The new Skillet album Rise includes plenty of head-banging power chords and crashing waves of sound. And with a title track featuring guttural screams to “Rise in revolution!” an unsuspecting parent may be forgiven for calling their pastor in a panic about their teen’s music choices. But the revolution the band calls for is against the ever-encroaching evil in our world.
While the title track calls for resisting outward darkness, the Dove Award-winning “Sick Of It” is about combatting inward darkness caused by poor choices and habits. Whatever our peculiar breed of self-destructive behavior, lead singer John Cooper challenges, “If you’re sick of it, raise your hand/Get rid of it, while there’s a fighting chance/Are you over it, bored to death, have you had enough regret/take a stand raise your hand if you’re sick of it.”
Themes of personal responsibility and righteous resistance are hardly common fare in heavy metal, making Skillet a welcome alternative to the nihilism and occult-obsession so common in the genre. With catchy choruses to boot, the band’s approach is clearly making its mark far beyond the boundaries of its original Christian audience. A recent article in The New York Times characterized them as “an unabashedly Christian band that has won over mainstream rock aficionados without alienating its religious base.”
The numbers speak for themselves: The new album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Rock chart while their prior album Awake recently struck Platinum, selling more than 1 million copies.
With a Facebook following topping 4 million, the band’s steady rise to success has curiously lacked major media coverage until recently. Skillet’s relatively low profile led Cooper to joke to The Associated Press, “We’re the biggest selling rock band you’ve never heard of.” And he told ABC Radio News, “It took Skillet 12 years to become an overnight success.”
The New York Times partly credited the band’s crossover appeal to Cooper’s lyrics, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Indeed, while Rise deals in themes and allusions relevant to Christians, it nowhere explicitly mentions the person of Jesus. The understated approach has its critics. One Facebook user posting on the band’s page lamented how Skillet receives so many accolades and dollars from Christians yet doesn’t mention Jesus’ name. Another fan responded that the band vocally talks about Jesus at their live shows and maintained, “It was through them I heard about the gospel of Christ.”
Cooper affirmed the same in an interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: “We’re very serious about proclaiming Jesus from the stage. … It’s leading to fruit.” He cited the example of a couple that worked in the porn industry and heard Skillet’s song “Hero” on an NFL promotion. They came to a concert and professed faith in Christ. According to Cooper, “They got out of that industry and have gotten into a church. … It’s something only God can do.”
“I kind of look at it the way Jesus wrote the parables,” Cooper said. “I’ve been a Christian since I was 5, and still when I read Jesus’ words I sometimes wonder why He wasn’t more clear about what he was talking about. Sometimes you have to dig in and watch it rise.”