After eight albums and numerous lineup changes, Skillet has been around the block a few times. They’ve been all over the place in terms of style, which is understandable, considering lead singer and bassist John Cooper is the only original member of the band left. With new members come new styles. The style that the band currently embodies began transition with 2003’s Collide, although the albums since have been slightly softer. Rise follows the same mold of hard-hitting rock songs mixed with epic orchestral arrangements.
I was a little disappointed when Awake was released in 2009. I was looking forward to a new album, but it just didn’t impress me that much, especially compared to Collide and Comatose. I was hoping that Rise would (pun intended) rise above its predecessor. I must say, I was not disappointed.
The album doesn’t even attempt to shy away from the heaviness of the band. “Sick of It,” “Not Gonna Die,” and “Circus for a Psycho” are evidence of that fact. This is refreshing, since a lot of bands tend to mellow out as they get older. As a matter of fact, “Circus for a Psycho” is heavier than anything they’ve done since Collide. Metalheads have more than enough material for headbanging on this record.
In addition to the heaviness, though, there’s a lot of creativity. If you include the intro of “Not Gonna Die” present at the end of “Good to be Alive,” the song includes not only a fantastic orchestral arrangement, but opera singers as well, which only adds to the epic nature of the song. This song is set apart in terms of new musical elements, but the same sort of epic climax is present on numerous other songs.
The downside of the album comes when they get away from that. There are a few soft (not softer, soft) songs on the album. “Good to be Alive,” “American Noise,” and “Hard to Find” are all piano melodies that would be more at home on a Thriving Ivory
record. They aren’t half-bad songs, but their random placement in between heavy, fist-pumping anthems makes the album feel disjointed. The fans most interested in the album, unless they are hardcore purists, will inevitably skip these few soft tracks, making their presence on the album essentially useless.
Lyrically, the album has a lot of typical rock band kinds of themes. It speaks of revolution, being “sick of it,” and, well, more being sick and more revolution. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on the context. Unfortunately, the band doesn’t do a great job lyrically making the context clear. The mention of regret in “Sick of It” does lend itself to being sick of a sinful lifestyle, but it also says asks if you are “bored to death,” so my guess as to the real context of the song is as good as yours. The revolution songs are a little more clear, but not in a positive way. “Circus for a Psycho” is pretty blatantly about lashing out for being mistreated. Like many songs, it exaggerates the mistreatment, describing it as tightening “a noose” and “killing me slowly.”
There are other aspects, lyrically, however. “Salvation” is about (you guessed it) salvation. It reminds me of some descriptions of David in Psalms, and how he was at the brink of death but God saved him. Same concept. “Fire and Fury” and “Hard to Find” are both love songs that share good thoughts, and “Good to be Alive” has a very optimistic outlook on life.
All in all, this album has the same problem that the recent Nickelback albums have, although in a less extreme way. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to be positive or negative, so they just threw both in there. It would have been more powerful if they kept with the negative aspects and added a remedy, or just stuck to the positive aspects. As a result it feels disjointed lyrically and suffers a bit.
Still, the album is very strong, and is definitely stronger than Awake.
Rise: Really catchy kick-off track. It is a rebellious song, but it’s helpful to think what we might rebel against. If you’re rebelling against the sinful culture in can be a good thing. Is that what they’re getting at? Your guess is as good as mine. Again, lyrical ambiguity is the bane of many a well-intended song. 4/5
Sick of It: This is another song that suffers from lyrical ambiguity, but can more easily be taken positively. Like I mentioned earlier, the inclusion of regret in the song lends to being sick of a sinful lifestyle, which is definitely a good message. 4/5
Good To Be Alive: The unfortunate thing about the soft songs on this record is they all start to sound the same. This one has a good melody, but it sets the stage for the other soft songs, which all follow the same formula. Still, the positive outlook on life is a good thing. 3/5
Not Gonna Die: This one is probably my pick for best song on the album. The spine-chilling strings, opera singers, and crunching guitars may even match my previous favorite Skillet song (“Collide”). Maybe. I’m undecided. 5/5
Circus for a Psycho: Musically this track has an amazing lead guitar riff, but lyrically it is very disappointing. The angry lashing out and “animal” descriptions are things you’d expect to find in a Slipknot song. 1/5
American Noise: The rigid transition from the heaviest song on the record to another soft one hurts this song, not to mention the unbearably repetitive melody. I do like the lyrics describing the “good ole life,” but it’s hurt by the boring music. 2/5
Madness in Me: The catchy rhythm guitar riff will stick in your head for days (it’s still stuck in mine). I also really like the lyrics. It describes a very destructive inner self, but also says “Can’t change the past but I can fight to change today.” 5/5
Salvation: This is a little softer in terms of loudness, but it has a very somber tone, which, for the record, is what made the softer tunes on Comatose work so well. It also features a trade-off vocal duet with Jen, a feature that was way too underused on this album. 5/5
Fire and Fury: I’m unsure as to the main point of this song, lyrically. It seems to be a love song, and sings some of sacrifice (“I will burn for you”) but seems a bit disjointed, lyrically. Musically, it takes a little too long to get to the climax, but the vocal duo of John and Jen Ledger is very effective. 4/5
My Religion: The guitar riff on this one is very catchy, but has a different feel than previous catchy riffs. However, the song itself is laden with theological problems. The lines “I don’t need to stare at stained glass and a steeple/I don’t need to dress to impress all the people/Don’t need no priest, don’t need no pew/You are my religion, my religion is you.” In other words, “I don’t need to do anything you’ve told me to do, I just need to sing about you on stage and that’s good enough.” Despicable. 1/5
Hard to Find: This song has another one of the really cool orchestral arrangements, but that quickly gives way to another stale melody reminiscent of every other soft song on the album. Still, the statements of faith and optimism are beneficial. 2/5
What I Believe: It seems to be a fad toward the end of the album to throw in some last minute songs about faith. This does so, but in a different way. It shows positivity among a world that is lost. It’s a good message, but feels half-hearted in comparison to previous angst-ridden songs filled with anger and rebellion. 4/5
Musical Rating: 8/10
Lyrical Rating: 6/10