Release Date: September 15th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Surviving the Game
Skillet. A band that has become a big selling one, since their inception in the mid-1990s. Comprising now of husband-and-wife John and Korey Cooper, alongside guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer and backing vocalist Jen Ledger; this quartet is indeed one of Christian music’s most relatable band in the history of Christian rock music, and a band that, like Switchfoot, has successfully crossed over into mainstream, without compromising their message of hope, encouragement, and at times, confrontation that can be a catalyst to turn into carefully calculated action. In the aftermath (3 years) of what I reckon was one of the band’s most cohesive projects to date (Unleashed), the band gave to us another successful head-banger of an album in Victorious in August 2019. While the band has never shied away from being inclusive and creating a live set and songs that appeal to listeners who may not be accustomed to hearing Christian music, they have never once stopped sharing their faith and what it means to them. And so as Victorious was heard by myself over the last couple of years or so, I’ve been pleasantly excited of the unashamedness of John and the rest of the band in the bold declaratory gospel that they portray, not only in their 2019 album but throughout their whole music career as well.
Skillet has continued to become a band that is respected and admired across the board. Featuring hard rock, radio friendly music, even ballads and pop-rock symphonic anthems; there were songs on Victorious for literally any fan of any era of this band- ‘Legendary’, ‘Terrify the Dark’, ‘Victorious’ the title track, even my very own personal favourite ‘Save Me’, to name a few. One of the most influential bands in modern Christian rock, or even influential within mainstream rock as well; Victorious was definitely a standout in 2019 as a whole, both as a part of CCM and mainstream rock too. Fastforward to September 2021, and we see the band release the song ‘Surviving the Game’, the first single from their upcoming album Dominion, to be released in January 2022.
With Dominion being their 11th studio album since their self-titled debut way back in 1996, ‘Surviving the Game’ is the first single from an album that John himself states, is about ‘…the celebration of freedom, a liberation from fear — to be who we want to be, say what we want to say, believe what we want to believe. In some ways, it’s [the album] a reminder of the God-given rights that we were born with. It’s time to regain some sort of control over our lives and not be a slave to fear. I hope this record is going to make people feel empowered, inspired, uplifted and want to rock their faces off…’ With rousing electric guitars, and John’s powerful distinct voice, this anthemic masterpiece is as what’s needed from a first-single banger and a great introduction to an album- just how songs like ‘Sick of It’, ‘Feel Invincible’ and ‘Legendary’ were all able to introduce the albums Rise, Unleashed and Victorious with such depth and meaning, so too has ‘Surviving The Game’, and it being the song to introduce us all to Dominion, an album that by all accounts, appears to be the band’s most vulnerable yet. ‘Surviving the Game’ is a song about survival, about hoping against all insurmountable odds, a song about rising out from adversity and difficulty with a mindset of conquering not only your situations and circumstances, but conquering your uncertainties, worries, doubts and fear as well. As John himself unveils, we see ‘Surviving the Game’ as ‘…a defiant song about not giving in to the fear that the world is and has been experiencing. This song brings a feeling of survival; you have to do what you need to do in order to get your life back; a defiance against fear and the things that want to hold you down. For so many, that’s depression, isolation, lonelieness, suicidal thoughts, etc. This song is about becoming the person you are meant be and coming out on the other side of all the madness…’ While we are all unclear about what exactly this ‘game’ really is, the beauty of this track is that people who hear it can interpret it in a way that is applicable to them and their life story. With this song dropping during the midst of the 2020/21 COVID-19 pandemic, we can see the obvious signs of this ‘game’ being surviving the pandemic to the best of our ability. Add to this, the circumstances of George Floyd’s murder, the U.S. election, the situation happening right now in Afghanistan, as well as the Haitian earthquake, the Summer Olympics, as well as the ongoing German election, then the word ‘game’ in this Skillet is much broader and wide-reaching. However way we interpret this song, Skillet have once again provided a track that has become one of 2021’s best rock anthems, and a song that challenges us in our own personal lives, to see which things can be seen as roadblocks and what we believe we need to conquer in the upcoming months ahead.
Skillet’s mark on music is very evident and while many can say that you can either succeed in either Christian music or mainstream; Skillet’s history shows us otherwise. John and Korey, Seth and Jen have crafted a career that is non wavering, sticking by their beliefs, and creating album after album full of hits that can relate to a variety of people across the spectrum of race, religion, creed, colour, sexual orientation, and ideologies. There are so much polarising opinions on what people believe Skillet should be, in relation to what they have heard on Comatose– arguably, by sales alone, their best album of their career. Which seems to be a false expectation upon the band, to produce something that maybe they themselves don’t feel like they are called to anymore. Or maybe you can over-spiritualise it and say that you believe God is moving you in a different musical genre, but at the end of the day, music tastes change, and bands change their approach and style…and that’s ok. Skillet have taught me so much in how I myself should be humble and not quick to judge people who are of different beliefs than I am, because if an artist like Skillet, as firmly grounded in faith as they are, can impact and encourage people from a wide array of belief and unbelief, than I myself, who is firmly of the same faith that Skillet is, ought to approach life through the biblical lens that Skillet does as well. ‘Surviving the Game’ is such a great start to what Dominion can be, and if the rest of the album is following the lead of what ‘Surviving the Game’ has been, then this upcoming album by Skillet ought to be one of the most anticipated within the next few months. Well done John and co. for ‘Surviving the Game’. Hoping that more songs from Dominion release in the upcoming weeks ahead.
RIYL: Linkin Park, Evanescene, Switchfoot, RED, Thousand Foot Krutch