Never ones to sauté the same sounds perpetually on each release, or to revisit lightning that's already struck, the members
of Skillet are in the constant pursuit of variety, as their name so appropriately implies: a sensory overloading hybrid of
diverse tastes, scents, and styles. Since 1996, the John Cooper-led quartet has bounced between modern rock urgency on its
self-titled debut, the electronic domination of Hey You I Love Your Soul, pulsating techno explosions throughout Invincible,
prayerful reverence on Ardent Worship, and intense industrialization on Alien Youth, earning a vast army of "Panheads" and
a respectable amount of industry acclaim in the process. With eight number one radio singles under its belt, eleven Dove nominations,
and over 200 jam-packed concert dates a year, the group is amongst Christian music's alternative elite with a solid commitment
to artistic excellence and evangelistic relevance.
"I've always made a conscious effort to write about what I felt
God was telling me on every project, and since we've started, I think we've covered a lot of bases," reflects Cooper. "We've
encouraged those within the church and hopefully introduced people to Christ that hadn't known him before. I think this current
phase of Skillet will take us further down those roads even more effectively."
That musing the band's prolific front
man is referring to is the latest in Skillet's run of top notch quality albums called Collide, a punch-packed collage of sounds
marinating since we last heard from the group two years ago (with the Alien Youth CD and the subsequent concert/behind the
scenes DVD The Unplugged Invasion). The lengthy break has paid off for Cooper and company, who not only had time to take and
fine comb all of the details on this career cornerstone release, but welcome the Cooper's latest baby.
pregnant, we took it easy for a bit and had time to really get into the meat of songwriting," Cooper explains. "By the time
we were ready for the newest sessions, I had a solid 25-30 songs written and a backlog of others that we had time to fine
tune and start from scratch on occasion."
Much of the ensuing songwriting superiority stems from the ongoing support
and coaching by the project's acclaimed producer Paul Ebersold, who after working with the likes of Three Doors Down and Sister
Hazel sure knows a hit when he hears one. "He was able to challenge me and stretch me in ways I never was before," Cooper
relates. "After all he's worked on in the past and the friendship we've built, I really trust his judgment and was open to
him telling me flat out how he felt about every song I presented."
In the end, ten soon-to-be Skillet classics made
it onto Collide, uniting around yet another stylistic direction for the band—one that sees its departure from keyboard
driven sounds and delving into a grittier, guitar dominated pedigree. "It's definitely a lot louder than ever before without
any of the techno or industrial elements," Cooper confirms. "In one sense it's stripped down from the keyboard stuff, but
it's definitely more loud and aggressive than before."
That mixed-up approach was birthed out of Cooper letting his
inventive juices flow with reckless abandon and muscle-bound authority. "I was a huge metal fan in the 80s and I still love
glam metal unashamedly," he confesses. "For so long after Nirvana came and changed that all, I was afraid that nobody liked
metal and that those kinds of guitars and rhythms wouldn't be accepted, but now I'm not afraid to take people to that place
even if they aren't necessarily expecting that on a Skillet album."
Fans need not fear Cooper's guilty pleasure getting
in the way of the band's pre-existing chemistry as such thunderous instrumental clashes and deep-throated vocal roars propel
the album's adrenaline rushes from start to finish. Take for instance the deafening gun-slinging guitars and husky vocal roars
throughout "Forsaken," the haunting energy spurts within "Savior," and the eerie no nonsense barn burner "My Obsession." Other
examples of genre variation include the progressive groove-drenched "Cycle Down," the retro influenced mayhem mechanism "Energy,"
and the musically intense but lyrically beautiful love song "A Little More."
"This is our first love song ever, which
marks another element I wasn't scared to try this time out," says Cooper of the latter. "I'm really excited about it because
the love between a husband and wife is such a good message these days with divorce rates being so high. It's good to instill
in our young people that God doesn't want marriage to end in divorce and that love conquers all."
Besides that commitment
filled stance, other heavy lyrical hitters include the epic title cut that references believers' balance between maintaining
a worldly presence and immersing themselves in God's word, along with the belligerent bare knuckled blasts on "Imperfection,"
during which Cooper delicately addresses self-esteem.
Unlike the thematic similarities between tunes on Alien Youth,
the cuts on Collide don't have a specific concept or logo-worthy antidote in mind, but there's still a unifying thread. "The
only real focus that I wanted to have for the record was to write songs that deal with modern day issues," he concludes. "We're
addressing recurring situations that God's put in our heart to help young people deal with them. Collide fits into our overall
focus, which has always been singing passionate songs about God that people can relate to and be inspired by. It's always
been our hope that those who hear about Christ for the first time on one of our records will find something of life changing
dimensions revealed to them."