Skillet – Rise

By Lee Brown on June-23-2013 | Filed under Reviews | Tags : , , , , | Share

Skillet – Rise
Score: 4/5Score: 4/5Score: 4/5Score: 4/5Score: 4/54
4.0 (43 votes)

Artist: Skillet
Album: Rise
Label:  Atlantic Records
Release Date:  06.25.13
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Tracklisting:

  1. Rise
  2. Sick of It
  3. Good to Be Alive
  4. Not Gonna Die
  5. Circus for a Psycho
  6. American Noise
  7. Madness in Me
  8. Salvation
  9. Fire and Fury
  10. My Religion
  11. Hard to Find
  12. What I Believe
  13. Battle Cry (Deluxe edition only)
  14. Everything Goes Black (Deluxe edition only)
  15. Freakshow (Deluxe edition only)

Perhaps the best kept secret in the music world last year was that Skillet became one of only three bands to achieve platinum status. For a band that released their first album in 1996 and has spent most of their career in the niche Christian rock market, this is quite a statement to make. Gone are the days when a few dozen pan-heads would meet at their local Church to hear Skillet sing grunge rock anthems like “Gasoline” or modern worship songs such as can be found on Ardent Worship. Now Skillet is co-headlining massive arenas with bands like Shinedown. Skillet’s mainstream success is certainly now undeniable.

Produced by Howard Benson (RED, P.O.D., Blindside), Rise follows the Grammy-nominated Awake and is being released on Atlantic Records. The fear many have with such strings of success on “secular” labels and in “mainstream” markets, is that either the band themselves will stray from their solid faith (and there is not a good track record overall in that department) or that their message will get watered down to obscurity in the process. Certainly, tracks such as “My Religion” could give credence to this fear. Sharing more than a little in common with Backstreet Boys protege Krystal’s track of the same name (from way back in 2001), “My Religion” could leave the listener open to interpret “You are my religion” into any sort of “spirituality” they wanted. That is…if not for the context of the rest of the album.

Allow me to assuage any fears of Skillet slipping into heresy. Rise is an album that is boldly devoted from start to finish. In fact, the final “act” of the album includes a few songs that would not find themselves out of place on an Ardent Worship album, something pan-heads have been waiting over a decade for the band to return to.

Rise is a concept album that looks at a “typical american teen” as she/he faces the pains of the world around her. But it is so much more than just that. In a world filled increasingly with the many horrors that play before the listener’s ears in the opening song, Rise is also a challenge to seek the One true face of redemption. Despite their mainstream success, Skillet is not afraid to boldly point the listener to the only true place such healing may be found.

As a concept, the album is broken up into the typical “three acts” you find in story telling. The opening act (from “Rise” to “Not Gonna Die”) sees the teen face the trials of the world with confidence and optimism. The second act (“Circus for a Psycho” to “Madness in Me”) sees the character come to grips with the horrors of this world, their own failures, and whether anyone can stand in this evil time. The final act (starting with the reading of Isaiah 53 at the end of “Madness in Me” and going through the conclusion of the album) boldly shows the source of true redemption and the only One who has/can truly overcome the world.

Musically, Rise incorporates the now signature sounds Skillet has honed since Collide (and includes some synths that have a faint Alien Youth feel), yet it is not afraid to explore deeper instrumentation at the same time. While tracks like “Rise” and “Sick of It” could fit on either Comatose  or Alive without variation, others, most notably “My Religion,” are animals all their own. While Skillet has become notable for their use of keyboards, synths, and impressive female drummers, these elements become even more prominent on Rise. And then there are the interludes/transitions that follow at the end of many of the songs and tell/further the story. These include everything from choirs, to spoken word, and other varied elements.

The first act of the album begins with the title-track “Rise” and “Sick of It.” Both songs are anthemic powerhouses that will certainly become theme songs for our broken generation find solace and strength in. Because both have been available for some time as singles, fans will likely already be familiar with them. Tonally and musically, these tracks stick extremely close to the style found on Awake, yet they certainly reflect increasing musical acumen from the veteran band.

The other two tracks in act one are the complimentary “Good to be Alive” and “Not Gonna Die.” While not quite as raucous as the previous tracks, both play nicely off the duality of the pains of the world set against an innocent confidence and hope. The striking interlude between the two songs (lead by a small girl but bleeding into a choir) also provides one of the more unique moments on the album. Both songs focus on life and death challenges overcome by the sense that life will continue in the end. “Not Gonna Die” becomes another stand out, even anthemic, track as John and Korey/Jen alternate and then intertwine their vocals. All together, the tracks in act one tell a story filled with hope in the face of a lost and fractured generation.

This theme is epitomized through the artwork (amazing artwork, btw) of the album. The cover itself is a very pointed image of a little girl with a slingshot that appears to stand before Goliath without fear. Other images (see the singles of the already released songs) further this bold imagery and give a perfect word picture of what the album’s first and third act portray beautifully.

Act two begins with “Circus for a Psycho,” which also begins the shift to a more painful look at the world. Though the pains of the world are apparent in a big way in act one, the way the character views them shifts with this song. The line “I want off this circus for a psycho… everybody down, gonna burn it to the ground” reflects the tonal shift the character is experiencing. Musically, the song stays in line with past works, but does have some carnival elements with industrial pulsing in the background and female vocals (repeating “psycho…here we go”) that give it a carny sort of feel. Still, there is a glimmer of hope apparent that shines through the chaos.

Attached to “Circus for a Psycho” is another interlude that moves from carnival elements to pure noise before the character turns the noise off in favor of a record starting up. The record begins the song “American Noise” (also released as a single prior to the album’s debut). “American Noise” is certainly one of the slower paced songs on Rise, but it is also one of the stronger offerings. Coming across as a rock ballad of sorts, the hectic pace of modern life is highlighted before the charge is made to “let love cut through the American noise… no matter who you are, you’ve got a voice, why don’t you use it…make it into music.”

“Madness in Me” closes out act two with a very industrial sound that reminds me much more of Skillet’s Invincible days mixed with their newer sound. The idea behind the song is the “madness” or evil/temptation/sin within that claws and scrapes to pull the character down. “The enemy takes over everything, this is the madness in me.” This is the dark night of the soul… it is the Empire Strikes Back moment where the darkness has almost taken over. Yet, as with every song on the album, hope shines powerfully through. As the song properly fades away, the transition to act three begins with a powerful reading of Isaiah 53, the messianic prophecy that points hope clearly to a crucified Savior rather than vague spirituality.

“Salvation” picks up from this transition with true Ardent Worship. “I feel you keeping me alive, You are my salvation… my heart will burn for You, it’s all I can do.” The main vocals on this powerful track are handled by Jen with John handling the chorus, which makes a nice and powerful mix. Anyone who has been to a Skillet show and seen them close with their more worshipful material will likely fall in love with this powerful love song to God.

This is quickly followed by the piano driven “Fire and Fury.” In many ways, this track feels like a continuation of the previous song in that it follows the same vocal palette and styling, yet the key difference is somber intensity. In many ways, “Fire and Fury” is a spiritual successor to “The Thirst is Taking Over.” It is a worship song that all but demands the listener close their eyes, raise their hands, and simply drink in the experience. “I will burn, I will burn for you. With Fire and fury. My heart beats for You. Your love burns within me with fire and fury.” In my iTunes I keep a playlist/genre labeled “Love songs to God.” I save it for only the most passionate songs to where not even many “worship genre” songs fit the bill, but this song will certainly be in that playlist.

As I’ve alluded to and mentioned before, “My Religion” is the most dramatically different track on the album. The lyrical flow and pacing mirror the old hymn: “What can wash away my sin? nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Yet this version contains different lyrics. The musicianship is very old-school rock (maybe even a little rockabilly), and it reminds me of tobyMac’s “Hey, Devil” both in execution and in how it stands out from the rest of the album. As I mentioned before, given no other context with a cursory glace, this song could be taken as vague spirituality. However, once the lyrics are examined, elements of the priestly thread in the book of Hebrews become the backbone of the song. Once John bursts into “Amazing Grace,” there is no more question that “You are my religion, my religion is You,” speaks of Jesus alone.

“Hard to Find” returns to the piano driven rock sounds familiar to other records. “Hard to Find” continues this final act of the record and works as the counter-point to “Madness in Me” as it examines the same theme, but with the hope that “You give me faith to believe there’s a way, to put the past finally behind me, and hope to make it through another night.” Though it is less directly worshipful than the previous set of tracks, it certainly is a faith-filled song that anyone questioning whether or not there should be another tomorrow need to cling to.

The album closes out with “What I Believe,” which is the exclamation mark on both the theme of the duality of pain/chaos/destruction against hope/faith/Love and on the final worshipful act of this concept story. Though it is still more muted than the opening act of the record (the final act is a little bit more like a caged/internal passion against the vocal but more external element presented in the first act), this final track serves to put a bold exclamation mark on the hope Skillet wants their listener will see as the True Light outshines even the darkest of days.

“I live and die for You… You are what I believe!”

Overall: Skillet presents a tale of a young person faced with the pains of the world, broken into a traditional three-part story arc. Throughout the record each song presents the duality of the extreme brokenness of the world and hope that rises in spite of it. In execution, Skillet has left enough room to hook the mass populace with bold instrumentation and powerful rock anthems. As the listener progresses through the story, each track builds to a passionate final act filled with ardent worship and a confession that “You” are what I believe and “You” are my religion. Despite their mass-market appeal, Skillet gives more than enough context, including a direct reading of Isaiah 53 that points every “You” directly to the only One who has truly risen and is deserving of worship; the Lord Jesus Christ.

RIYL: RED, We as Human, Thousand Foot Krutch, Breaking Benjamin, Thrice

Reviewer’s Note: I did not get the chance to review the bonus tracks, as my review copy was not of the deluxe edition. Since they are listed as “Bonus Tracks,” they should have little effect on the overall progression of the album.

Skillet - Rise, 4.0 out of 5 based on 43 ratings

Click here to list all the current reviews by Lee Brown

About the author Lee Brown

Lee Brown is Discipleship Pastor at Meadow Park Church in Columbus, OH. He is the author of "Here's How: An Introduction to Practical Discipleship," and is also an adjunct professor and content specialist for Mid-America Christian University. Most importantly, he is a loving husband and father. Lee loves jamming to bands like Blindside, Project 86, Demon Hunter, Spoken, Lecrae, and Lil' Dre. For more about Lee, be sure to visit www.KnightoftheSon.com. View all posts by Lee Brown

27 Responses to 'Skillet – Rise'

  1. As cookie cutter as this band has gotten over the years, I have to give them some props. I really enjoyed the second half of the album with the more worshipful rock/ballad tracks and I thought the deluxe edition tracks are worth the investment. Overall I’d give this a 3.5.

    Reply

    • JMo9297 says:

      Due to the fact that Awake didn’t impress me much after the awesomeness of Collide & Comatose, I “Spotify’ed” this one first and would agree. The beginning is typical Skillet, but from Madness in Me forward I enjoyed the worshipful side. 3 stars for me.

  2. Lee Brown says:

    I didn’t get the deluxe edition tracks. I may just buy the deluxe version, it was good enough for me to justify even buying it in spite of having most of the album in reviewer’s copy.

    Reply

  3. Luke Foster says:

    Awake is one of the worst albums I’ve ever listened to but the 4 songs they’ve released haven’t been terrible. I’m going to cautiously listen to this.

    Reply

    • Luke Foster says:

      Listened to it, not nearly as bad as Awake but not very good either. The songs are more interesting and thankfully they cut down on the ballads. But it’s still too generic to enjoy, and I’m having a hard time grasping the concept.

  4. Lucas says:

    As I said exactly in the other thread, but I’ll just repost it here…

    I’ve been pretty hard on Skillet, and that being said this album actually isn’t all that bad. It’s a better listen from front to back than the songs are individually. It’s gimmicky and conventional at (a lot of) times, but it also sounds like they actually put their heart into this one. It doesn’t feel like the manufactured robot Awake was and on top of all that, I really appreciate the boldness in their faith with this one. Especially being as popular as they are.

    I’d give it a solid 3/5. It’s not incredible by any means, but I’m pleasantly surprised.

    Reply

  5. Wow, i sure didnt expect this 2 get many positiv coments, lol. But afta readin lees in depth review+ otha coments, i mite just hafta end up getin the delux version. Duz it come wit a dvd as wel? Eitha way, i wil let yal know wat i think of it afta i listen 2 it, lol.

    Reply

    • So, i ended up getin the delux version cuz of the 3 bonus trax+ dvd, and i got a gud deal on it on amazon. Howeva, i wil stik 2 my coments from below: “Meh, its about wat i expected. Maybe a “3″, at best. Its 2 simila 2 “awake”, imo.”- Altho i havent wached the dvd yet, but i dout the dvd wil b able 2 raise it 2 a “4”, lol.

  6. Dave86 says:

    I agree. I really enjoyed this album. I still need to hear the bonus tracks, but the main album is leaps and bounds better than Awake. I really appreciated what Skillet set out to do with this album and for the most part, I think they succeeded. My only real criticisms are: 1) Some of the symphonic parts sounded very similar to each other and past material. (In fact, there were times where my brain was starting to sing Rebirthing or Awake and Alive until the new song really got going.) 2) Some of the female vocals feature too much auto-tune and end up sounding like a creepy, robot child. Other than that, I think most folks will be pretty pleased with this album and I cannot wait to see what Skillet comes up with for the tour!!

    Reply

  7. Jeremy says:

    I have been listening to Skillet since their debut album. From about 1999 to 2003-ish, they were one of the best live bands out there. They completely oozed with passion when they performed. And, man, John Cooper could sing! I would say, without any hesitation, that Alien Youth was the pinnacle of Skillet’s albums (even though it had one or two throwaway tracks, the rest bordered on all-time great). Seeing them live in more recent years (admittedly, my last Skillet show out of probably a dozen was ~3 years ago), while their live show is bigger and flashier, it is evident that some of that passion that used to be there is just not there anymore. Also, John Cooper’s voice is about shot – not even close to what it used to be.
    Comatose was a very good album. I thought Awake was boring. My pre-order of the deluxe edition of Rise came today, and I got through about the first ten tracks on my way to work this evening. My first impression is that, so far, it is definitely a step up from Awake, but not a return to the former glory that many of us longtime fans long for in the back of our minds. Any, I guess this is the Skillet we will get for the rest of their careers – a very competent, professional rock band – doing their job and going about their work faithfully – but not the “special”, so passionate band that we formerly grew to love.

    Reply

  8. Chandler A. says:

    I find it funny that based purely off album review rating, this is as good as August Burns Red’s new CD.

    Reply

    • Lee Brown says:

      As a site, we’ve discussed dropping numerical scores altogether before. Alas, it is a staple of the industry. Certainly, not all “4’s” are alike… as not all “5’s” are… but even if we went back to the 10 point scale there are still too many faults with numerical scores in the first place.

      As a professor, grading someone’s paper is 180 degrees different from grading an artistic project. But, until someone comes up with a better system (thumbs up/thumbs down, lol)…

    • Chandler A. says:

      Haha I wasn’t necessarily complaining about the scoring system, I just found it a little humorous to me simply because in my mind, ABR’s new CD is way ahead of this. Don’t get me wrong, I listened to the stream and I definitely thought Rise is an improvement over Awake, and it’s not a bad release, but it just can’t come close to ABR. so I guess that’s why I got a good chuckle out of it haha

  9. Skelly says:

    I’m really loving this cd. Then again I have always loved Skillets cds. So many good songs on here. I have to say one of my favorite tracks is Salvation. The lyrical context in this song is something I felt the last 2 cds were missing. I am so glad to see it back. Over all I think I will end up liking this cd more than awake. I definitely like the album better as a whole then when I was listening to the singles being released.

    Also to note I love how the deluxe edition song, “freakshow,’ references Aliens. A nice little nod to the alien youth thats all grown up now. I can’t believe its been almost 12 years since Alien Youth has been released.

    I agree 4/5 its a solid Skillet release.

    Reply

    • Lucas says:

      The interlude leading up to “Salvation”, as well as the actual song, is my favorite part of the album. Very poignant. And very bold considering their stance in mainstream music.

  10. Iaya97 says:

    I only made it through a few songs before I turned it off due to lack of interest. I’ll try it again, maybe.

    Reply

    • Daniel says:

      I’d definitely encourage you to try again. I wasn’t too impressed by it the first listen either, but upon my second, I began to see how much better of an album it is than Awake, and that it actually was rather enjoyable. I’m listening through it a third time on spotify right now, and I think I’ll buy it off amazon when I’m done.

  11. Tim says:

    I think the new Skillet album is their best work in years. I love the middle of the album (songs 4-9) and they put on one of the best live shows (They rocked Alive Fest last week)

    I agree that Awake was bad, but this cd puts them back on the top of the pack. Very impressed and I am older than John!!

    Reply

  12. thruchristalone777 says:

    So even though I was bashing on some of the singles that were released, as a whole I was honestly fairly impressed by this album after giving it a stream. It is a pretty well rounded album and does actually have some decent lyrics on a couple of the tracks. I’d give it about a 4/5.

    Reply

  13. Tyler says:

    I have come to love this album. in fact, it may be the first Skillet album that i can listen from beginning to end without skipping any tracks (alien youth came close). The story of the album is amazing and so artistic. I have been more disappointed with the immature lyrics of the last couple albums more than the generic rock music, but this album really impresses me. It’s good to have a skillet album that actually edifies me again.

    Reply

    • Keller Martin says:

      Collide was the easiest to listen through, every song was great, though they all sounded the same imo…this was a huge improvement though, except for the repetitiveness of sick of it and the aweful lyrics of American noise. Rise sounded a bit too much like hero, and good to be alive was a bit boring to me…I really enjoyed madness in me though, and not a ton of people seemed to like that one…I do enjoy the worship at the end as it was a great addition. The 3 bonus tracks nailed it. Battle cry is very unoriginal, but it is still enjoyable. Freakshow reminded me of some tobymac lyrics mixed with rock, while everything goes black was a mix of their past 3 albums. Overall a 4/5 but numbers don’t work super well here

  14. fusse says:

    I must say I’m really really digging the album. Especially after the first two songs.

    Reply

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