It's been four years since we last heard from the veteran Christian rock act Skillet. Since then, the band has celebrated its 2009 effort, Awake, reaching platinum status (a rarity these days for any rock band) and endured a significant lineup change (longtime guitarist Ben Kasica announced he was moving on in 2011 and has been replaced by new axman Seth Morrison).
On Rise, the band's eighth studio effort, Skillet has crafted a loose concept album revolving around the theme of growing up in a fractured world. Violence, brokenness and inner spiritual struggle are among the enemies confronted here with resounding messages of hope, determination and a stirring reminder of where true salvation lies.
As was the case on Awake, frontman John Cooper and drummer Jen Ledger once again share vocal duties, resulting in a melodic, heavy rock sound that strongly recalls Flyleaf and Evanescence, as well as other modern rock stalwarts such as Nickelback, Linkin Park and Three Days Grace.
The second verse on "Rise" describes our uncertain and violent world ("Every day you need a bulletproof vest/To save yourself from what you could never guess"), while a montage of voiceovers at the end of the song reference various domestic violence situations told from the perspective of 911 calls. Sandwiched between those harsh realities is this title track's—and the album's—core message: We can and must change. "Rise in revolution," we're exhorted. "It's our time to change it all/Rise in revolution/Unite and fight/To make a better life/Everybody, one for all."
Providing a poignant, powerful and scriptural context for that message is an interlude at the end of "Madness in Me," in which a young girl quotes and paraphrases much of Isaiah 53, a prophetic passage in the Old Testament foretelling Christ's sacrifice to save those who are lost: "He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us like sheep have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord has laid on Him the sins of us all." Those words lead into "Salvation," where we hear, "I feel you keeping me alive/You are my salvation/Touch You, taste You, feel You here/I feel You keeping me alive." Similar themes ring resoundingly through "What I Believe" with, "I was broken, You made me whole again/ … So madly, desperately, deeply I will live for You completely."
That dichotomy between darkness and hope and struggle and redemption pervades almost every track on the album. "Sick of It" challenges those grappling with failure and regret to "Take a stand/Raise your hands/ … Take control, it's now or never." "Good to Be Alive" affirms the beauty of life and of our closest relationships, even "when all you've got are broken dreams." "Not Gonna Die" reminds us that even when we feel downtrodden to the point that we despair, freedom from bondage is still possible if we embrace truth with like-minded friends ("Not gonna die tonight/We're gonna fight for us together/ … Break their hold/'Cause I won't be controlled/They can't keep their chains on me/When the truth has set me free/This is how it feels to take your life back"). Likewise, "Circus for a Psycho" rejects a vicious attacker, perhaps the devil ("You created this beast inside/Pull the noose tighter and life a little higher/'Cause you're killing me slow/I ain't ready to die/ … Tonight, get ready for a fight").
"Fire and Fury" celebrates the purifying, cementing power of a love between two people facing adversity together ("Let it all fall down to dust/Can't break the two of us/We are safe in the strength of love"). "My Religion" teaches that God alone can save us: "Who's gonna save my soul?/Nothing and nobody but You/Who's gonna make me whole/Nothing and nobody but You." Elsewhere on that track we hear, "Who's gonna heal my pain?/Nothing makes me feel like You do/Who can drive my demons away?/Nothing makes me heal like You do/I love You mind, heart, body and soul/You're the only sanctuary that I know." Throughout, Skillet tells us that it's our relationship with God, not the trappings of organized religion, that bring us life. But …
… the band's attempt (in the chorus) to say that our relationship with God doesn't depend upon being in a church building, wearing the right clothes or having our faith mediated through clergy could be heard as sharp criticism of the church: "I don't need to stare at stained glass and a steeple/I don't need to dress to impress all of the people/Don't need no priest/Don't need no pew/You are my religion/My religion is You."
Skillet serves up another blessedly bombastic blast of hard-rock spiritual encouragement to those sweating it out in that oh-so-hot kitchen we call real life. Life can be bitterly difficult, the band tells us over and over ... but because of God's saving work in Christ on our behalf, we can have true hope while looking forward, ultimately, to redemption and victory.