Having recently amassed over two billion streams on Pandora, joining their exclusive billionaires club in the process, and seen singles Feel Invincible & Not Gonna Die certified Platinum and Gold respectively, Skillet continue to add impressive notches to their belt. With their new album Victorious on Atlantic Records and the upcoming Z2 Comics produced graphic story Eden the band show no signs of slowing down as they approach their 25 year anniversary. If anything, they might be speeding up as they constantly challenge themselves to break new ground, this time challenging themselves to produce most of this record themselves.
This new album also sees the band switching up their focus. “‘Victorious’ perfectly describes how the record makes me feel,” affirms lead singer John Cooper. “You wake up, face your own demons every day, and never give in. There’s an introspective side to it. We might’ve commented on the world explicitly on previous albums. This one is about looking inward. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten a little older, and I’ve accepted struggle as part of the journey. When I listen to these songs, I want to fight for my life, I want to fight for who I am, and I want to fight for what I believe in.”
The hard hitting lead single Legendary leads us off in legendary Skillet fashion. The floating guitar riffs fuse with the wondering synths to prepare us for takeoff before the solid wall of drums thrust us into the stratosphere leaving our stomachs behind. The drums propel us along with John & Jen’s duelling vocals and the guitar riffs from Seth & Korey offering blasts of afterburner throughout. The pace never relents, amplifying the message of fighting to make every day count and be Legendary.
You Ain’t Ready feels Papa Roach-esque and heavily endorses the need for a Skillet/Papa Roach collaboration in the future. The grungy rock guitars buzz in your ears and the edginess to the track suits Skillet down to the ground.
While the violin intro harkens back to early Skillet and brings a smile to the face, the worshipful rock ballad Victorious does little to add to the album at first but the heart of it resonates in your soul. Perhaps it suffers from following the opening two rockers but after a few listens through it really hits the mark and Jen’s vocals shine prominently throughout. Jen’s stripped backed parts show an acoustic version as a future single would do very well.
This Is The Kingdom sounds like the anthem of a group of paranoid apocalypse survivors wondering an alien infested land trying to save earth, something akin to the theme song of a tv show like Falling Skies. Change that scenario to Christians fighting for the Kingdom here on Earth and with lyrics such as “heaven coming down to the corners of the earth” and “Blessed are the persecuted and the wounded, you’ll be crowned as rulers” and you have this defiant and unifying song.
One of the hardest rockers on the record follows as Save Me floors the gas pedal. If the alien invasion didn’t kill you the headbanging this track implores just might. The drums pound your ears into submission while the driving guitar riffs mosh your insides around but it’s the quiet undercurrent of keys that really completes the pummelling fist bumping soundscape.
Skillet’s signature electronic hard rock sound is on full display in Rise Up. Some of Jen’s backing vocals are slightly hard to distinguish but the distortion on them melds them into the track effortlessly. The way the drums and synths duel towards the end is pure magic.
The soulful worship track Terrify The Dark gives us a momentary breather from the rock. A welcome reminder that the light terrifies the dark like in John 1:5, the vocals of a different John reverberate in our souls. Jen’s vocal offerings recharge the track’s energy throughout and her exquisite holding of notes adds a haunting nature to proceedings.
The lyrics “I used to be caged, never stood my ground, I lived like a slave, those days are over now” kick off Never Going Back and lie at the heart of the rocking track. A resilient cry to leave our old sinful and weak lives behind in the rear-view mirror, the fizzy synths-heavy Never Going Back picks the pace back up nicely.
Skillet reach for the poppy synths as the driving rocker Reach desperately cries out for a hand to reach down and pull us out of our hurt and pain. Lyrically it feels as though it would fit better prior to Never Going Back but perhaps it speaks into the life of a Christian perfectly; A defiant cry of I’m Never Going Back with God on our side followed sharply by deeply crying out to God to “Reach for me” because “I’m falling deep” again. The finger licking guitar work throughout helps the track adeptly swim into our ear canals.
Anchor is the stereotypical Skillet ballad ready made for CCM radio hit status. Not that that’s a bad thing, the track’s well done as always, but you already know the song from reading that first sentence. Unlike earlier ballad offerings Terrify The Dark, This Is The Kingdom, and to some extent Victorious, this is unfortunately skippable.
The antithetical Finish Line follows and is anything but stereotypical. The intro is interesting and engaging, the lyrics tell an enchanting story and the bass drum punches through the hazy soundscape in the distance. You don’t know whether to hum, clap, rock out or all three at once as you’re inspired to become a hero even if you “crawl to the finish line.”
Synths quickly ease us into Back To Life before the wall of pummelling drums and guitars introduce themselves with great effect. The lyrics “Help my body’s getting cold, so far away from home, but you feel like heaven, bring me back to life” are among those delivered with real force among a thriving hard rock environment. Many would have ended the album after the Finish Line but the “bring me back to life” sentiment left ringing in your ears as the album closes with over a minute of rocking instrumental is the perfect way to end Victorious. A very Skillet ending to an album.
Skillet are the epitome of a settled band, comfortable in their line-up and musicianship but Victorious is anything but a settled album. A testament to always wanting to stretch their musical boundaries, Victorious is a daring record and easily their most musical record to date. Featuring elements of blues, pop, funk and their now familiar signature electronic synths, Victorious is a varied musical feast. And yet, all those elements combine effortlessly for their most aggressive album for years.
Looking for a soundtrack to help you rise Victorious above your demons? You’ve found it. Victorious rocks hard as it rocks you hard.