Joining the likes of fellow crossover band Switchfoot, Skillet releases an iTunes-exclusive iTunes Session live EP this fall. The eight-track digital EP includes studio-recorded live tracks that sound almost as complete as their album versions. Drawing mostly from their newest album, Awake, iTunes Session also includes three tracks from their previous album, Comatose.
Last year, Skillet released the arguably disappointing follow-up to the epic Comatose, titled Awake, more or less trying to expand on the sound they'd explored on the album before it but ultimately creating a record that was much too similar in sound and feel and just not nearly as good. For iTunes Session, they chose five of the better cuts from Awake and three of the standouts from Comatose. The album opens with "Awake and Alive," and most casual listeners might be disappointed that these tracks sound quite a bit like their original versions -- in quality and arrangement. However, the panheads will immediately notice some important changes. From the beginning, Skillet's edginess is given some sharper teeth. The bass is more powerful and there's much less polish to the production (but it's still really clean), giving these songs a power that their previous studio recorded renditions just didn't have. "Sometimes" is given an updated opening via some well placed synths and an intentionally creepy pick slide to aid in the mood of the dark rocker. "Rebirthing" is given a new jamming outro that adds to the big sound the track already has and helps it stand out even more from its original version. Ben Kasica really gets to show off his guitar skills her in ways that don't translate as prominently on the studio records. "The Last Night" sounds mostly the same except for some changes towards the end including a similarly extended outro. "Hero" may be the only track from Awake that doesn't sound a lot better than its original version, with the only major difference including a scream from front man John Cooper during the song's finale. "Comatose" gets the same treatment here as heard during their live performance with a new string intro that builds dramatically to the original album intro and with the guitars amped up more. It's another highlight on iTunes Session.
The only track that probably just doesn't really fit, lyrically and musically, is the lackluster EP closer, "Believe," a song about being misunderstood in a relationship. The song is done acoustically, which displays the band's abilities for scaling back the rock for a more stripped down sound (but strings, piano, and acoustic are all utilized here). Cooper's voice sounds the roughest here, but it actually adds a nice touch to it. Still, in the end, the track still sounds better than the original Awake cut. My only other gripe would be that it would have been nice to hear at least one older Skillet song included here -- whether dug out of the vault of their past or even just "Savior" from three records ago. Switchfoot daringly included "Learning To Breathe" from their 2000 album of the same name and it was a real treat to hear a new version of it a decade later.
Those looking for new Skillet music or completely new renditions of some of their favorite songs won't find them on iTunes Session, but what they will find just might be better recordings of some of their favorite tracks. Overproduction runs rampant in music today, sometimes even holding it back from greatness. And when it comes to heavy rock tracks, it can be the kiss of death. But Skillet is a rock band that excels live and this iTunes Session EP exhibits that well. If you were disappointed in the band's last studio effort, iTunes Session breathes a little more life into a few of the better tracks on Awake and the production values give each of the tracks a little more "oomph." This is a must-have EP for any current panheads, and for panheads looking for a little redemption after Awake failed live up to their expectations.
- Review date: 11/16/10, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com