Showing posts with label skillet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label skillet. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

album review: 'rise' by skillet

You know, religious-themed music didn't use to suck.

I mean, look at Johnny Cash or Elvis - both men made pretty solid albums exploring religious themes and styles in a mature, usually intelligent manner. And religious themes tend to crop up all over the place when one examines more gothic acts like Depeche Mode. Hell, Nick Cave has spent most of his career delving into various facets of religion, particularly in his most well-known song 'The Mercy Seat'. But all too often, whenever religion tends to crop up in music, the quality tends to drop exponentially (see the few albums Bob Dylan released when he embraced Christianity in the early 80s). Why is that?

Well, I've got a few ideas. For starters, I think one needs to consider the direction in which these acts are discussing religion and God. To me, the best of them deal with the very human experience of trying to contextualize one's beliefs while living in a very secular world. To me, that's potent material for songs, stuff that can make one think and question their beliefs. And if anything, the best religious-themed music tends to revolve around questions of faith and belief and yearning, trying to find what is at the meat of our human experience.

But you rarely see material that has the balls to ask these questions, and that's where the majority of Christian music tends to lose me in a hurry. At the upper end of quality in this group you tend to see a great of quasi-spiritual satisfaction, worship music without the drama of actual conflict. Now I have issues with this sort of music - basically, I'm not the biggest fan of mellow music as it is, and when you add the subtext of 'I got all of this because I accepted Jesus as my saviour', it can get more than a little insufferable. But on the other hand, it's essentially harmless, and if people are using said music to find solace in religion, I don't really have a problem with it.

No, the Christian music I and most critics take issue with is the stuff with the harder evangelical bent, which combines the subtext above with 'I've accepted Jesus as my saviour... and now YOU should too or you're going to hell for all eternity'. It's confrontational, in your face with its self-righteousness and complete lack of tact, thought, or humility - and as a Catholic, this really bugs the shit out of me. To me, religion should be about acceptance and love and tolerance and compassion and giving - not exclusionary pontificating and hatred. And yeah, the hypocrisy rings high and loud when these acts preach family values or attempt to cast themselves as the underdogs against the rising 'feminists and homosexuals'... and then get caught abusing drugs or getting blown by groupies in the back of a van (hi, Scott Stapp, you worthless piece of shit!). To me, these groups represent the worst of the evangelical movement, particularly in recent years, as they attempt to use the fandom of their music to convert people to their own breed of Christianity. And it really smacks of disingenuous motives when you realize that these bands stand to profit heavily off of their audience's religious fervour.

But those are moral objections to thematic elements in their music - what about the bigger picture? Well, as much as I'd like to say that these acts only signed to Christian labels when no other label would take them (that's untrue and a little unfair), my issues with Christian rock tend to come back to lyrical subject matter. Too often, the acts refuse to actually delve into the implications and deeper meaning behind their material, instead relying on shallow platitudes, emotionally-manipulating tragedy porn, or evangelical fervour. And the really frustrating part is that too much of the material quickly begins to repeat itself, with few new ideas other than an unearned, rather intolerable defensiveness against the rational progression of music and society as a whole.

And look, I'm not saying that on a musical level these guys aren't talented. Hell, I'll give Icon For Hire, an alternative metal act that exploded in 2011 with their debut album Scripted, a lot of credit for having extremely solid guitar and vocal work (to say nothing of lyrics that were actually had the balls to ask questions of religion and go deeper, which earned them praise from Christian and non-Christian review outlets). But too often you get acts like Creed or Evanescence (okay, Evanescence technically only signed to a Christian label and never really had evangelical music, but I really hate Evanescence) that are so dour and humourless and teeth-grindingly tedious that cast a pall over the entire genre, so much so that the majority of mainstream critics won't even touch Christian-themed music anymore, or any band signed to a Christian label.

But as I'm sure you've all realized, I'm not most critics, so let's take a look at the new album from the Grammy-winning Christian Rock act that Icon For Hire opened for a few years ago, Skillet. Starting in 1996, Skillet are widely considered to be one of the better Christian rock acts, and while I've never heard a single song of theirs prior to this album, their last album went platinum in the United States and sold over a million copies. If anything, that would suggest the band does have crossover potential into the mainstream, particularly considering that last album came out in 2009 (in an era where true platinum records were becoming something of a rarity).

And I've got to be honest, I've always been a little fascinated by the Christian metal scene. Just on a conceptual level, Christian metal is a study in dissonance, a genre ostracized by the Christian rock scene for embracing a 'darker' musical aesthetic and roundly disliked by the mainstream metal scene for their evangelical subject matter. In Skillet's case, the band has a reputation for industrial metal of all things - which, I should remind you, includes acts like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry - so I was definitely intrigued when I heard about the new album. I was less intrigued when I discovered that a song on their last album featured on the soundtrack to Transformers III, but hey, if that's not proof of their crossover potential, I don't know what is.

So what do I think of their new album, Rise?