Any enduring band that experiences some form of longevity within the hard rock world is usually down to core people with a vision and an unrivalled level of determination.
The somewhat reluctant leader of American hard rock band Stryper is front man, producer, song writer, vocalist and guitarist Michael Sweet whose undeniable talent and calculated approach is the primary reason the band is still around. After crumbling into debt back in the early nineties and narrowly escaping the onslaught of grunge by simply calling it a day following the underrated Against the Law, Stryper disbanded whilst Michael Sweet concentrated on his solo career.
Later though, the band was, pardon the pun, resurrected through reunion shows that then led to the solid Reborn album. The challenging road travelled that led up to this latest and heavier album in God Damn Evil, which represents their twelfth studio release, recently included further upheaval from an unfortunate personnel change that was dealt with decisively. Suffice it to say, this may well be Stryper’s most focussed album since the deservedly successful To Hell with the Devil and Soldiers Under Command albums back in the mid-eighties. The yellow and black, attention grabbing aspects still exist only toned down and of course, the spandex and glam metal angle is long gone.
It is staggering to think that thirty years after the Sunset Strip glam era peaked and where many of the relevant bands inhabit varying levels of obscurity, rehab or disarray, Stryper has instead thrived and are able to crank out some the best music of their career. Michael Sweet makes no apologies and lyrically has never backed down from his stance as seen in the latest albums lyrics that complement the musical arrangements. The listener can detect his justifiable sense of vindication.
Opening with the galloping metal feel of ‘Take It to the Cross’, Sweet spits the assurance of this faith to his accusers with a stylistic diversion that includes some impressive climactic high screams followed by some death growls from Matthew Bachand, the rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist of Shadows Fall. A more level sense of driving rock groove follows with ‘Sorry’ which sees some excellent trade off guitar soloing between Sweet and ever loyal, long serving lead guitarist Oz Fox.
The melodic guitars and harmony vocals get a workout on ‘Lost’ with a feel not unlike material heard on the expressive Murder by Pride album. The track also has some great rhythm section work from hard hitting founding drummer Robert Sweet in unison with session bassist John O’Boyle, whose parts will be played live by new bassist Perry Richardson. The point is that the first three songs show great diversity with a modern sound by way of introduction to the title track which has an unmistakable mid-eighties feel, an anthemic chorus bolstered by the sustained chords plus some tasty, old-school guitar soloing.
The middle section of the album changes pace with the lyrically acerbic ‘You Don’t Even Know Me’ includes a riff reminiscent of ‘(Waiting for) A Love That’s Real’ from Soldiers Under Command but is far less commercial sounding as a brooding hard rock track with a soaring, harmonised chorus and climbing guitar solo. It gets heavier with album highlight ‘The Valley’ which has a slower paced, hard rock rhythm, Bible based lyrics and some more loose yet fast trade-off guitar soloing.
The next few tracks have a great of range styles from the groove rock of ‘Sea of Thieves’, the superbly crafted ‘Beautiful’ and the inevitable but decent power ballad ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ which fortunately is devoid of the syrupy horrors that early Stryper ballads inflicted on the more tolerant metallers back in the day. To be fair, ‘Beautiful’ is another album highlight as it encapsulates Sweet’s concise song writing prowess plus includes very George Lynch inspired trade-off guitar solos to boot.
Second last track, ‘Own Up’ doesn’t pull any punches and utilises call and response guitars, a brief harmony line and lends itself to sing along chorus. But it is the closing track, ‘The Devil Doesn’t Live Here’ which reinvigorates the sporadic use of a thumping last track on Stryper albums. Sweet’s vocal strengths are simply astonishing on this track which fans of earlier albums songs such as ‘Rock the Hell Out of You’ and ‘Surrender’ will enjoy. A powering guitar rhythm, a wild, fast guitar solo and some seismic disturbance drumming serves up a crushing rebuke to any naysayers questioning Stryper’s ability to unleash heavy material.
Sadly, Stryper cop a beating from all sides including from the blinkered, myopic mindset of the Christian metal types who are devoid of grace to the outright hostility from segments of the secular metal community who fail to understand that going against the grain is the whole point of metal. Stryper’s perseverance means fans are rewarded with some tight, hammering rock music as heard on this album. If some bands can continually bleat on about the out-dated, tacky elitism that Satanism promotes then a band being openly clear about a positive message is perfectly legitimate. God Damn Evil is an incredible album with a diverse range of music within alongside some brilliant musicianship. Like it or lump it, Stryper are not going away. A strong contender for hard rock album of the year.
- Take It to the Cross
- God Damn Evil
- You Don’t Even Know Me
- The Valley
- Sea of Thieves
- Can’t Live Without Your Love
- Own Up
- The Devil Doesn’t Live Here