Archive for August, 2009

Review: Skillet, “Awake”

Skillet, AwakeIn the past, Skillet hasn’t been the biggest force to come from the Christian music scene, but in the last few years that has quickly changed. After five albums and some member changes, the band put out the album that brought them the most success, Comatose. Previous albums proved that despite the band changing and evolving their sound worked, going from a simple three piece garage band to an electro/rock five-piece, and landing on a pop/hard rock driven entity with Comatose. Collide, the band’s fifth album is probably the hardest material they have ever released, bordering on grunge at points. But with Comatose, they kept some of the rock edge while making popular songs with poignant lyrics that anyone (but particularly teenagers) could identify with. Three years of touring and a re-release with acoustics and an extra song later, the band returns with Awake.

Let me say: I am a Skillet fan. They have impressed me with each record and Comatose was brilliant in many ways. It got excessively overplayed due to the local radio stations, but it still has the bite of a good Skillet record. Awake is the first time in the band’s career that the members have stuck very, very close to what the last record was. Rather than reinventing themselves, the record is simply a rehashing of what Comatose was, albeit with much watered down lyrics and less forceful rock tracks. I’ll start with the good first though. The lead single, “Hero” is likely the best track here, as it likens to “Rebirthing” from the last record, acting as a good intro and rock track for the band. Rather than Korey, John Cooper’s wife, providing extra and back up vocals, the newest drummer for the band, Jen Ledger is singing with John. She proves to be a good vocalist, particular for this song.

The best I can say is that Skillet has a great formula for what will prove to sell. Sadly, each track on Awake can be another version of a song from Comatose. The first ballad on the album, “Don’t Wake Me” is nearly the same stylistically and sometimes lyrically as “Yours To Hold”. Fast-paced rocker “It’s Not Me It’s You” is “Those Nights” again, but with a slightly different message. More songs this time around focus on relationships, which will get them more radio time guaranteed. The harder tracks have been toned down even more from the Comatose times, and Cooper’s vocals tend to come across as flat on tracks like “Never Surrender”. On previous albums, the front-man/bass player would stretch his vocals live (and in studio) more than any band I’ve ever listened to, but now it seems like they’ve switched that out for bland singing.

Lyrically, songs all across the album have very sing-song friendly tones, like “Never Surrender”: “I don’t wanna feel like this tomorrow / I don’t wanna live like this today / make me feel better / I wanna feel better / stay with me here / and never surrender”. “Monster” proves to be more monotonous than most, with the same chorus sung continuously before the song ends with a distorted “monster” voice. With three years of touring and chances to write great songs like the ones that have been thrown through their catalog in the past, this just isn’t the return I would have expected from such a seasoned veteran. Awake is quite possibly going to be one of their best selling records because fans want more of what they got last time around, but to a longtime fan, these songs are less than mediocre. Pass this one by if you’re looking for more innovation in your music.

Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: Mute Math, “Armistice”

Mute Math, "Armistice"Well this one has been long overdue. After nearly three years in and out of the studio and performing to countless crowds at numerous venues, Mute Math is back with what many would call their third album. In all technical terms, this is only their second album, with their debut EP being only seven tracks. But who cares, it’s Mute Math. I’ve been a fan of Paul Meany’s work since well before Mute Math, starting with a slightly obscure Christian band from the early 2000s called Earthsuit. But Earthsuit is long gone and over time what has grown out of the few members is quite different, yet fantastic in and of itself.

Now I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy the self-titled record as much as it seems everyone else did, mainly because the album didn’t feel like a full album of Mute Math songs. Every other track was an instrumental and acted as an interlude to the next. While these instrumentals assured the talent of the band, the tracks just felt thrown in and not really a part of the overall album. On Armistice, each track is a full song, incorporating vocals and sounds all the way through, making it appear (and sound) like an overall more cohesive effort. The album is chock full of solid rock tracks, and highlights like the opener “The Nerve” and catchy “Backfire” prove that the band can write a hit. But it’s also impressive to see songs like “Clipping” and the soft ballad “Pins and Needles” that have elements of violin and strings to compliment the electronic synth sounds mixed with rock. A few tracks can get a bit monotonous, such as the rocker “Goodbye” has a chorus that is not much more than simply “if you say goodbye / if you say goodbye” repeated. Another bright spot on the album is the title track, which incorporates horns and other instruments to bring a very unique sound, which isn’t new for such a band as Mute Math. The band stretches their talents more than ever, and it proves to be an enjoyable sonic ride. The other ballad on the album, “Lost Year” can even be acceptable in a worship sense, slow and melody driven.

The already-hit “Spotlight” is here as well, and a very upbeat “Electrify” make for more highlights on this stellar album, and the record finishes with a nine minute epic entitled “Burden”. The song incorporates Mute Math’s signature instrumentals through a good portion of the song, and serves as a fitting bookend for the album. With Armisitice, Mute Math has beaten themselves, and this is the return that fans will likely embrace fully, and the band is sure to pick up new fans as well. Welcome back Mute Math, you’ve surely been missed.

Star Rating: 4½ out of 5