Winter Jam Tour Brings Christian Rock Music to Penn State

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Skillet doesn’t seem to soften with age. Over a 15-year recording career that includes 10 previous studio albums, the Christian crossover band have firmly established themselves in the alternative metal/rock universe.

The band’s 10th album, 2019’s release “Victorious,” gave a grungy, industrial edge to aggressive rockers like “You Ain’t Ready,” “Never Going Back,” and “Reach,” while more pop anthems and more orchestral like “This Is a Kingdom” and the title track had a lot of weight.

Now Skillet is back with “Dominion,” a new album that features a similar stylistic blend, but raises the bar on the strongest aspects of their music in songs like “Beyond Incredible,” “Surviving The Game ” and the title track. They all mix thick guitars, aggressive beats and grimy industrial sounds softened by big melodic choruses.

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

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

“There’s something about Kevin’s production that’s just really big on the low end. It’s very, very hard-hitting,” Cooper said of his producer, known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch and Disturbed, among others. “He’s just a really, really good 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 going out out of the gate, come out of the gate of pandemic, depression, sadness and despair, and they come out of the gates ready to take on the world. Whatever the world brings, they will crush it. This is what that 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 came together 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 kept Skillet from working in person with the Churkos, they had to get creative writing and recording “Dominion.”

The solution was to do the writing and recording of each instrumental and vocal part remotely via Zoom video conferencing. Cooper found this approach surprisingly feasible.

“It was just a really easy record to make. It was weirdly easy,” Cooper said. “I didn’t want to do it like that. ‘write 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 give it a try, and it went really well. I don’t don’t really know why. Maybe it’s partly because you work less, which means I didn’t have to walk all the way there (to a studio) and then set up some material. It was more like ‘Hey, we have a few hours. Let’s go to (Zoom) and write some stuff. Then as we go through our day, we’ll record a few tracks to send you and then these guys (will work on ) the tracks we made or redo some of our things and send them back. It’s become 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, formed in Memphis in 1996, enjoyed considerable success on the Christian rock market from the start. But the real breakthrough came with Skillet’s sixth album, the 2006 release “Comatose.” Certified platinum, it won a Grammy for best gospel rock or rap album and spawned five singles, three of which hit 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.

This success continued with 2013’s ‘Rise’ album, ‘Unleashed’ and 2016’s ‘Victorious’, each of which added several Christian and mainstream rock singles to Skillet’s catalog.

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

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

If you are going to

What: Winter Jam 22

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Or: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park

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

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