Following the 2019 milestone release of Victorious, 12x-platinum rockers Skillet took their 11th studio album in stride—enforcing their righteous position as one of the best-selling rock bands of the 21st century.
Released January 14 via Atlantic Records, Dominion is what bandleader John Cooper described as a “positive rebellion” against the extenuating circumstances and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Produced by Kevin Churko (Papa Roach, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch) and his son, Kane, the 12-track album is a sonic expansion for Skillet. Cooper and his band—guitarist/keyboardist/harmony singer and wife Korey Cooper, lead guitarist Seth Morrison, and drummer and co-lead vocalist Jen Ledger—wielded the restrictive circumstances as an opportunity to re-think their musical approach. Cooper credits Kevin and Kane’s experimental production ear and Korey’s expansive music taste for pushing the band’s previous genre bounds.
Written over Zoom and recorded between Cooper’s home studio in Wisconsin and Churko’s studio in Las Vegas, the album layers expressive textures atop a scorching soundscape to bolster the storytelling.
Lyrically, this album is a rallying cry to those seeking hope amidst the haze of these uncertain times. Both poetic and unapologetically candid, the songwriting anchors the album. Slow-burning at times, and raucous when necessary, the lyrical messaging presents a steady presence of strength for those who need it most.
Dominion is not so much a calculated response as it is a reflex or reaction to the state of the world.
“I don’t know if we even had time to think about it,” Cooper admits to American Songwriter about the record’s congruency. “Naturally, the themes were there. The entire album resonates because the lyrics are very authentic—now we’ll see if the fans agree. We never sat down to decide what we wanted to say. It just came out.”
American Songwriter: What was your inception moment where you finally realized you needed to rise up or begin this album process in response to those feelings?
John Cooper: I was a little surprised because I wasn’t planning on releasing a record so quickly, but I had something to say. And I think the biggest influence of that was seeing the people I know and love—friends, family—just in depression.
When I say those outside forces, I’m talking about people just locked up in fear and being ruled by it. They felt like they had nothing to live for, had no hope for the future, and found themselves depressed. Some of them found themselves in substance abuse and whatnot. And it just really saddened me, and it kind of made me angry but in a positive way. Because I’m like, “Come on, man, you don’t need to do this; you can make it.” And that’s where the songs came from. It was this positive feeling that I’m not giving in to it, and I’m going to fight for everybody not to give in to it, either. And so, this record is very positive and deliberately fiery against those negative forces.
AS: I understood you were hesitant to write with Kevin over Zoom, but it went so well that you decided to continue meeting that way even after restrictions had been lifted. How would you describe the chemistry you found working on these songs?
JC: I did not want to write over Zoom. It just felt so sterile, like marrying a robot or something. But with COVID, it just wasn’t viable to get together. So we all agreed we would get on there for two hours—if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But it did work, and that’s what was so crazy. Honestly, I just think it was because we were so inspired to be working on music. I had something to say, so these lyrics were coming to me. And I think it made for a better record because we ended up trying things that I feel certain we would not have tried had we been in the same room.
For instance, we would write together on Zoom, then Korey and I would record in our studio and send files to Kevin and Kane. They would get in there and mess with them. And some of the chord changes might change something that I wrote to make it different. And at first, I would be hesitant, but I would live with it for a day. By the end of the day, I was like, “I actually love it because it’s different.” Had I been in the room, I probably would have shut it down like, “That doesn’t sound like Skillet.” But I think part of what made this record good is we’re trying new things. It’s just a heavier, grittier record; we got a little dirty on it.
AS: At what point in the process did you write “Dominion”? What led you to select that one as the title track?
JC: The first song we wrote was “Surviving The Game.” And everybody liked it—the label liked it, my management liked it, the band loved it. I was honestly taken aback because usually, nobody likes anything until I’ve written 10 songs. So we just started ripping through songs. We wrote the whole record in like five months.
“Dominion” came about three months in. I wanted to do something really fast and up-tempo because that’s not something we usually do. And I don’t even remember how I got the idea. But I knew I wanted to make it a little metal and slightly faster than anything we’ve ever done. I thought we could use that.
The last thing we wrote for it was the main riff of the song—which I really love. It’s so different for skillet. And it just all kind of came together. It was fun to try some new stuff. And then my wife ended up writing the verse riff, which is very punk. So we put all this different stuff together to get a song like that we’ve never done before, and that’s one of my favorites on the record. I hope the fans like it.
AS: “Standing In The Storm” feels central to the album theme. Where did that song come from?
JC: That one came late in the game, and I remember thinking, “This might be one of the best songs on the record.” And I liked that it’s very ‘Skillet-sounding’ except that it has some new stuff in it we hadn’t done.
The lyric started because my wife had a notebook that she journaled in, and she had this one line in her journal it says: “I still got some life in me.” And I just thought that was so cool; it just hit me. What I find hard about the pandemic is you don’t know how long it’s going to last. It’s not like I can’t imagine any more suffering than what we’ve endured; I could imagine a lot more suffering. The problem is you don’t know if this will be one year, two years, or infinity? Are we ever going to go back to normal? So that really spoke to me, and we started digging into it.
AS: “Standing In The Storm” as well as “White Horse” expands further into other genres influences than your past work. What was that process like? Do you think you’ll continue to push those bounds on upcoming records?
JC: On “Standing In The Storm,” the beats are unusual for a rock band. But I like the beats, which is why we did so much rhythm on the verses like I tend to be defiant. All that stuff is not very skillet. We’ve never done anything that syncopated. And it kind of reminded me of a blend of like Disturbed and Michael Jackson or something.
Korey is very wide in her tastes and music. She loves hip-hop, rap, urban music, indie rock. I pretty much just listen to hard rock and metal. So she was bringing a lot of urban influences. And I don’t want to say there’s much rapping—I’m not a rapper. But there are some rapping moments on the record, which is very different for us. And I’m like, “Why not?” We’re 11 records in. Let’s try something new; keep it fresh.
Listen to Dominion, HERE.
Photo by Jimmy Fontaine for Atlantic Records