concept is still kind of lost in the record itself. It doesn’t quite tell a cohesive story, even with the little interludes I mentioned. They appear towards the end of a few tracks, and while they are interesting, they go right over my head, because it just loosely connects the record together. And that brings the record down slightly for me, because the concept falls to the wayside. Muse’s most recent effort The 2nd Law had the same problem; the concept was there, but it fell to the wayside, because there were way too many other things happening for it to really stick with the listener. This record, on the other hand, does have a lot of relatable songs, so someone listening to this record may grasp the concept more so than someone else, or relate to it more. The concept is there, but it’s quite loose. The little interludes don’t do much to cement it in place, because they’re so few and far between, they become lost in the instrumentation, which is something that does “redeem” the album.
While the record does have a rather straightforward hard-rock sound, it also delves into pop-rock, synth-rock, and symphonic metal at times, which is really interesting. All of that, along with Ledger’s vocals, show up in the first track, and title track, “Rise.” This track is one of the best on the record, frankly. It starts off with a bang, really. Sadly, that’s one of the few tracks that really stand out. It’s not that a majority of them are terrible, but a lot of the songs sound similar to one another. Granted, their sound is rather unique at this point in their career, mixing every “sound” they’ve had throughout their 15-year career, but even then, what really seems to bring this record down are its lyrics, and how repetitive they can be. “Rise” and second track “Sick of It” are almost about the same thing, but they’re just separated by a really odd “interlude” with lots of news bytes that don’t really do much for me. The only difference is that “Rise” adds in a lot more, in terms of instrumentation, including a children’s choir. “Sick of It” is just a rather straightforward hard-rock song. It doesn’t do much for me, and honestly, it sounds quite similar to Three Days Grace’s “Riot” from their 2006 record, One-X. What’s also odd, though, is the lyrics and overall sound change rather drastically with third track “Good to Be Alive.” While the lyrics on this song are rather cliché, they’re still enjoyable, because I like hearing optimistic songs like this. However, this song features a really odd interlude at the end of the track. It’s confusing, because it comes up out of nowhere, and especially because “Good to Be Alive” is a very “poppy” track, it suddenly turns into a really strange electronic track with a choir. It’s really cool, but they should’ve made it into a separate track, or even just combine it with fourth track “Not Gonna Die.”
As the record goes on, there are some songs that just don’t do anything for me, such as fifth track “Circus for a Psycho,” which I mentioned earlier. But thankfully, following track “American Noise” is a really cool song. It’s a “slower” song, which hasn’t appeared since “Good to Be Alive.” Songs like these provide a nice contrast on the record. I’m still not crazy about Cooper’s vocals, but they’re quite nice on this track. A couple of songs later, eighth track “Salvation” is another interesting song, even if it’s not quite slow. What’s strange, though, is tenth track “My Religion” sounds exactly the same, in terms of the lyrics. A few of the songs sound quite derivative, merely because of using the same idea, but with different lyrics. That’s why the concept falls flat, because they keep trying to drive the same ideas with different songs. Instead of doing it in a fresh way, by using more engaging interludes, they try to drive it home with songs that essentially have the same meanings. The latter of the two, however, is my favorite, and one of my favorite tracks on the record. This song gives the message a lot more interestingly, because this song has a rather southern rock vibe to it, which is unlike every other track on the record. The only song on this record that really sticks out to me is last track, “What I Believe.” The record started with a bang, and it surely ends with one, too. Just like “Rise,” the record ends on a rather awesome note. Despite the concept of the record kind of falling flat, this song does seem like a nice “ending” track, even though it does remind me of other tracks on the record. “Salvation,” “My Religion,” and “What I Believe” are most likely about Christianity, but they could also refer someone that the writer has found to find guidance in. And this seems like a nice ending track, because the “teenager” has finally found something to love in this chaotic world.