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.”)