Getting dropped in the deep end of joining an established popular act and being expected to keep pace while having suddenly made it big very, very quickly, can probably be figuratively compared to being hit with the force of a freight train. Having relocated to the US at the age of 16, and initially filling the role of bassist for Wisconsin act The Spark, English drummer Jen Ledger was recruited at just 18 years old in 2008 to replace Skillet’s retiring Lori Peters She was brought into the group during the huge wake of the success achieved by 2006 studio effort Comatose. Immediately going on to perform live heavily with the veteran Christian rock act throughout the Comatose Comes Alive tour, Ledger’s newly found fame within Skillet could have very easily been overwhelming, but as was demonstrated throughout the live performances and on to following 2009 studio effort Awake, Ledger’s appearance clearly wasn’t just to fill a role: she had been fully embraced, the band very much welcoming her with open arms.
Indeed, Awake’s ‘Hero’ and ‘Awake and Alive’ were immediately singled out as hugely popular highlights for the album, Jen Ledger’s backing vocals on the tracks being noted by many to be a refreshing addition to the band’s repertoire, providing a lighter contrast to frontman John Cooper’s generally harsher rock vocals. With fans being so receptive to Ledger’s presence, it came to little surprise that 2013 studio effort Rise saw more prominent utilization of the drummer’s vocal abilities, with the ballad ‘Fire and Fury’ in particular displaying a far more balanced duality between Cooper and Ledger.
In keeping with the ever-supportive nature of Skillet’s following, and having now spent 10 years performing with the band, the announcement of Jen Ledger’s solo project (simply titled LEDGER) was met with the same reception: the fans were hungry and couldn’t wait for more.
Generally in keeping with Skillet’s catchy rock choruses and hard-hitting, guitar-heavy anthems, LEDGER’s debut six-track EP Ledger gives the initial impression of treading fairly familiar territory; lead single ‘Not Dead Yet’ fits in very neatly alongside Skillet’s more symphonic ‘Not Gonna Die’ or riff-heavy ‘Back From The Dead’. This doesn’t completely surprise, considering the EP was produced by bandmate Korey Cooper, but the overall style leans a little more toward the likes of ex-Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm. Indeed, compared to Skillet’s slightly more polished approach, the lower end feels a little more bass-heavy, the guitar distortion buried deeper into the mix, and Ledger’s explosive percussion essentially acts as the primary driving force for the track, complimented by the occasional uplifting piano line and Jen Ledger seeming completely at ease taking on sole vocal duties. In short, despite some similarities, ‘Not Dead Yet’ proves that there is personality to be found here; this isn’t simply just another Skillet record.
Continuing forward, Ledger’s second track ‘Warrior’ remains rooted in the rockier side of things, boasting exactly the kind of defiance you would expect of its title. Amidst the agitated call-to-arms lyrical direction (“this is the sound, the sound of the warrior”), a cocky guitar riff and rather mesmerizing vocal layering at times, ‘Warrior’ builds upon the personality established with ‘Not Dead Yet’ and immediately takes things one step further. With Ledger again taking the opportunity to further establish her newly found freedom vocally, John Cooper’s guest appearance thankfully does very little to detract from Ledger’s lead, instead being complimentary and fitting in naturally with the track. Closing track ‘Iconic’ similarly does plenty for the more rock-centric side of things, heavier percussion and chunky power chords in full abundance to boost the energetic EP.
Shifting things into more electronically-driven territory, middle acts ‘Bold’ and ‘Foreigner’ trade the guitar-driven riffage for a more pop-centric approach. ‘Bold’ in particular instead embellishes things with minimalist digital instrumentation and the atmosphere that comes with it, a style that wouldn’t at all be out of place on the likes of Lights’ latest offering Skin & Earth. Vocally, it’s another well-executed instance of Ledger really flourishing in her own creative space, the fuzzy synthesizer-laden ‘Foreigner’ approaching things with a little more attitude, contrasted by ‘Bold’s sweetly delivered pop vocals. Both are solid offerings, but it’s really through Ledger’s fifth track that the EP touches on something really special. Fueled by the kind of melancholy that made Evanescence’s ‘My Immortal’ so captivating, Ledger’s piano-driven ballad ‘Ruins’ is at heart a display of honest vulnerability, dropping the far more defiant delivery of ‘Warrior’ to allow Ledger the chance to open her heart a little. Honestly, it’s quite beautifully done.
Overall, Ledger is successful in what it wants to be. It’s an energetic opening act for a solo artist with clearly a lot to offer, while still allowing the influences of Skillet (and producer Korey Cooper) to play their part stylistically. As a whole, it’s certainly well produced, but there’s a slight underlying rawness here and there that gives the instrumentation a little more room to breathe, a little less polished compared to Skillet’s Unleashed, and this easily adds to the personality of the EP. As for Jen Ledger herself, her vocal abilities have clearly had the chance to develop since the early offerings of Awake; there’s a certain maturity throughout the likes of ‘Bold’ and ‘Ruins’ that makes things just that little bit more intriguing, and it’s worth noting that the band’s support toward Ledger throughout the process has been incredibly commendable, welcoming the ambitions of an individual within the band with open arms and supporting those ambitions with everything they have to give. Ultimately, it’s obvious LEDGER is exactly the kind of project fans can rally behind, and they’re going to want a whole lot more of it, too.