Stryper Goes Death Metal?

{Post Edited 2/13/18}

In 1988, Stryper decided to follow-up their highest selling album To Hell With the Devil with the very polished album In God We Trust (IGWT). The album was closer to pop and more radio friendly. The result was a mixed reception by fans and critics.  

Fast forward to 2018. Following the album No More Hell Pay  (2013) and Fallen (2015), Stryper  goes even harder in their new album “God Damn Evil.”

https://www.frontiers.shop/new-releases/684/stryper-god-damn-evil-ltd-gatefold-black-vinyl-180-gram
Image of Album From Frontier Records Website

Many may question the title and the direction of this album.  “We thought long and hard about this title,” says Michael in response to thousands of fan comments. “It was actually considered quite a few years ago and it just didn’t feel like the right time. Now, with all the evil in the world that we see around us on a daily basis, it made perfect sense. It’s a very bold statement yet a prayer asking God to damn/condemn evil. Nothing more, nothing less.” (Stryper.com)

In a post, Michael Sweet released the lyrics to “God Damn Evil” to prove his point:

We power up the empty screen
And let the games begin
Far beyond it’s poisoning
Is a special kind of sin

We open locks 
And break the chains
To let the devil in
We’re losing all of what remains
In a war we’ll never win 
A war that never ends

(Chorus)
God Damn Evil
God Damn it all
God save The People
But God Damn The Walls

Self control is all but gone
The weak time after time
Take the bait and break the bond
But never pay the crime

The only saving grace is love
And we know where that lies
It’s what we feel unworthy of
So we don’t claim the prize
We never claim the prize…..

(Chorus)
God Damn Evil
God Damn it all
God save The People 
But God Damn The Walls

For some, the lyric “To Hell With the Devil” is ok, but they have trouble with “God Damn” because the phrase is often considered taking the Lord’s name in vain. Others argue two they mean the same thing, both are asking God to send something or someone to hell.  One is just more politically correct Christian.

While the lyric is definitely a hook with a message, I wonder if people also miss the other part of the chorus, where there is also a plea for “God save the People”? Initially when I scanned the song lyrics, I missed that plea.

When the album cover was released, people reacted positively and negatively. The album cover is similar in style to the last two Stryper albums. The artwork appears to to portray God coming down from heaven and striking down evil in the word. My initial reaction was a negative on the God image, He looks a lot like Zeus in my opinion. However, how do you draw a representation of God?

Recently, Frontier Records released the “Take It To Cross [Official Visualizer Video],” their first single of the album. While there are the traditional elements of Stryper are there, the chorus is not in classic the classic Stryper format. Instead you hear a growling chant, “TAKE IT TO THE CROSS.”

Take It To The Cross is our answer to many fans asking us to do something a little heavier and even bordering on thrash, says Michael. The verses are heavy with a vocal and lyric delivery that’s bold and relevant yet the chorus kicks in with a fast, thrashy vibe. We brought in Matt Blanchard (Act Of Defiance / Shadows Fall) to handle the vocal growl on the choruses and the end vamp. This song is 100% high octane.” (Stryper.com)

Some may wonder how much does Michael sing on this song. According to Oz Fox posts on Facebook, “… Michael sings in the first and third lines of the phrase {the chorus–Bring It To The Cross} with a crazy vibratto on the end of the latter…With the exception of the last course of the song. Michael sings every line on that one.” (Oz Fox via Facebook)

While Stryper gambled on a more polished sound in 1988 and met with limited success, will this gamble on harder sounding album 30 years later be more successful? Will the message confronting of evil be lost in the new sound?  Will the album’s title put off Christian fans?

Currently the album is selling very well on Amazon (#1 on Amazon’s Rock Chart). Fans are responding positively and negatively to the album’s title, the cover art, and the song “Take It to The Cross.” My recommendation is look at the entire package before you judge.

 

 

 

Stryper: Live at the Whiskey

In the world of auto-tune, lip-synching and the gambit of other “live performance enhancers,” it is a rare  hear/see a band just lay themselves out there; but the is exactly what Stryper does on their “Live at the Whiskey” release. Live at the Whiskey is the latest release by Stryper and includes a DVD and CD of their November 16th, 2014 concert at the Whiskey A Go Go in West Hollywood.

Formed in 1983 as Rox Regime and later renamed as Stryper , the band continues to feature the original quartet of Michael Sweet (lead vocals/guitar), Tim Gaines (backing vocals/bass guitar), Oz Fox (backing vocals/guitar), and Robert Sweet (drums). Many of us who grew up in the 80’s are familiar with the band’s yellow and black stripes, big hair, and the power ballad “Honestly.”

On this live album, the yellow and black stripes are subdued and the big hair has disappeared. Fortunately, for the members of the band the long hair remains.  Instead of power ballads, you get 16 tracks of rock-n-roll.

The album begins with two songs from Stryper’s latest album “No More Hell to Pay” before moving into older material from “Yellow and Black Attack,”  “Soldiers Under Command,” “To Hell With the Devil,” and “In God We Trust.” There is also a cover of “Jesus is All Right with Me.” It keeps a lot of the Doobie Brothers arrangement, but there is a definitely a Stryper flare to it. Overall, you get what you expect from an 80’s rock-n-roll band – guitars, drums, wails, and screams. The selection of songs does a great job of highlighting hits from the band’s 30 years, but is it not a remake of the earlier live album ”7 Weeks: Live in America.”

The audio quality of the album is impressive, especially for a live album. While you can hear the audience, it never overpowers the any of the music. Nor do you get the feeling you are listening to the album in the echoing noise bleed seats. Instead, you hear each instrument and vocalist clearly and distinctly as if you are near the band. If you compare the first two tracks of the live album (“Legacy” and “Marching Into Battle”) album with the studio album “No More Hell to Pay”, to the untrained ear like mine, they are nearly identical instrumentally. The vocals are rawer and more organic, giving the live album an edgier sound.

The DVD that comes with the CD uses shot from multiple angles and cuts from musician often, so you get to see the entire band up close. Sometimes I felt like it was too often, but at the same time it very different from having just one camera panning the performance.  The DVD captures what appears to be the entire performance, so you get extras like the band praying with the audience.  The video is DVD quality, so do not expect full HD. The video does not come with the digital copy.

If I were to point out any flaws in the album, the few I found were minor. The opening to the DVD looks amateurish. It may have the 80’s feel but I expect something better given the standards of today. The audio where the audience sings along are weak. This might have something to do with the acoustics of the venue. While this is clearly a loud rock-n-roll album, it might have been nice to have a few acoustic pieces. The band is just as amazing unplugged as well.

All in all the CD and DVD honestly captures a live performance by Stryper. You can crank it to 11 and spend the rest of the day with your ears ringing, or a more sedate volume. While not a fan of many live albums, I definitely recommend this one without the “live performance enhancers.”  It is also refreshing that you when the band uses the words, Jesus Christ, they are words of respect rather than an a meaningless explicative …

Review: Honestly – My Life & Stryper Revealed

Jacket Cover of Michael Sweet’s Book

I just finished reading Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed by Michael Sweet last night. It is a fast read and if I was 20 years younger, I could have stayed awake long enough to read it in one night instead of two.

Like many of the songs Michael has written, there are many layers to the book. I won’t try to list them since it would be too big of a challenge. However, I will try to highlight some of them.

I have been a fan of Stryper since 1985, and have followed Michael’s solo career. I met him once when he did an acoustic set while promoting his Truth album at a local bookstore. I actually went through the line twice to get his autograph. I also have met Timothy Gaines, Robert Sweet and Oz Fox during a Stryper meet and greet. I am also embarrassed to admit I jumped off a wall in an auditorium to get a red solo cup Michael drank out of during the In God We Trust Album and almost got busted by security for being so stupid.

Some of the stories Michael shares were painful to read for various reasons. As a fan, I hoped my favorite band is made of a group of friends who agrees on everything and never has a problem. Granted it is an illusion I choose to create, and from what I have read and experienced, I knew better.

The great thing about this book  it isn’t another “tell all books” written to “get even” with anyone in Stryper, or the detractors of the band or Michael Sweet’s solo career. Instead, Michael reflects on his personal struggles with dealing with the band and various critics. To help the reader understand he writes about a situation but often points a finger at himself for doing or not doing something in that situation. At the same time he isn’t into graphic detail of a situation. In many instances you may feel the need to know more. In cases he also admits that he is sharing his perception of a situation and those involved may have another viewpoint.

The book’s main theme isn’t about struggles and strife however. To me it is about a man growing from a “teenage punk” who didn’t care about much of anything, to a mature adult actualizing his responsibilities as a Christian, a father, a member of a band, and a musician/songwriter. 

This is even overshadowed by a even larger theme, despite ourselves, God continues to poor his graces upon us and loves us. Great things will happen if we let him have control over our lives. It may not be what we want or expect, but in the end we may realize it was the better path for us.

No More Hell To Pay

Front man Michael Sweet (@michaelhsweet) for the 80’s Rock Band Stryper (@stryper) has called the band’s latest release, No More Hell to Pay , the album they should have made after the hit album To Hell With the Devil.  Sweet goes on to explain how In God We Trust was over-thought resulting in an over-produced album that was too polished.

I would have to agree with Michael in that IGWT was definitely a very produced album. Back in my college days when I would play the CD in my dorm room, many people thought I was listening to Styx instead of Stryper. The harder rock sound was gone. But I digress…

Should No More Hell To Pay have been the album to follow the highly successful To Hell With the Devil? Perhaps. That is a debate for other more qualified than me.

However, could Stryper have created NMHTP without IGWT and the lesser known controversial album Against the Law without the lesson learned from them? Could Stryper created such an album without the addition years of life experiences? Again, I digress…but I do believe Stryper needed these experiences to be able to craft the sound and play to they level they do on No More Hell to Pay.

First thing when you notice when star listening to NMHTP is the production quality. There is a wonderful balance between Michael Sweet  (lead vocals and lead guitar), Oz Fox (vocals and lead guitar) (@SirOzFox), Tim Gaines (vocals and bass guitar) (@StryperBassMan), and Robert Sweet (drums) @RobertLSweet), in the mix. No one is overpowered, and the sound is nicely layered similar to the more recent release  of Second Coming ( a rerecording of previous hits).

The vocals sound more natural and organic than in previous albums. While there are the noticeable effects added to enhance the album’s sound,  they are not overused.   Michael ditches the falsetto heard in THWTD and  IGWT and at the same time avoids the constant angry gravel of Against the Law. Instead, he uses the falsetto only to give us those famous 80’s screams, and the gravel occasionally to communicate a point. (I purposely dropped the adjective angry.) Both adding to the album and not detracting. However, the tight harmonies that give the “Stryper Sound” are still present.

Unlike Reborn which was released in 2005, NMHTP recaptures more of Stryper’s 80’s album (Soldiers Under Command and Yellow and Black Attack) sound but not  so far as to sound nostalgic. Producer and song writer, Micheal Sweet, realizes the listener wants new Stryper material, not a rehash of the old.

The second thing you will notice listening to the album is the harder sound. Both Tim Gaine’s bass and Robert Sweet’s drum pound bound a beat under the dueling guitars of Oz Fox and Micheal Sweet. For those tired of the modern pop music and are not comfortable with the modern rock sound, the energy is just about perfect.

Lyrically, the album is done in typical Stryper fashion. Songs like Revelation and No More Hell to Pay lay the Christian message at the feet of the listener but don’t come across as preachy or in your face. So despite the album being clearly from a Christian perspective, the non-Christian listener should enjoy the album’s music. At the same time, those of us who are closet Christian metal heads, can break out the air guitar once more.

(Author’s note. While I don’t normally write album reviews, I felt that this album qualifies as a geek worthy. The reason being a lot of us geeks (in the 80’s nerds) liked rock music but felt it didn’t quite fit us because we didn’t really fit the bad party boy image. Stryper’s music, however, did fit a lot of us. Like us, they were picked on for who they were and they struggled to achieve an identity as a rock band in the 80’s. The rock scene didn’t always see how good they were because of their Christian message, and some Christian’s didn’t accept them because of their association with “the Devil’s music.”)