Stryper are currently enjoying a well-earned second season of success globally. This is a band that understands focussed marketing and how to mobilise their fan base, and given the culture of streaming platforms to substantially under value artists, live revenue being virtually non-existent and physical product limitations, that is a perfectly valid approach. The divided nation of American politics today means their message is uncompromising on their latest album, Even the Devil Believes, starting with the striking artwork.
Musically, this is a very good album that maintains high standards. Lyrically this is also true, but front man Michael Sweet’s grace threshold may be reaching a ceiling. This material was recorded in January, when COVID-19 hadn’t yet reached plague proportions and before their President used the Bible as a photo opportunity in a cynical appeasement to core followers. This is relevant given one of the song titles, Make Love Great Again, is a calculated twist on a political slogan, not the ringing endorsement that face value might suggest.
Opening the album, Blood From Above is a very good, heavy track, with the slightly syncopated, pedal toned riff and chords ringing out under vocal parts. The chorus is strong with great harmonies and backing vocals. Sweet lets rip with a swiftly executed solo, with excellent technique and a dash of harmonised runs. Add in some high vocal screams and you’ve got a definite album highlight in the opening track.
Naming a song Make Love Great Again might be construed as alignment to one side of the American political landscape, or at least that infamous catchphrase, but on looking deeper, that is not the case although it would be naive to see it as coincidental. Pulling no punches lyrically, it is well constructed, fading in with synth and bass sounds against percussion then switches to a driving, mid paced rhythm guitar figure, enhanced by a sustained guitar melody leading into the vocals
The next couple of tracks are intriguing as they are both heavier tracks with old-school style combined with strong melody. Let Him In is pretty solid and faster paced, with a bouncing rock riff, anchored by pedalling bass tones. Do Unto Others is heavy too with that rhythm guitar tone reminiscent of their last few albums. The lyrics are again a valid commentary on the myopic ignorance seen within the digital age; Sweet’s voice is powerful, with strong projection and vibrato. His guitar solo on this track is also an album highlight, played tastefully with just enough flashiness to be impressive but not detracting from the overall song.
The first four tracks effectively lay the groundwork for the title track which has a variety of signature elements to it. Even the Devil Believes uses floor toms against a circular guitar riff, harmonics, and held chords in the verses feed nicely into the rhythm section powered chorus, with slightly raspy, harmonised vocals. Plenty of guitar soloing wizardry develops over a tight, repeated rhythm figure with tremolo picking, tapping and harmonised lines. Soaring vocals and apt drumming then reprise the chorus before the song concludes with a descending guitar riff.
Initially, the second part of the album continues in the tradition of being less aggressive and more commercial. How to Fly is 70s-influenced with layers of vocal harmonies that will make ELO fans happy. It contrasts to the much heavier track Divider that kicks in well, complete with Moog, bass pedals, gang vocals and hard hitting drumming. This track has one of the more expressive guitar solo parts on the album but it is all too brief, restrained just as fast runs, traded patterns and low dives are truncated by the chorus. The acoustic driven ballad, This I Pray, is decent but it’s hard not to hear a Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi influence and depending on your musical inclination, Invitation Only might be a curiosity, straight ahead 80s pop rock that has a place, but the synth line embellishment in the chorus sounds like a New Wave era melody line. It is surprisingly catchy but it will be interesting to see if the headbangers get into it.
Heavy, hard rock resumes as the album nears the end. For God & Rock ‘N’ Roll is old school, mid-80s, drum and bass driven rock from the AC/DC songbook. Even the guitar solos, with the high gain sounds, are chock full of blues rock double stops and intervals with a hint of Van Halen for good measure. It is generally a repetitive song but drumming variations within prove that a drum machine could never replace Robert Sweet’s drumming skills. His playing is super tight, with impressive cymbal and snare work, locking in with new bassist Perry Richardson’s powerful bass playing. Lead guitarist Oz Fox doesn’t do that many leads on this album, but keen ears will be able to pick out Fox and Michael Sweet’s individual lead parts.
Even the Devil Believes is very good and will be exactly what the fans want, especially where the heavier material is concerned and the lyrics are indeed well thought out, with some valid points. However, there are calculated aspects to it that make it feel a tad forced as an evangelical calling card. That is their modus operandi but with lyrics like ‘He came not to bring peace but a sword’, plus the artwork, it appears this is primarily a God of the Rapture being celebrated. Stryper fans will love it so the objective has been met with precision. The first half of Even the Devil Believes and the final track are exceptionally good. The rest is certainly solid but is mixed, albeit generally following the trend of getting heavier. Stryper have done well in incredibly trying circumstances to come up with this concise and powerful release so overall, it’s an extremely worthwhile addition to their catalogue.
Blood From Above
Make Love Great Again
Let Him In
Do Unto Others
Even the Devil Believes
How to Fly
This I Pray
For God & Rock ‘N’ Roll
Middle Finger Messiah