Monday, October 7, 2019

Album review: Comatose by Skillet

So, this is awkward. If I'm going to review a Skillet album I should really preface it by saying I am pretty strongly opposed to christian music. I won't get into the details here, but the short version is that the more I learn about music, the more I realize that christian music is the least interesting, least useful, and most potentially damaging music genre out there. As a musician, I hate when musicians make something other than music the most important thing about their art, because if there's something more important than the music it always ends up compromises the music as a result. With all these ideas and more in mind, I recently purged my CD collection of christian music. And somehow, Skillet survived. Just barely, though. Today I'll be listening to Comatose for the first time in years.

I really don't want to make this article the "let's bash christian music" episode, but if you're into that, check out this youtube video that pretty much sums up my stance on this.

Maybe I kept my Skillet CDs around because, unlike other christian music, I actually really connected with it at one point. I think Skillet was really one of the first bands that I liked because I liked it, and not just because I felt like I should. It sort of bridged the gap between the christian music that I was supposed to like, and all that other music that I actually liked but couldn't admit to myself that I liked. Skillet was the perfect band band for christian teenagers like me who didn't like the bland christian pop music our parents liked, even if Skillet was really just as bland christian rock instead. My first exposure to Skillet was actually a YouTube video combining "Falling Inside the Black" with scenes from the Star Wars prequels- two things that defined my childhood, but I am quick to disavow now.

There are actually some good songs on this album. "Rebirthing" still sounds pretty cool to me, and "Comatose" isn't that awful. But then there are songs like "Better than Drugs", which even at the time I knew full well was a cringefest. Thank goodness I don't tend to care about lyrics that much, because if I did, this album probably would not have been one of my favorites.

The hardest part of listening to this album again in 2019 is actually not the creepy feeling I get from -hearing an old man tell me how cool Jesus is- it's the awful overcompression. Every time the drums hit, the cymbals and the guitar sounds drop in volume a little bit. This is usually a good thing, and good music producers do this on purpose using something called sidechain compression. But on this CD, every time there's a spike in volume it sounds like the whole song is getting "squished", and that squished sound hurts my ears. I actually loaded the song "Comatose" into Audacity just to get a quick look and see what I could see.

You see all those red lines? That's clipping, and that's very bad. That's an amateur audio engineer mistake (that I've made plenty of times, of course). The sound is so squashed down that the loud sounds like drums are at about the same volume as the quieter sounds, which is why the song hurts my ears so much. This isn't the worst overcompression I've ever seen, but it's pretty darn bad. You can forget about listening to this album on headphones if you want to have a good time.

Of course, when I went to Florida with my grandparents, I listened to this album countless times in cheap earbuds. While I did get sick of it by the time the trip was over, I genuinely enjoyed it. Now when I think about Comatose, Awake, or Skillet in general, I think of that trip. I was just getting good enough to learn Skillet songs on guitar (including "Those Nights"), and I didn't know or care about overcompression.

Comatose is an album that means something to me. But as my values have changed and my knowledge about music has increased, I've learned that there is a lot of music that is much more worthy of my attention. I'm probably not ready to get rid of my Skillet CDs, but I'm also not likely to pull Comatose out again any time soon. I can thank Skillet for helping me develop my own personal tastes in music, but I've moved on to bigger and better things.

I give Comatose one star, and my favorite track is "Whispers in the Dark", which might possibly be the first song I encountered a harmonized guitar solo in, laying the groundwork for my love of Metallica's "One"- but we'll get to ...And Justice for All in a couple months from now. No spoilers.

1 comment:

  1. I feel you in regards to the overcompression on the album. From time to time, I want to dive into nostalgia trip and listen to this album, but it's so flat-sounding and abrasive, it actually hurts me to listen to.