By Carl Begai
Gotta admit, with all the online babble from the band about how No More Hell To Pay would be the heaviest Stryper album ever, it’s something of a disappointment being eased into the proceedings rather than cracked in the teeth by a wall of aggression. Not that tracks ‘Revelation’ and the title track (tracks 1 and 2) are weak by any means – quite the contrary, actually – but I was expecting riffs in the spirit of ‘Makes Me Wanna Sing’ and ‘The Way’ to kick things off. Along comes track three ‘Saved By Love’, however, and it’s clear the band was not in fact blowing holy smoke, just biding their time before giving the fans a righteous ass-kicking. No More Hell To Pay is loaded with guitar shred – riffs and solos – from top to bottom and frontman Michael Sweet’s high-end vocals are as strong as ever, with brilliant production to match (as in bassist Tim Gaines can actually be heard for a change), making for one of Stryper’s best albums to date.
‘Legacy’, ‘Te Amo’, ‘Renewed’ and ‘Saved By Love’ are instant standouts as the fastest / heaviest tracks on the record (even though the titles read like a bloody chick flick soundtrack), and the songs where Sweet offers up a welcome rougher edge to his voice. They’re a stark contrast to the brazen ’80s flavour of ‘Water Into Wine’ and ‘Sympathy’, which probably would have saved the sadly over-Styx-ified In God We Trust album (1988) had they been written way back when. Fulfilling the expected To Hell With The Devil-ism requirements are ‘No More Hell To Pay’ and ‘Sticks & Stones’ (the album’s ‘Calling On You’), while their cover of The Art Reynolds Singers’ 1966 gospel hit ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ kills their 1990 rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Shining Star’ dead. Additional credit where it’s due, lone ballad on the record, ‘The One’, is a solid track – grudgingly admitted – that’s thankfully devoid of the sickly sweetness of previous Stryper odes of love and honour. And the chest-thumping ‘Marching Into Battle’, which had the potential to be a dumb-as-a-stump Manowar call to arms, is the album’s anthem and already on its way to becoming a staple in the band’s live set.
After two glorified cover albums – everyone else, then themselves – and the over-the-top tease of ‘God’ that closed out The Covering, it’s nice to see that Stryper are still capable of delivering the original goods, especially considering the strength of the reunion album Reborn (2005) and Murder By Pride (2009). They’ve had a good run since reuniting; here’s hoping for several more records in the vein of No More Hell To Pay.
Oh yeah, congrats on FINALLY having some kick-ass artwork gracing the cover. Just waiting for the religious groups to get their God-blessed briefs in a bunch and move to have it banned like they did with To Hell With The Devil’s original look.
No More Hell To Pay tracklisting:
‘No More Hell To Pay’
‘Saved By Love’
‘Jesus Is Alright’
‘Marching Into Battle’
‘Sticks & Stones’
‘Water Into Wine’
Audio samples for all tracks are streaming at this location.