Ten albums and nearly innumerable lineup changes into the game, Skillet has released one of their best records yet.
And that’s saying something. While their last two records haven’t been quite as impressive, Collide and Comatose remain two of the most memorable albums in Christian rock. With catchier melodies, deeper lyrics, and more energy, this album is much closer to that level of artistry than their other recent efforts.
There isn’t anything very surprising, or even unexpected here. It’s just better. The opener, “Feel Invincible,” is an almost cookie-cutter Skillet track: fast-paced, crunching guitar, bouncing vocal pacing. But it’s far more melodic, and even more energetic, than previous singles like “Monster” and “Hero.” While Skillet’s softer tracks seem to fall flat more often than not (lead singer John Cooper’s throaty vocals tend to sound awkward when paired with softer melodies), “Stars” works as a great balance, and “Lions” is surprisingly one of the better songs on the album.
More than anything, though, the thing that sets this album apart from their last two is its nearly unwavering consistency, both musically and lyrically. While not quite Grammy quality, there are few if any throwaway songs here. Even more encouraging is the thematic quality of the record. Many artists tend to grow less overtly spiritual as they attain commercial success, but this doesn’t appear to be the case with Skillet. There’s a lot of emphasis on looking to God for salvation here, largely in the context of overwhelming life circumstances, almost like if David wrote hard rock songs instead of poetry (yeah, I know, that’s weird, but stay with me).
For example, you have “When I need to be saved/You’re making me strong, you’re making me stand” on “Invincible,” “In a grave of roses, while the night is closing in/My soul is so cold, but I want to live again/I know you’ll come to me” on “I Want to Live,” and “And when I was dead, you gave me new life/I’m lifting you up with all of my might” on “Famous.” There are also mentions of God’s creation (“Stars”), evangelism (“Famous”), and the helplessness that comes from sin (“Out of Hell”). You won’t find many clever quips or allegories – Skillet never have been poetic lyricists – but the depth and focus make up for that.
The downsides of the album are few and far between, but there are some to be found. While the album generally does very good at pointing to God, there are lapses here and there. “Undefeated” seems to take the opposite approach, emphasizing self-sufficiency (“Left for dead but I will rise up on my own/I could make it alone, I got all that I need to survive”). “Watching for Comets” is more similar to the band’s previous attempts at ballads than are the record’s other softer songs and ends up repetitive with few interesting moments. It’s also slightly disappointing that the band doesn’t branch out more musically – “I Want to Live” and “Saviors of the World” are the only tracks that feature the kind of instrumentation and experimentation that was previously the band’s trademark.
As a whole, however, Unleashed is one of the best albums Skillet has ever released. While I would have liked to have seen more experimentation, it’s extremely consistent, with a lot more sing-a-long melodies, and bursting at the seams with energy. It’s a strong contender for the best album in Christian music this year, and still has a very strong showing in comparison with secular records, as well.