For those who have followed my reviews here, it’s not exactly a secret that I’m a really big Stryper fan and that I think highly of Michael Sweet. Not only is he a great song writer, a great musician and an amazing singer, he also comes across as a very likable person with his heart in the right place. I’m not a religious person and I consider myself more an atheist more than anything else – even though I truly believe that there is something bigger than us out there – but I do believe that everyone is entitled to believe what they want and practice their religion the way they see fit as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Christian, muslim, buddhist – as long as it makes you happy, then rock on. What I can’t stand is people who shove their beliefs down other people’s throats and unfortunately that happens quite a lot, I’m sad to say. Michael Sweet and his Stryper buddies doesn’t seem like that kind of Christians at all and I respect that a lot. Sure, they speak of God and their religion and it is in their lyrics but, at least to my knowledge, they keep it at that. And the fact that Michael and Stryper has Christian lyrics doesn’t bother me one bit. I might not agree, but so what, I dig the music and that’s what’s important to me. And it’s with his music that Michael Sweet impresses – pardon the pun – the Hell out of me. The only Stryper album I feel doesn’t hold up is the debut The Yellow And Black Attack (1984) and it’s the only Stryper album that I don’t own, the rest of them – and especially their two latest albums – are all brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Same thing with his project with George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), Sweet & Lynch, their record Only To Rise (2015) is fantastic. When it comes to Michael’s solo stuff, only Him (2006) and Touched (2007) are albums that I don’t have in my collection. Not that they are bad, they’re ok, but I need more than ok spend any green on my music. Besides, they are really hard to find for a reasonable price. So, since 1984, Michael has been writing songs for no less than 19 albums – and bear in mind that Stryper were on hiatus between 1990 – 2005, that’s 15 years. That’s a whole lot of music, folks. Not only is Michael Sweet a highly productive musician, he has never given in on quality which means that hardly anything weak has been released under his name. Since Stryper’s reunion in 2005, the guy has put out so many albums it’s unbelievable – and it looks like he’s not likely to slow down either. And that’s why he has just released his new solo record, a record I have been eager to sink my teeth into.
Michael and his boys – Joel Hoeckstra (Whitesnake, Night Ranger) and Eathan Brosh on guitar, John O’Boyle (Tom Ingram Band) on bass and Will Hunt (Evanescence) on drums – opens the album with first single “Bizarre”, a real gut-punch and there’s no doubt that Sweet’s words that this will be his heaviest album to date were true. It starts with a bit of shredding as a wake-up call for us and then it turns into a furious metal piece that kicks some major ass. It has some resemblance to his day job in Stryper, but it’s even more on the metal side. Pardon another pun, but Hallelujah! The title track is a more melodic hard rocker with a neat little groove and a fantastic melody. It is a bit in the vein of the Sweet & Lynch project, but a bit heavier. “Can’t Take This Life” comes on strong with a lot of attitude and strength and even though it lies slightly on the modern side of metal, it’s still classic hard rock / metal and very in-your-face – a big KO for sure. “Radio” comes with a more melodic hard rock touch and the chorus is very direct, no doubt single material (and a single it became). Lyrically, it’s a tongue-in-cheek song about all the rockers that all of a sudden has moved down to Nashville to play country music, the latest hip thing to do now. It’s all done with a sense of humor, but there’s some truth in the lyrics without a doubt. Of course, Hoeckstra gets to play a little twang guitar just for the hell of it – pure brilliance. “Golden Age” is heavy, yet groovy, but it speeds up towards the end. The effects on Sweet’s voice in the chorus feels somewhat unnecessary when you have a voice like his, but on the other hand, I guess Michael felt like trying something new and to me, it’s not that annoying. If nothing else, you’ll get used to it during the song. Parts of the song reminds me a bit of Stryper as well, but mostly, this is a ballsy heavy metal tune the Michael Sweet way. “Only You” is more of a melodic hard rock song than a metal one, but it’s still very heavy. The tune has a very memorable melody and the chorus sticks right of the bat – I can see this being a single as well – this is awesome.
“I Am” is hard and aggressive with a possibility to kick down your doors at home, but at the same time it comes with a dirty groove and a very melodic arrangement. At times, I’m getting a Dio feel out of it and the whole thing really hangs tough. The closest Sweet comes to a ballad on this record is called “Who Am I”. It’s slower, but still on the heavy side and the melody in both verse and chorus is quite addictive. It’s really cool that Michael decided on making the album’s ballad a heavy one instead of going for a more easy way out kind of power ballad. “You Make Me Wanna” brings on a more straight forward hard rock groove that comes with a more melodic and catchy arrangement. But make no mistake, this tune rocks with the best of them. The chorus of “Comfort Zone”, a song that is a fine mix of hard rock and metal, is very direct and in-your-face and even though it’s not radio hit friendly at all, it’s pretty hummable. The last track, if you don’t count the bonus track, is called “One Way Up” and is the most `hitty´ song on the album. It’s more plain rock ‘n’ roll – it even sports a Southern rock vibe – and the catchy chorus leans towards the late 80’s in style. It’s a brilliant track and another runner-up for a single. The bonus track I just spoke of is “Can’t Take This Life” reprised, only this time with 15-year old Moriah Formica taking the lead vocals with Michael going for the harmonies. Formica’s amazing voice brings another life to the song and I can’t really decide which version I like best.
Once again, Michael Sweet has provided us with a big portion of brilliant hard rock / metal. And yes, this is without a doubt the heaviest album Michael Sweet have recorded as a solo artist. Part of me is wondering why when Stryper’s records are very heavy. Usually, band members make solo records to get music out that they can’t perform on their day job. But that is of little importance because this record doesn’t sound like Stryper at all. But while the album is hard and heavy it’s still very song oriented and that is where the main focus lies – Michael Sweet is not an artist that makes a heavy album just to prove he can write heavy music. Also, the Christian lyrics aren’t there on every song either, even though some songs do deals with that subject. There are no real ballads here and there are no pop songs either – on this album it’s Michael’s metal influences that are pivotal for the sound. The production is hard and in your face but also smooth and clean without losing any rawness and aggression. To mention the performances of the musicians feels almost unnecessary as the names speak for themselves, but they all deliver the goods brilliantly. When it comes to Hoeckstra, I feel that he fits way better on an album like this than in Whitesnake – the guy is amazingly good. So, take my word for it and go get this record, there’s nothing on it to dislike!
Other Michael Sweet reviews:
2. One Sided War
3. Can’t Take This Life
5. Golden Age
6. Only You
7. I Am
8. Who Am I
9. You Make Me Wanna
10. Comfort Zone
11. One Way Up
12. Can’t Take This Life (Bonus track feat. Moriah Formica)