Since Skillet last hit the studio for 2006's breakthrough project Comatose, the group's toured with the likes of mainstream megastars Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Seether, and Flyleaf, and headlined a slew of major Christian festivals, all followed by solo tours that ranked within Pollstar's Concert Pulse Top 50 Tours for 2008. Along the way, the two-time GrammyÂ®-nominated alternative outfit also scored six consecutive number one Christian radio singles, a 2008 GMA Dove Award for Rock Song of the Year, and a 2009 nomination for Artist of the Year. Along with a trio of singles on Billboard's Mainstream Rock charts, a pair of BMI Songwriting Awards, and being chosen as Reader's Poll favourites on several top ccm websites, they released their first ever concert CD/DVD combo pack "Comatose Comes Alive". Thus, calling the last three years a whirlwind would certainly be an understatement.
Aside from the commercial accolades, the twice-GrammyÂ®-nominated rockers are rapidly approaching RIAAÂ® certification, backed by both public adoration and critical praise, making the brand new Awake the band's most anticipated album to date. Not only does Skillet continue in the tradition of bone crunching rockers and melodic power ballads that comprised the last trip to the studio, but there's a noticeable evolution sure to connect with long-time listeners and open the floodgates of its mainstream fan base even further than ever before.
"We found Comatose scoring the most acceptance in terms of album sales, ticket sales, and radio airplay out of any of our albums so far, so there's certainly a continuation of that direction," unveils singer/songwriter/bassist John Cooper of the current collection. "But we never want to make the same record twice and that's why Awake keeps it fresh and surprising. We've built off several of the epic elements, orchestration, piano parts, and male/female vocal trade offs on several songs, but there's also a balance of straight up rock stuff and tunes that are a little bit stripped down in comparison."
In addition to the increasingly cohesive chemistry by the famed front man, keyboardist/vocalist Korey Cooper, guitarist Ben Kasica, and their new UK import, drummer/vocalist Jen Ledger, having all-star producer Howard Benson (Daughtry, My Chemical Romance, P.O.D.,The All American Rejects) behind the boards helped the band reach its most compelling conclusion to date.
"He's been a favourite producer of ours for quite a long time and we've talked about working with him in the past, but this time all the pieces finally fell into place," affirms Cooper. "Howard is a broad stroke painter where he casts a vision, but then incorporates that into what a band is already all about. He really has a knack for the elements an audience enjoys the most, which often times are the vocals and the lyrics, and then he gives the band a chance to be themselves and be proud of the artistic output."
And that's the exact result on all accounts, as the foursome's overwhelmingly satisfied with the entire sonic and spiritually-centred thematic palette throughout Awake, which is loaded with plenty of anthems in the making destined to be smash singles and concert sing-a-longs. Even though Skillet possesses undeniable accessibility to this latest batch of tunes, there are still plenty of sophisticated arrangements, unpredictable chord arrangements, and mounds of musical integrity all across the board.
"It's a turning of the page for us because this album is even more immediate than Comatose, but there's also a noticeable maturity," contends Cooper. "Some of the songs are complex, others are just really intense rockers, and overall there's a real sense that we're opening a new chapter. There are definitely some classic rock elements on the record, some very melodic moments with orchestration and piano, along with a lot of today's heavier rock influences as well. "
Take for instance the hook heavy lead single "Hero", a boldly delivered song about Christ giving us a reason to live - being the "Hero" who's fighting for us in the midst of oppression and injustice. Other outpourings include the first Mainstream and Active Rock single "Monster", the militant "It's Not Me", and the hopeful "Forgiven". There are also a handful of gripping ballads and crossover songs like the loss-centred "Lucy", the melodic "Don't Wake Me", and "One Day Too Late". "Never Surrender" came from a conversation with a fan about their eating disorder, and what is sure to become a live show favourite is the rocker "Awake & Alive".
Skillet's massive fan base (who affectionately refer to themselves as "Panheads") are sure to agree, though they'll likely be even more impressed with the lyrical outpouring, which remains a top priority for the players. Mixing socially conscious topics with deeply personal narratives and unabashedly hopeful expressions, Awake is just as emotional as it is provocative.
"We're living in crazy times right now between the news that seems to get crazier every day and all the uncertainly throughout society in general," concludes Cooper. "Sometimes it doesn't seem like there's hope, and sure you can choose to give up, but why not face it 'Awake and Alive'? Life is full of challenges, and sometimes when you look deep into yourself, you can feel weighed down by sin and the 'Monster' that lives inside us all. But the more you realize your need for Christ, the less you focus on that, and on Him instead. Why let what's going on around you keep you down when there's so much hope that a new day can bring? Everything we sing about on this album is something someone can relate to, and if anything, the songs will let you know you're not alone."