With their comeback only two albums young – the decent enough Reborn (2005) and the superior Murder By Pride (2009) – news that Stryper were gearing up for a cover album seemed like a step backwards. A tracklist of done-to-death classic metal staples from the likes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Deep Purple made the band’s lack of inspiration all the more apparent, and tacking on a title that sounds like a 2-for-1 Wal-Mart housewares sale item did nothing to raise dangerously low expectations. A mere two songs in, however, and vocalist / guitarist Michael Sweet’s claims that they are paying tribute to the bands that molded and shaped the Stryper sound ring true. On 10. In fact, with the exception of a painfully dull rendition of Judas Priest’s ‘Breakin’ The Law’ – which falls as flat as the original studio version – The Covering is a romp that breathes new life into a metal history many of us take for granted.
Lead off scorcher ‘Set Me Free’, originally done by Sweet (the band, not the man), makes the Vince Neil / Steve Stevens version from Neil’s Exposed solo record (1993) pale in comparison – no easy task – served up fully loaded with guitar shred. The Scorpions’ ‘Blackout ‘ is delivered vocal warts and all, the arrangements for Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven And Hell’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ are eyebrow-raising surprises in that they’re played straight yet loaded with elements (guitar leads, vocal harmonies) that are distinctly Stryper. The biggest and best moments on the record will all come down to a matter of personal taste, and for these ears it’s ‘Over The Mountain’ (Ozzy Osbourne), ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ (Kansas), the over-the-top “you-wish-the-original-had-this-much-guitar” ‘Highway Star’ (Deep Purple), the surprise kick in the teeth ‘On Fire’ (Van Halen), and ‘Set Me Free’ that keep me locked in tight. And, as guitar-laden as The Covering may be, it’s Michael Sweet’s vocal diversity that steals the show. Whether he’s singing Dio, Dickinson, Ozzy or even David Lee Roth, Sweet belts them out on a level that raises the bar for the next generation of poor saps figuring on making a quick buck by phoning in a cover track.
It’s worth noting that for all the bitching and moaning from the fans about the lack of guitar solos and vocal fireworks on Reborn – a situation Stryper rectified admirably on Murder By Pride – the band pulled out all remaining stops for a cover album. Not all that surprising given it’s a trip down their memory lane, and it bodes well for the future if the lone new Maiden-meets-Stryper track, ‘God’, is any indication.