Winter Jam Tour brings Christian rock music to Penn State

Photo provided

Skillet doesn’t appear to be mellowing with age. Over a 15-year recording career that includes 10 previous studio albums, the Christian crossover band has firmly established themselves within the metal/alternative rock universe.

The band’s 10th album, the 2019 release “Victorious,” put a grungy, industrial edge on aggressive rockers like “You Ain’t Ready,” “Never Going Back” and “Reach,” while poppier, more orchestral-accented anthems like “ This is a Kingdom” and the title song had plenty of heft.

Now, Skillet is back with “Dominion,” a new album that features a similar stylistic mix, but if anything, ups the ante on the louder aspects of their music in songs such as “Beyond Incredible,” “Surviving The Game” and the title track. They all mix thick guitars, aggressive beats and grimy industrial-ish tones sweetened with big melodic choruses.

“I always laugh and tell people that as an artist I seem to have a really hard time knowing when something sounds different than the last record,” Skillet singer/guitarist John Cooper said in a mid-December phone interview. “But my feeling is that this record is, it’s heavier. … Some of that might be because of the Churko influence. That’s kind of what they do, isn’t it?”

The Churkos would be Kevin Churko, who produced and contributed to the songwriting on “Dominion,” and his brother, Kane Churko, who was also involved in the songwriting and production of the album.

“There’s something about Kevin’s production that’s just very big on the low end. It’s very, very punchy,” Cooper said of his producer, who is known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch and Disturbed, among others. “He’s just a really, really great producer, and I’m a huge fan. So I was like ‘Kevin, do what you do. We want people to hear this music and feel like they’re coming out of the gate, coming out of the gate from pandemic and depression and sadness and despair, and they are coming out of the gates ready to take the world on. Whatever the world brings, they’re going to crush it. That’s what I want people to feel when they hear this music. And he’s like ‘Yup, I’m on it.’”

The Churkos had co-written two songs with Cooper and his wife, guitarist/keyboardist Korey Cooper, on “Victorious” — “Rise Up” and “You Ain’t Ready” — and early in the writing process for “Dominion,” the four songwriters reconvened for a session. Things went so well that the band, which also includes guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer/vocalist Jen Ledger, decided to do the entire “Dominion” album with the Churkos.

But because the COVID pandemic prevented skill from working in person with the Churkos, they had to get creative with how to write and record “Dominion.”

The solution was to do the songwriting and recording of each instrumental part and vocal remotely over Zoom video conferencing. Cooper found this approach to be surprisingly workable.

“It was just a really easy record to make. It was bizarrely easy,” Cooper said. “I didn’t want to do it that way. And I thought this is dumb. But it was either let’s try to write some songs with Zoom or we’re not going to do anything right now because we can’t (work in person). So I thought I’ll just try it, and it went really good. I don’t really know why. Some of it might just be because you’re working less, meaning I didn’t have to travel all the way over there (to a studio) and then set up gear. It was more like ‘Hey, we have a couple of hours. Let’s jump on (Zoom) and write some stuff. Then as we go on through our day, we’ll record some tracks to send to you and then those guys would (work on) the tracks we did or re-do some of our things and send them back. It just became this super easy process.”

If Skillet’s track record is any indication, fans will agree that the remote recording process produced another successful skillet album.

The group, which formed in Memphis in 1996, enjoyed considerable success from the outset in the Christian rock market. But the real breakthrough sixth with Skillet’s album, the 2006 release “Comatose.” Certified platinum, it won a Grammy for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album and spawned five singles, three of which crossed over into the top 30 on “Billboard” magazine’s mainstream rock singles chart.

The next album, 2009’s “Awake,” did even better, going double platinum and producing seven singles.

That success continued with the 2013 album “Rise,” 2016’s “Unleashed” and “Victorious,” each of which added multiple Christian and mainstream rock singles to Skillet’s catalog.

Skillet is starting the “Dominion” touring cycle by headlining this year’s edition of Winter Jam, the annual multi-act arena tour that’s one of the most popular tours in Christian rock. It will stop by the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State on Friday. The band’s 40-minute set will give concertgoers a taste of the new material.

“We’ll play a couple of new songs, and then, of course, you’ve got to play the songs that you know people are going to be really mad if you don’t play,” Cooper said.

If you go

What: Winter Jam 22

When: 7 pm Friday

Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park

Info: bjc.psu.edu/winter-jam-22

.

Leave a Comment