“I wanted to make an album that could make people feel the music. I always aim to write songs to which people can relate, but this time I wanted to see not only how the songs would connect lyrically, but also how they’d connect musically.”
–Skillet lead singer John Cooper
For those unfamiliar with Skillet, they self-identify as a Christian rock band, but not the kind that directly sings about religion on every track. They’re much more subtle than that. The Memphis-based rockers aren’t above divine inspiration though, with songs entitled Back from the Dead, Out of Hell, and Saviors of the World as just some of the examples from this album alone. It’s really a shame how many people haven’t heard of them, because their touring schedule is relentless. The quartet has been on the scene for two decades now, with the latter half of that time filled with some really underrated gems. Unleashed is their most polished, consistent effort to date, arriving just three weeks after their last album was certified gold.
1. Feel Invincible
Skillet is pretty reliable when it comes to kicking off their albums in style, notably with Rebirthing and Hero in the past. They don’t disappoint here, sprinting out of the gate with a driving track meant to get people psyched up. Indeed, WWE made Feel Invincible one of the two official themes for their July pay-per-view Battleground, and TBS selected it as the theme song for their E-League video game competition.
The track juxtaposes many of Skillet’s favourite elements on top of each other. The determined bass line, the melodic keyboards, the dueling male/female vocals; put them together and you get Evanescence on testosterone. Imagine a hybrid of Bring Me to Life and Going Under and you’ll be in the ballpark.
2. Back from the Dead
Second tracks are notorious for not maintaining the momentum of the first. Here, the song starts rather generically, but grows into a respectable cut thanks to sheer enthusiasm. Well-paced and energetic, it begs comparisons to Rev Theory.
I could definitely have seen this being second in the batting order, but I fully support waiting until track #3 to slow things down. The very first line of the song is a good example of the type of religious references Skillet will slip in there, without banging you over the head with them. “You spoke a word and life began” is a clear reference to “Let there be light” in Genesis 1:3. This fact has been enough to get Stars airplay on Christian radio stations. Even for the thoroughly non-religious like me, I can live with them expressing themselves in such a benign manner.
4. I Want to Live
This one was clearly inspired by one of their greatest songs ever, Rebirthing. I’m not complaining. Rebirthing was my ringtone for a long time after it came out in 2006. I Want to Live shares the same hints of gothicity, as both are simultaneously positive and dark, all without being spooky. Skillet is also masterful at knowing when to use female vs. male voices.
Skillet seems to write songs with visions of movie soundtracks and sports arena airtime dancing in their heads. Most of the track titles on this album would lend themselves perfectly to a number of different sports movie ideas, none more so than Undefeated. The song is not as blistering as I would have hoped, but it accomplishes what Skillet likely set out to do.
Famous is a pop song disguised as a rock song. It’s a necessary inclusion if they were truly serious about making a diverse album, as they claim they were. Unleashed isn’t diverse by, say, A Day to Remember’s standards, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless.
Don’t get the wrong idea from the title. Musically, this song is meant to convey the pride of lions, not the ferocity. Vocally, it’s meant to be uplifting and inspirational. The end result is sincere and unabashedly positive.
8. Out of Hell
Going from the last song to this one is a study in contrast. The first five seconds of Out of Hell could start a death metal track (as could the title). There are some heavy strings throughout the track, but the body of it is primarily typical Skillet. When John Cooper said there is “even some metal” on Unleashed, he was clearly talking about this cut. Metal guitar riffs make a couple of appearances, especially at the end. It’s not that they’re bad, but they feel somewhat out of place.
9. Burn It Down
This track has a Nickelback feel right from the first note. I can picture Chad Kroeger writing this song and can hear him singing it. It’s just kind of there. It’s fairly paint-by-numbers, not really befitting such an aggressive title, and not really sung with the same conviction as some of the other songs on the album. Burn It Down should have ended at the 2:40 mark, but they go for another 30 seconds or so to get it over 3:00, because everyone knows only punk songs can be less than that.
10. Watching for Comets
If all you Christian boarding school seventh-graders were waiting for the obligatory slow dance song, your prayers have been answered.
11. Saviors of the World
Saviors of the World could have been placed much earlier on the album. I wouldn’t even have minded it as the first track. However, there’s definitely something to be said for saving some red meat for the end. I’m a big proponent of saving an energy track for the penultimate offering of any album.
12. The Resistance
I’m not sure the male backing vocals had to be pseudo-death metal lite, but The Resistance isn’t a bad slice of dessert. It’s very deliberate, without being plodding. The random guitar solo tacked on at the very end is confusing, though.
It’s not often I’m able to just play an album from start to finish, especially repeatedly. Anberlin’s Lowborn and Innerpartysystem’s eponymous debut come to mind, although Unleashed is not really on their level overall. It can simply be called consistently very good, with no glaring valleys. It also reverses the trend of steadily declining album quality since Comatose. That alone should reinvigorate the fanbase of one of the hardest-working bands in the world.