Sound — 4
Beginning as a techno/industrial Christian rock act, Skillet turned to metal with 2003's release of "Collide". While a hit in some already-hooked circles (notably, Christian rock), some critics noted that the genre had already been done to death by secular artists. IGN in particular made a point of this with its scrutiny of 2006's "Comatose", which expanded upon "Collide"'s formula, even copying its "opening heavy song, emotionally-driven rock hit single second, slower third track" structure. That's right, "Comatose" was a near-repeat of "Collide" with slightly more balladry and less balls. If anything, the message was invasive and the music often took a backseat. 2009 saw "Awake", which not only continued the tired metal formula, but further muddled Skillet's repertoire by copying the first three songs of "Comatose" even more closely than "Comatose" had for "Collide". They are as follows: triumphant and slightly dark opener ("Rebirthing" vs "Hero"), emotionally-driven hard rock single ("The Last Night" vs "Monster"), ballad ("Yours To Hold" vs "Don't Wake Me"). An argument could be made that the message and religious stereotypes are so invasive on this release that the band didn't even bother restructuring it. Instead, it's entirely copied from the last record. Even the title track ("Awake And Alive"), as in the case of "Collide" and "Comatose", begins with strings and a metal riff. The only change anywhere is the incorporation of (lame) guitar solos on a couple tracks. As tends to be the case in Christian rock, Skillet's music is ridiculously simplistic. The entirety of "Hero" is one riff, with bizarre vocal cuts to make room for it (resulting in dead air). "Monster" is essentially the same idea, and any other guitar-driven track copies the formula. Slow tracks (metal ballad, emotional track, pick your phrase) are less powerful than "Comatose", mostly because they sound identical. "Don't Wake Me" really doesn't stray much from the sound of "Yours To Hold", and "Lucy" isn't much different from "Say Goodbye". Musically, there isn't much to discuss; "Awake" is identical to the sound on "Comatose", which was slightly-orchestrated Christian "metal" (the tamest of metals). It's just as dull here as it was on the last release, and in places even more of a snooze fest. Sure, "Monster" rocks out as hard as it can manage, but after that the record loses steam rapidly.
Lyrics — 3
Skillet's lyrical content has always been deep (in some sense of the word), but never profound. Nearly identical (again) to "Comatose", "Awake" deals with repression, depression, and oppression of faith. "Awake And Alive" has themes of strength through challenging times, "Monster" deals with self-loathing (sort of), and "Believe" has a spice of humility and wouldn't you guess moping around at home at the loss of a loved on (see every track on "Comatose"). "Hero", presumably, refers to Christ, insisting that "I'm falling off the edge today... I am just a man/Not superhuman... I need a hero to save me now". It isn't brilliant stuff, but whatever stories the band wants to tell are at least understandable, if recycled and, frankly, of sub-par composition. Singer/bassist John Cooper is pretty dull, if possible moreso than on "Comatose". If one thing truly pacifies their preferred brand of metal, it would be his vocals; they are weak, croaky, and altogether boring. In fact, newly recruited Jen Ledger is more interesting (she is featured on "Hero" and the titular cut) and at times almost moving, a feat Cooper could only hope to achieve. If people like Cooper would stop trying to call what they're doing "metal", castrating the genre, perhaps respect would be deeper for the Christian contemporary music community.
Overall Impression — 3
With the upcoming release of "Rise" (another one-worded title what other similarities to previous records might there be?), Skillet is sounding tighter, louder, and more relevant than they have since "Collide". Unfortunately, to quote them, the changes come one day (album?) too late. And, of course, Cooper is still pretty tame. There just isn't any spark left in this band. The nail in the coffin is "Awake", an utterly predictable and uninspired snore, which dooms Skillet to Christian "Guitar Hero" knockoffs.