Skillet's tenth LP, Unleashed, continues the journey that began on 2003's tonal shift Collide. The Nashville-based Christian band has always set itself apart from the CCM masses -- touring with secular hard rock bands and drawing huge festival crowds -- while sustaining an undying message of positivity and hope. Unleashed is aptly titled: two decades into their existence, Skillet have made their biggest album yet, an explosion of bombast and scope that draws on mainstream influences without wavering from their wholesome values. With contributions from Brian Howes (Halestorm, Daughtry), Kevin Churko (Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch), Neal Avron (Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy), and Seth Mosley (Newsboys, TobyMac), Unleashed is also Skillet's most polished effort. Korey Cooper and Seth Morrison's riffs maintain the energy at caffeine-highs, while Jen Ledger's drumming pounds with precision intensity. Vocalist and sole founding member John Cooper holds everything together with a full-bodied delivery and consistently strategic lyrics that are subtle enough to please fans of any faith. The best moments on Unleashed are high-octane turbo blasts like "Feel Invincible," "Undefeated," and "Out of Hell," churning tracks that echo the fury of Muse or even, on the latter, Slipknot. They even borrow directly from Orgy's cover of "Blue Monday" on the bouncing "Burn It Down." Cooper's vocal interplay with his wife Korey and Ledger adds a brightness and cohesion similar to the best moments on 2009's Awake. Meanwhile, the orchestration and gravity that infused the Evanescence-lite Comatose layers stadium anthems like "I Want to Live" and the epic closer "The Resistance." All of these heavier moments elicit purely physical responses, but there are also breaks to pause and contemplate. Stripping back the headlong rock charge, Skillet include a few purely praise & worship breathers like the polished Killers-synthy "Stars," the Hillsong-with-bigger-amps "Lions," and the gorgeous "Watching for Comets." Whether in a giant mosh pit or a congregation of the faithful, Skillet know how to play a crowd and Unleashed succeeds on both fronts.
by Neil Z. Yeung