The powerful and positive hard rock unit Skillet has fired up the twelve track release, Awake to follow the highly successful and 2006 Grammy nominated Comatose. Lead vocalist and songwriter John Cooper penned over forty new songs to prepare for the recording of this release since they had set the mark of success so high on their previous efforts. These Christian rockers have laid it out thick to push their message of good to an ever widening audience.
We begin the record with “Hero,” a powerful vocal play between Cooper and the nineteen year old drummer, Jen Ledger. In this dark, dramatic, but positive piece, the production is excellent and the guitar tones are crunchy but cutting. Beyond the music, the message rides beautifully within the notes. Excellent musicianship and style captures the ear right out of the gate. They take us with a second punch on “Monster” which again delivers a superb vocal mix between Cooper and Ledger. The tight production, guitar work and vocals over shadow the song’s repetitive texture, but it moves forward and pushes hard. “Don’t Wake Me” is a ballad containing some moments of great quality but it failed to retain an interesting spirit and lost my ear right after the chorus. “Awake and Alive” enters the arena wielding a sharpness and strength only seen in the epic rock genre. Strings, drama and great rock power overtake as this piece paints a huge picture of sound and glory. Reminiscent of the bands Epica and Kamelot, this tune climbs to the top and conquers. Ben Kasica’s lead is tasteful and crisp but is as masterful as a classic riff from Eric Johnson.
Unfortunately, the next three songs do not capture the spirit that keeps my mind interested or my feet tapping. “One Day Too Late,” “It’s not me It’s you” and “Should’ve When You Could’ve" each have the good intension to shine, but they may have paved the road to heavily and repetitively at this point in the recording. Unlike the beginning of the record, these songs seem like they are trying too hard to rock which can translate into a cold and even rushed piece of work. Again, the production, the tone, and anthem-like delivery is alive and well, but the substance comes through as commercial and unemotional. After a three song fall, “Believe” reached down, picked me up, and truly gave me something to grasp. A very nice, warm, moody piece whose texture and changes quickly re-captured my heart. It is a very nice song with a believable message. We again hear a slight dip in the record with “Forgiven” as very nice vocal production loses it’s color by not sustaining the warmth and grace as some of the earlier tunes.
In the home stretch we are brought back to life through the three remaining tracks. “Sometimes” takes us back to the powerful and dramatic which Skillet has mastered. The overall punch, raw emotion, and excellent guitar work make this song stand alone on this record. “Never Surrender” launches beautifully with nice instrumentation, sweet flavors and excellent dynamic changes that keeps your interest. It is a well crafted, epic song. They conclude with the heartbreaking “Lucy,” which drives an emotional and spiritual message directly to your heart strings. A song of mourning and love mixed within a great rock anthem headed slowly and steadily to heaven. A beautiful conclusion confirming that both Coopers, Ledger, and Kasica can reach the bar that they have set for themselves. I’m hopeful that they still see how to rise above.
"Awake" is on sale August 25, 2009 from Atlantic.