Classic rock riffs, swirling drums, monstrous hooks, and undeniably catchy choruses... hints of old school progressive rock mixed in with modern alternative flourishes... touches of classical influence as swelling strings intersect with sonic adrenaline rushes. It's indeed a fusion unlike any other, marking the latest chapter in the continuous evolution of Skillet, whose moniker couldn't be more fitting for their explosive new Lava/Atlantic Records release, Comatose.
The project follows Skillet's 2004 Lava/Atlantic debut, Collide, which launched the group into the public eye with the single "Savior" (the #2 most added at CMJ's "Loud Rock and Crucial Spins" panel the first week out), and garnered the quartet a prestigious Grammy Award nomination. Collide went on to become their best-selling project to date, with over 200,000 units sold, while the band played some 200 dates a year - including tours with the likes of Saliva, Shinedown and Finger Eleven, Three Days Grace - in the process becoming one of the hardest working, heaviest rocking, and most broadly appealing acts of its generation.
"We're proud of where we've been in the past, but I feel like this is our strongest record," says vocalist/bassist John Cooper of Comatose. Recorded at Chicago Recording Company (Smashing Pumpkins, Michael Jackson, R. Kelly), the album was produced by Brian Howes (from famed Canadian TVT band Closure and Hinder's hit debut) and mixed by maestros Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, Hoobastank, Bon Jovi, P.O.D.) and David Bottrill (Tool, Staind). "There are so many different influences that it won't just be about rock audiences or metal audiences," notes Cooper. "I think there's something here for everybody."
Pop in the project for a matter of seconds and it's obvious Skillet has raised the bar yet again, building off the refined musicianship found on Collide and taking it to even more jaw-dropping extremes. A case in point is "Rebirthing," a complex but accessible amalgamation of piercing strings and humongous power chords sure to be a concert staple. In sharp contrast, but equally compelling, are tracks like "The Last Night" and "Say Goodbye," oozing with ethereal orchestration and infectious sing-a-long potential.
"I just love rock ballads and the old days of Motley Crue, Aerosmith, and Bon Jovi," says Cooper. "They always help you remember where you were, what you were doing, and who you were dating. They represent more of the pop side of what we do, which might have been hinted at in other records, but was never fully realized or matured."
On the other side of the Skillet, Comatose shows the band flexing its experimental muscles, adding several piano-based and progressive-influenced pieces. A careful dissection of the album's first single, "Whispers," unveils nods to the current prog crop via the channels of Yes, while "Better Than Drugs" is a delightfully schizophrenic barnburner that is one of the disc's most aggressive displays. "The Last Night" takes a more delicate twist, merging John's vocals with his wife Korey Cooper's keyboard cadences.
"It's a new era for both Atlantic and Skillet," exclaims Andy Karp, Head of A&R for Atlantic Records. "It's the first record where we've really been one on one with the band, and it's the latest step in our unique journey together. I've been at the label seventeen years and we're known for having so many great rock n' roll bands: Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, Bad Company. There really aren't a lot of labels that have that kind of pedigree for rock acts, and Skillet is yet another in a long line of great bands."
Cooper and company can certainly relate, citing several from the label's lineage as influencers since its infancy. "Growing up, I was a prog freak and loved bands like Yes and Dream Theater," he confirms. "I also grew up with my mom as a classical piano teacher and took lessons for eight years, along with playing in the marching band and symphony. It's funny because every once in a while there was a touch of that on Collide, but until recently, I didn't see what that background had to do with rock music. On this record, we were able to make it work structurally with the piano and strings, plus there's enough prog to make me happy."
Aside from Skillet's musical strides, Cooper's songwriting has expanded to cover a vast range of topical territories, some of which follow socially conscious ideals, while others vulnerably mirror his personal life and struggles. Take, for instance, the aforementioned "The Last Night," which talks about someone considering suicide after living life in despair and not having support from their parents. Rather than calling it quits, the track suggests life is worth living and through the help of a supportive friend, they're eventually talked down from that ledge. Even closer to home for Cooper is "The Older I Get," which picks up after his mom passed away, tracing the rocky relationship he had with his dad and new stepmother.
"My dad got remarried two months after my mom died, and my stepmother's husband had also passed away a few months earlier," he recalls. "It was a really bizarre situation and they didn't get along, which was also the point when my dad and I started fighting. From the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I don't remember having a single conversation with him for about four years that didn't have to do with fighting. But a lot has mended since then and we've been able to move on. You can only go through life so long living in regret, and while those situations certainly affected me, I don't hold onto the anger anymore."
Those introspective visions tie in with the group's overall goals of promoting positive messages that will give fans something to digest beyond pre-conceived clichés or trite topics. Naming the record Comatose further cements those expressions, hoping to rev up listeners to break beyond the mundane, get on track with their relationships, and charge forward with hope.
"John has written the best songs he's every written and there's been such an evolution on all levels for the band," says Karp. "Sonically we set out to create a combination of electronic elements, orchestration, and a melodic approach. Skillet has managed to hit all of those three exactly on target, raising its game to yet another level of excellence."
More than just making a disc packed with killer compositions, Cooper hopes Comatose's deeper meaning will strike a chord on all levels with listeners from any walk of life. "We live in a time where technology and information is so fast, but somehow we've never felt more alone," he sums up, referencing a line by Matthew McConaughey in Contact. "We're all so desperately trying to communicate with each other online with MySpace and instant messenger that no one gets to know one another, and they feel so alone with nobody to talk to about their problems. So I guess in Bono-esque fashion we're talking about how we need to wake up and come out of the sleep we're in and start reaching out to one another, getting it right in our own lives and actually being there for someone else."