Twenty years is a long time in the world of popular music. Trends come and go. Genres come and go. Bands come and go. And then there are a smaller number of musical survivors who come and … stay.
Skillet is in the latter category.
Since 1996, frontman John Cooper’s symphonic-rock group has gone from being a high-octane upstart to veteran stalwarts in the Christian rock scene. And whereas some bands seek to sustain their season in the limelight by repeatedly reinventing themselves, Skillet just keeps doing what it does best: reloading album after album with pummeling, pounding rock that acknowledges the struggle of life while faithfully pointing listeners toward God.
And so it is again on the band’s melodic-but-ferocious-as-ever tenth effort, Unleashed.
Album opener “Feel Invincible” looks at the Christian life as a battle to be fought and won. There may be criticism and persecution (“I’m trying to get up/They’re knocking me down”), but God gives us the strength we need to persevere (“Just like a tidal wave/You make me brave/You’re my titanium/ … You make me feel invincible”). The power ballad “Lions” treads similar thematic territory: “By Your power we will go/By Your Spirit we are bold/ … We walk as lions.”
“Stars” humbly ponders how the Creator of universe (“You spoke a word and life began/Told the oceans where to start and where to end”) could also have such an intimate, loving relationship with us (“But still You come and You call me by name”). Even when we stumble (“I get so lost, forget my way”), God is faithful (“Still You love and You don’t forget my name”). Near the end we hear the repeated reminder, “Your love has called my name/What do I have to fear?” “Famous” beats with an evangelistic heart: “And when I was dead/You gave me new life/I’m liftin’ you up/With all my might/ … I wanna make You famous.” “The Resistance” majors in courage, faith and love as it encourages believers to remain faithful in the battle of life.
“I Want to Live” cries out for deliverance (“Save me from this darkness”), then acknowledges God’s sustaining power (“You help me hold on/You ignite the fire in me”). “Undefeated” stresses the importance of pressing on: “All the strength that I have, all the life that’s left in me/I will give every breath to be everything I can be/I’m undefeated.” “Watching for Comets” seems to be about a man who wants a second shot at love after a relationship is broken (“‘Cause a love like this happens once in a lifetime/You were a comet, and I lost it”).
“Out of Hell” pleads for rescue from a dark spiritual place (“I need you because no one else/Can get me out, get me out of hell”) and ends with the important affirmation, “I can feel you now.” “Burn It Down” uses scorched-earth metaphors to describe overcoming the things that keep us in bondage and discouragement. “Back From the Dead” emphasizes spiritual rebirth (“‘Cause I’m back, back, back from the dead tonight”) as well as fighting for what’s right (“We are young, we are strong, we will rise/ … For the love, for the life, for the fight”). That said …
Skillet also appropriates undead beings as enemies as it flirts with “horror-lite” imagery in “Back From the Dead”: “Enemies clawing at my eyes/I scratch and bleed just to stay alive, yeah/The zombies come out at night.” Likewise, “Out of Hell” uses violent metaphors to describe spiritual suffering (“I’ve been stabbed in the back/The bleeding won’t stop”). And though I think the band means well on courage-filled, pseudo-apocalyptic “Saviors of the World,” it’s still jarring on a Christian album to hear, “We are the saviors/The saviors/The saviors of the world.”
Skillet has done more than simply survive for the last 20 years. This band has thrived, refusing to budge from its mission or by the winds of musical change that have laid many a rock band low since the mid-’90s.
Skillet’s faithfulness to its hard-rocking calling is evident once more on Unleashed. There are a couple of minor lyrical moments that may need a bit of parental navigation. But aside from those, John Cooper and Co. have again unleashed a potent proclamation powerfully reminding listeners that God is present in the darkness, and that He longs to rescue and redeem each one of us.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.