Skillet recently made headlines when their last album, Awake, became one of just three rock albums to be certified platinum in 2012, forming an improbable triumvirate with the Black Keys’ El Camino and Mumford & Sons’ Babel. The news that Skillet had sold more than a million albums in the U.S. came as a shock to all but the band’s wildly diverse horde of fans, male and female, young and old—known as Panheads—whose still-swelling ranks now officially number in the seven-digit range. This remarkable achievement was announced just as Skillet was putting the finishing touches on their eagerly awaited follow-up album, Rise (Atlantic/Word). Unwilling to stand pat or rest on their laurels, the band—lead vocalist/bassist John Cooper, guitarist/keyboardist Korey Cooper (John’s wife), drummer/duet partner Jen Ledger and lead guitarist Seth Morrison, making his first appearance on record with Skillet—continue to explore new terrain on Rise, expertly produced by Howard Benson, who previously helmed the mega-successful Awake. Eager for new challenges, Cooper threw himself into collaborative songwriting to a far greater degree than ever before, co-writing the uplifting title song and the lacerating first single “Sick of it” with Scott Stevens, founder/leader of the L.A.-based Exies, while teaming with Nashville songsmiths Tom Douglas and Zac Maloy on the timely and anthemic “American Noise,” which Cooper considers to be the strongest song Skillet has yet recorded. On “American Noise” and the joyous “Good to Be Alive,” the band explores new stylistic territory, bringing an element of heartland rock into their aggressive, theatrical approach. The band expanded their musical palette, integrating natural, acoustic instruments like accordion, mandolin, dulcimer, harp, tympani and bells to their trademark slashing electric guitars, strings, churning synths and pummeling drums. It isn’t just the songs themselves that make Rise so gripping, it’s also the song sequences—like the radical contrast between the almost unbearable tension of “Sick of It” suddenly giving way to the ecstatic release of “Good to Be Alive,” or the way the closing three-song progression of “My Religion,” “Hard to Find” and “What I Believe” builds to a thrilling musical, thematic and emotional crescendo.