What does it take to win a battle? Beyond tactics or strategies, you need a good battle cry. With Skillet’s new album Victorious, the battle with depression, doubt, and regret has found its rallying anthem.
Skillet’s music has been the giant standing tall in the landscape of rock and roll for over 20 years, carving a path for the genre with songs like “Feel Invincible,” “Sick of It,” “Monster,” and “Rebirthing.” They consistently sell out arenas around the world while racking up RIAA Platinum and Gold certifications for their recorded music.
As a result, expectations for each release are extraordinarily high. The good news for Panheads is this: Skillet knows their listeners well. They know what they struggle with, what they care about, what they want to hear. That personal connection is what allows Skillet to create an album that delivers on fan expectations, confidently helmed by John and Korey Cooper themselves for the bulk of the production.
The lead singles might have already given fans a sense that this would be an album of fight songs, with the courageous conviction of “Legendary” leading an album that comes suitably emblazoned with a shield. Skillet sets the stage with the lyrics “every day I’ll fight to be legendary.” Gentler “Anchor” showed that the strength for that fight comes from determined faith.
The title track “Victorious” takes these themes and digs in deeper, John Cooper and Jen Ledger’s voices trading off in a soaring up-and-down call and response: “high above it all, victorious, victorious / far too long I’ve crawled in hopelessness / I’m over this / Don’t give up on me, tell me you believe / I can face it all / victorious.” The lyrics speak to the anxious and depressed, those struggling under the weight of despair, offering them an empowering hand up. Musically, the song is Skillet at their cinematic best, showing off the way they’ve found a groove balanced between their symphonic and electronic rock identities.
Listeners who have yearned for the darker melodies and sharper-edged riffs of older Skillet work will find an answer on songs like “Reach” and “Save Me.” These songs call for divine healing, for a personal touch that makes God’s love feel real in the dark. “No one ever wants to feel like this,” John Cooper’s raw vocals grind out as “Reach” rushes towards its desperate chorus. Both songs are supported by searing guitar from Seth Morrison and darkly shimmering programming from Korey Cooper.
Even the album closer “Back to Life” stays in keeping with the rest of the project, refusing to gloss over hardship as it cries for resurrection from the death we so often find ourselves drawn into. The track ends with a blistering guitar solo that makes the cry for new life all the more compelling. “Never Going Back” proves to be a stand-out moment on the album, beautifully paying homage to the best of Skillet’s larger-than-life rock sound while simultaneously reimagining it. The exceptional riff from Seth, again layered over breaking waves of programming from Korey, drives home a song that refuses to allow regret a foothold: “I’m never going back / my back’s against a wall / but I know who I am.”
Although the album is thematically heavy at moments, turned inwards to the darkness that we inevitably carry with us as human beings, Victorious never feels like a weight or a chore to listen to. Songs like “You Ain’t Ready” certainly highlight the fight– but in a way that feels like a voice cheering you on from the edge of the wrestling ring. “Rise Up” could easily reprise Skillet’s past ESPN placements with its hyped-up rhythm. “Finish Line” has an absolutely delightful swagger as it struts through a melodically and lyrically triumphant victory lap: “heroes never die, gonna make it to the finish line.”
Through a full 10 studio albums and countless accolades, Skillet has never faltered from their personal dedication to grounding all of it in their belief in a loving God. Previously mentioned “Anchor” roots Victorious there as well, as does “This Is The Kingdom,” a sweeping song centered on the counter-intuitive culture of the Kingdom of God. The tone in “Terrify the Dark” feels outright worshipful as Jen Ledger’s crystal clear tone echoes John’s in declaring “Your light will terrify the dark.”
But as always, Victorious is not just for one kind of listener: it’s for all of them. Anyone who is bruised and broken, anyone who finds themselves in a battle they aren’t sure they can win, anyone who is looking for a way through the internal anguish will find themselves invited into Victorious. Skillet shores up the hope and determination in each of those listeners through the course of these 12 tracks. Just as the album reminds anyone who hears it of their own ability to be the victor in internal battles, it also proves that Skillet is truly Victorious in consistently delivering some of the most passionate, engaging music in rock and roll.