Retro Fit: STRYPER – To Hell With The Devil (1986)


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. The title track was catchy without a doubt in spite of the lyrics being a tad silly, and still has something to it in this day and age if you’re in a retro frame of mind, while ‘Rockin’ The World’ and ‘More Than A Man’ peppered the record with some much needed backbone. The album yielded two cheeseball commercial rockers, ‘Free’ and ‘Calling On You’, which catapulted Stryper to mega-stardom, and listening to them now… wow. Good taste was not on the menu. You can just hear the band saying “Can-an we-e get-et more-ore- reverb-erb on-on this-is?” while they were recording ‘Free’, and the bloody chorus of ‘Calling On You’ does indeed conjure up disturbing images of Ned Flanders’ kids at the mic, as my BW&BK colleague Martin Popoff suggested so many years ago.

The saving grace of To Hell With The Devil other than the title track is a scorching kick in the teeth called ‘The Way’, which recalls the best moments of Soldiers Under Command and features the finest vocal recording of Sweet’s career. The final two-octave scream at the end of the track still makes me shake my head in awe, and he’s still able to pull it off live over 20 years later. Not an album I’m able to get through easily – certainly not in good company so long as those damn ballads are on it – so it’d be kinda nice if the band would go back and re-record it minus the fluff. I guess we’d be talking about an EP, five tracks tops.

Oh yeah, the cover art on the left was deemed “controversial” and replaced with an all black cover featuring the band name and album title only. Boy, there were some real prudes in the biz back then…

Fave tracks: ‘The Way’, ‘To Hell With The Devil’, ‘Rockin’ The World’