Unleashed review by Skillet

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Aug 5, 2016
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 6.7 Neat
  • Users' score: 4.4 (34 votes)
Skillet: Unleashed

Sound — 7
Having a reputation as one of rock's hardest working bands, Christian rockers Skillet return with the follow-up to their gold-certified 2013 album "Rise." The band fuses alternative metal guitar riffs with pop hooks and electronic melodies, and consists of a lineup featuring husband-and-wife team John (lead vocals/bass) and Korey (rhythm guitar/keyboards/vocals) Cooper, Jen Ledger (drums/co-lead vocals) and Seth Morrison (lead guitar).

Musically speaking, the band sticks with simplicity, with not a single song on this album featuring a structure more complex than the typical verse-chorus-verse layout, and not one song being outside of the three to four minute mark. Seth Morrison occasionally breaks the monotonous structures with his actually fairly decent guitar solos, but for the most part, the songs are pretty similar. The closest we get to experimentation is shown in aspects like the lower tuning in songs like "Out of Hell," and the heavier electronic elements in songs like "Watching for Comets" and "Famous," the latter of which sounds tailor-made for the current pop radio scene. Fact is, any one of these songs could be a rock radio hit, it doesn't really matter which one, since they all follow roughly the same melodic and songwriting structure and there's very little variation beyond that.

The band's playing is actually quite decent, considering the simplicity of the music on this record. As mentioned, Seth Morrison is actually quite a decent guitar player, and his solos are definitely the album's high points (check out the one on the album closer, "The Resistance"!). Jen and John hold down the rhythm section fairly well, never overplaying. Korey's rhythm guitar playing is nothing really special, but she also performs the keyboard parts, and some of them are quite good, even if they are fairly run-of-the-mill for this style of music.

YouTube preview picture

The production is as shiny and polished as any modern pop record these days, though the heavy use of electronic elements (though nowhere near as heavy as other pop/rock bands out there like Imagine Dragons and recent Fall Out Boy) does kind of make the album feel a little muddled at times. There also seems to be very heavy use of quantization on drum parts and there's definitely more than just a slight hint of pitch-correction to the vocal parts. If there ever was an album whose production would have it approved for radio airplay immediately, it's this one.

My biggest complaint with this album is that much of the songwriting is rather bland and uninspired. There are a few decent tracks here and there, I especially liked "Saviors of the World" for its jumpy sort of shuffle-rhythm instrumental section, but for the most part, this is a very safe-sounding radio-rock record.

Lyrics — 6
Let's get straight to the point on this one: Skillet are a Christian rock band. If you, for whatever reason, are not a fan of Christianity, you're going to have a bad time. This is probably not the album for you. But for the rest of us that either follow some kind of faith or simply don't care either way, this album is full of the kind of Christian positivity you'd come to expect from any typical Christian rock band. "Feel Invincible," at face value, definitely sounds like the kind of song that capitalizes all of the "He's," with a chorus of "You make me feel invincible/Earthquake, powerful/Just like a tidal wave/You make me brave/You're my titanium/Fight song, raising up/Like a roar of victory in a stadium." This is pretty much the theme throughout the record, with most of the other songs reading pretty much the same way. While the album may not be full of actual Bible verses or "ramming Christianity down your throat" (clearly, this band is not trying to convert us in any way besides simply singing the praises of The Old One), the album is full of verses like this one (from "I Want to Live"): "All I ever needed was a reason to believe/You help me hold on, you ignite the fire in me/You always come for me, you know just what I need/Don't make me wait for this, save me from this darkness/I reach for the light." Admittedly, this kind of lyric does nothing for me at all, and when I'm looking for religious themes in my music, I definitely prefer it when artists or bands use historical themes or darker imagery (prog fans, check out Neal Morse's "Sola Scriptura" for an example of GREAT lyrics on a Christian rock album).

The singers in this band (I'm pretty sure all of the members of this band have some vocal talent, but the focus is definitely John and Jen) are alright, and they can definitely hold their own as vocalists, but the production of the vocal parts just makes what could have sounded powerful and maybe even lent some weight to the lyrics just sound robotic and a bit uninspired. It's all just a little too perfect, with each pitch so properly centered that you can't help but feel like there was plenty of studio trickery at play, which wouldn't be all that uncommon for this style of pop/rock.

Overall Impression — 7
Skillet may still be one of the hardest working bands out there right now, with a relentless tour/record cycle year in, year out, but it's hard to say whether that work has really paid off on this record. There are certainly some moments of light on this record, mostly in the form of some pretty decent instrumental performances, and let's be honest, part of the reason safe music sells so well is that it's usually got a bit of decent songwriting in it. There's nothing really inherently wrong with any of the songs on this record from a musical standpoint and if you're going to listen to it based entirely on a love of guitar solos and riffs and hearing how music is produced, this can be a pretty rewarding listen. And there are shades of some pretty respectable classic bands on this record ("I Want to Live" is about as close as we'll get to a new Evanescence single this year), so they do wear their influences on their sleeve fairly well. The Christian themes to their lyrics are obviously not going to be for everybody, and your mileage may vary depending on how well you regard religious content in your music, but the lyrics, even taken in the proper context, still feel kind of uninspired and are definitely not the reason I'd pick this album up.

It's a tad safe and a little forgettable, but overall, it's not all that bad of a record. It's definitely an album that's better listened to in the context it seemed to be made for: as a series of singles, whether it be on the radio or just listening to individual songs one at a time. And there are some fairly good individual songs on this record. At the very least, check out "I Want to Live" and "Saviors of the World."

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Too much artificial bullshit, sonically, and WAY too many vocal effects. The blatant auto-tune on Jen's vocals is really annoying.
    Man, every band I used to love sold out. Bad. Saw these guys back in '06 and they friggin' killed it. This is just sad and forgettable.
    I remember Skillet on the CD sampler my old church used to give out. Didn't like it then either. Needless to say I don't go to church anymore and Skillet still sucks ass.
    Man, it honestly makes me feel good that the user rating for this album is so low. I honestly wanted to rate the album a bit lower (5s and 6s) in my review, but I was worried about not looking "objective" and had also noted some reviews giving this album a lot of praise (part of my research process for reviewing albums is reading other reviews) and I was listening to the album thinking "there's no way in hell this is an 8/10".
    I appreciate your honesty. Trying to write and vote objectively as a reviewer is difficult when you're not feeling good about how an album sounds. Point being: well-written review but don't be afraid to give it a rating that shows your honest opinion
    Thanks, but sometimes my honest opinion actually pisses people off (case in point, my Emarosa review)
    Honestly, I'm not even the biggest fan of that band or the album, but there's just a few things you should've researched before writing it. Most of the songs seem powerful, but mainly vocally. I know they try to get away with playing a few notes and it somewhat works, but idk. I guess that's the sound they're going for, a more blues rock record and not post-hardcore like they used to. Anyways, are you reviewing Islander too? I forgot to mention them.
    Part of the reason I didn't even bother reviewing the new Chelsea Grin album. I told myself that I would since no one reviewed it, but the problem is that I'm already biased towards an excessive amount of breakdowns and usually the vocals turn me off. It's hard to give constructive criticism if it's just another deathcore band.
    Saw them live by accident in Texas. They were opening for Seether and Godsmack at the Uproar Festival. Skillet was Terrible. The music is perfect for the Disney channel.
    Rise was so good. This is so not.
    I found Rise to be pretty run of the mill. Awake And Alive just barely got by for me. I grew out of their music long ago.
    Last time I looked at Skillet...the singer wasn't a hipster with a beard. Looks like a different person. Ridiculous. why do people try so damn hard these days to look "tough"? Lol I don't get it.
    I would make a joke saying, "they unleashed something alright, something crap", which I will. "they unleashed something alright, something crap",