I am beginning to wonder if it is going to become a tradition to review an album every January after last year’s Five Iron Frenzy Theological Album review became the most read piece on this site…ever…not that the point of reviewing albums is clicks, these days I do it to keep the skillset required to do it sharp, even as we pass the 10 year mark since I left ARLCMG and stopped reviewing albums/concerts. It is something I miss, even as I enjoy all the other things God has me doing since. But, from time to time, an album gets the kind of attention in the media that makes me want to review it, or, as in last year’s review, has a compelling message and deserves a much closer look for the sake of the listener. It is the former, not the latter that prompts me to review the latest album from veteran Christian Rockers Skillet: Dominion.
Skillet was one of the bands that “got me through” some of the darkest years in my life: “Savior” was playing on Radio and TVU and would come across our churches Youth Group speakers usually about once a weekend. I can actually remember images from the music video. That song from Collide was the song and album that launched the band from underground obscurity on Tooth n Nail to the mainstream Christian Rock markets. The two follow-ups Comatose and Awake and Alive were the height of the bands career in the spotlight, and though it continues, one wonders if it would be better shown elsewhere. Especially given front man John Cooper’s misguided comments on Alisa Childers Podcast.
But let’s set aside Cooper’s words outside the music, let’s just focus on the album itself. Unfortunately there is not much here to write home about. That is, from start to finish there is not much here to grab the listeners attention. This can happen to bands who have been around as long as Skillet, they begin to sound like themselves, whether from compliancy or just from a band running out of ideas. This album feels way too much like every album since Awake and Alive has sounded, as if the band found a formula that works but has become bogged down in it. Some credit does have to be given for the consistency, as over the last 10 years they have done a good job of marrying old Skillet with new, but the recipe needs changed up every now and then to stay fresh. This does not mean they do not attempt to do this, The album’s first single: Standing In the Storm features some of the same rap featured on the hit: Looking for Angels but here it feels musically forced and some of the phrasing should have been tweaked before production. One of my mentors wives once commented on some of my own lyrics that they are: “so wordy” and that is what some of the phrases feel like here. This may also have to do with the fact that Skillet is now on a major label and as we saw with bands like TFK, it can be easy to get into “label friendly” formula that often restricts.
For all the drawbacks to this album musically, there are points where this album does shine musically, the song: Destroyer is a piece of hardcore genius similar to what Disciple has been producing in recent years. The album’s title cut: Dominion is another well composed piece of rock and roll. Both tracks show that the band does have the ability to continue to diversity their sound, if they so choose. But they also serve as nods to the bands grunge history, even as they serve as standout tracks.
Thematically this album was billed as an anti-establishment, fight the power, type of rocker. Cooper himself said that this would be: “a different album thematically” than previous records. And while there are a few Anti-establishment or government overreach songs present: Dominion, Shout Your Freedom, Destroyer, Ignite. These songs hardly bring anything new to the conversation grunge music has been leading for forty years. Dominion is probably the most helpful in that it points out that God himself has full dominion over all the earth and governments, but it completely ignores the fact that governments exist in the service of God, whether they acknowledge him or not and that they exist to bless the church when it carries out the mission of Christ and correct her through the power of the sword when the Church acts in a way that is contrary to the kingdom of God. As a theologian I am wondering if the very “government overreach” Cooper is condemning on these tracks isn’t a direct result of the American evangelical Church choosing endless culture wars over caring for the poor and sick and carrying out the mission of Jesus as He lays it out for us. Choosing the culture war language Cooper has employed in Podcast and Youtube video appearances, over the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
All of this frustrates me as a Christian and as a reviewer, not simply because Skillet is perfectly capable of producing higher quality music than this. But because there are serious issues currently facing the Church and instead of inspiring and encouraging their listeners into a deeper walk with Christ and addressing issues like Christian Nationalism with biblical wisdom and care, instead they go the direction of the culture warrior and even include references and shoutouts to the “Christic Manhood” movement of some of Christendom’s worst Heretics.
It might be best to label this album: “Fan Service” and encourage us all to skip this one and hope for a better one next time.