By Carl Begai
It’s probably in poor taste to suggest the members of Stryper have sold their souls in exchange for their current success. The Christian metal band’s 2005 comeback, Reborn, put an end to 15 years of silence (not including some sporadic touring) and was an all-important step into a decade that saw the band release four studio albums, a cover album, a volume of Stryper re-recordings, and a live record / DVD, interspersed with international tours. Considering the way Stryper splintered and died following their Against The Law album from 1990, nobody really expected them to get back together let alone turn the momentum kicked up by Reborn into wave after wave of in your face material. Their latest assault is the fourth album of all original songs since Stryper’s reunion, and album entitled Fallen that has the fans locked in yet again and has vocalist / guitarist Michael Sweet grinning from ear to ear.
“At the end of the day what’s important, obviously, is that we feel we’re pleasing God and we’re pleasing ourselves,” Sweet says of the band’s continued success. “The icing on the cake is how the fans feel about the new album.We try to ask questions and get feedback from the fans, and we apply that when we make an album. If they want to hear an epic six minute song with tempo changes, we give them ‘Yahweh’. We try to listen to the fans without selling ourselves out, and I think we did that this time.”
As a first taste of Fallen, it’s safe to say nobody was expecting the epic attack of ‘Yahweh’. The song is easily on par with one of Stryper’s strongest songs ever, ‘Soldiers Under Command’, and goes a step beyond.
“I don’t think anyone was expecting that, truthfully. It’s definitely down a different avenue for us. We’ve never done a six-and-a-half minute song, we’ve never had a bunch of time changes in a song; it borders on the progressive side of rock. Did we do that to try and fit in? No. We grew up on all this kind of stuff. We’re huge Iron Maiden fans and we love Dream Theater, we listen to all of that stuff, and it’s not out of our wheelhouse at all to do something like ‘Yahweh’. And then you bring in the fact that Clint Lowery from Sevendust had a hand in the making of the song… he sent me the original riff and I ran with it.” Continue Reading
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. Continue Reading
Yeah, I confess, I was one of the sheep that helped this album go platinum. Listening to it now, I realize I’ve become a metalhead of discerning taste over the past 23 years, and it boggles the mind to think I used to wade through this record (or the cassette in my car) to get to the good stuff. Probably had something to do with the fact that To Hell With The Devil’s predecessor, Soldiers Under Command, offered up a wealth of crushing guitars and introduced me to oft-overlooked vocalist Michael Sweet. Call it a sign of the times, but with the rise of Poison and related Max Factor-sponsored bands, To Hell With The Devil was a polished God Glam record that alternated between a balls-out metal, prissy melodic rock, and two of the worst, cheesiest, (insert derogatory comment here)-est, pre-Dirty Dancing soundtrack ballads ever written. Ever. Continue Reading