Stryper have never been better than they are today! While some fans may beg to differ on that one, I also think that there are many that agree with me on this one. Yes, I was a fan back when they were roaming the streets in black and yellow, throwing out bibles to the crowds and mixed Hard Rock, Metal, AOR and power ballads in an almost schizophrenic way and yes, I was happier than happy when they finally reunited back in 2005, but I never thought that Stryper would end up being one of my all time favorite bands. The band’s debut reunion album Reborn was released in 2005 and got some mixed reviews from both fans and media mainly because of its somewhat modern sound but I think it’s a really good album. The follow-up Murder By Pride showed up four years later and it was an album that was received better. That record came without any modern preferences at all and showed a Stryper that had gone back to their more Melodic Hard Rock meets Metal kind of band and it was a better record than its predecessor. However, I believe it sounds more like a Michael Sweet solo album than a Stryper record in many places.
But no matter how good that album was, it could never prepare us for what’s to come some years later. After an album of covers (The Covering, 2011) and an album of rerecorded oldies (Second Coming, 2013) – both damn good records, I might add – it was time for Stryper to show us what they have managed to come up with. And in 2013 it was time – and what a way to do so. No More Hell To Pay (2013) is a monster of an album and it blew right into next week. Heavy, aggressive, hard but also melodic and very catchy – it’s still my fave Stryper record, even if it is by half an inch – as the follow-up Fallen (2015) was another knock-out. The fact that everything singer/guitarist/song-writer/producer Michael Sweet puts his name on, be it Stryper, his solo albums or Sweet & Lynch, always are in such high quality, it’s impossible to not have almost ridiculous big expectations when it’s time for a new Stryper record.
When the first taster / single – and opening track on the album – “Take It To The Cross” – was released it was a real shocker. The tune is the heaviest and most aggressive thing Stryper have ever released – by far. Not only is it both dark and evil sounding, it’s actually very close to Thrash Metal and the refrain contains death growls! Yes, death growls!, by Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall, Act Of Defiance). And the chorus has Sweet scream-chanting the title over and over – not exactly radio-friendly. It’s not catchy and completely without hit potential and I admit I didn’t know what to think of it at first. That said, it had me singing “take it to the cross, take it to the cross, take it to the cross” by myself all day. But once I got used to it I find the tune brilliant and now I love it. But with second single “Sorry” it’s back to what we’re used to. The tune is in mid pace, it’s heavy, tough and powerful but with a chorus so catchy it hurts and the hit-potential is endless here. Great tune!
And the catchiness continues with “Lost” that’s in the same vein as “Sorry” albeit somewhat darker. This is modern classic Stryper Hard Rock and even though the refrain is really memorable it’s not radio-friendly at all. I’m pretty sure that the days of “Calling On You” and “Always Be There For You” – two brilliant pop-metal tracks, I must add – are over. Today Stryper still write very catchy tunes but now they leave the big Pop / AOR arrangements at the door. The title track is up next and it is a more straight forward Hard Rock / Metal track done in classic Stryper style. It is heavy, thunderous and punchy and it contains a very direct and distinct refrain and I have a feeling that this kicking rocker will be a future live killer. Awesome! “You Don’t Even Know Me” blasts off with Robert Sweet’s thunderous drums that builds a really heavy rhythm together with new bass player Perry Richardson’s (Ex- Firehouse) pounding bass. Again, this is really heavy stuff but it also contains a ton of hooks and a refrain that sticks quite easily.
Latest single “The Valley” comes with a mighty groove, some red-hot Metal licks over a Hard Rock ground and the guitars spawns some chunky riffage. The refrain is sightly Pop-laden without aiming for air-play but it sure does its job and it really etches itself to the brain right from go – fantastic. “Sea Of Thieves” is another more straight ahead Hard Rock tune with a huge sonic boom that hits like punch in the gut. It’s a good track but it’s not as direct as the rest of the songs. I dig the energy and live feel, though. “Beautiful” is the most Pop-laden of all the Hard Rock tracks on this album and the soothing melodies and the catchiness of the refrain makes it even hit-friendly. That said, the tune stands on a heavy ground and lacks sugar-sweetness so don’t expect any back to the 80’s Arena Rock hit single vibes on the song.
“Can’t Live Without Your Love” is the closest thing we get to a ballad here and let’s face it, Stryper haven’t written that many ballads on their last few albums, which is ok. I love their ballads but they have lots of them in their back catalogue. It’s slower and a more laid-back than the rest of the album but at the same time it’s heavy and even crunchy and at the end of the song it kicks into a more rocking mode. A very memorable tune that grabs a hold of me and never lets go. This is so great! “Own Up” is plain Hard Rock, very direct, in-your-face, heavy and rough full of piss n’ vinegar musically. Style wise I think it sounds more like a Michael Sweet solo song that would have fitted perfectly on his latest release One Sided War (2016). But that doesn’t mean it’s out of place here, it fits perfectly and it’s a really good song. The closing track “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here” is another one of those fast, hard, aggressive and kicking rockers – think “The Reign”, “The Way” or “Rock The Hell Out Of You” – that Stryper are so good at. This one’s no exception and will surely leave you breathless afterwards. Awesome!
This is without a doubt the heaviest record Stryper have ever recorded. And for all of us who have followed this band we know that since the reunion, heaviness is something that have been running throughout all Stryper’s albums so for all of you who thinks that Stryper are this cheesy Christian band that only writes Pop songs and sugary ballads for the charts (which they have never ever been), think again. But Stryper has never been heavy for the sake of being heavy – melodies and hooks are just as big part of their sound and this album is no exception. Catchy choruses, memorable melodies and great arrangements are mixed with a whole lot of aggression. This is a hard and powerful album. Add four killer musicians and singers and a punchy and in-your-face yet crystal clear production and you know Stryper have another winner on their hands. Their best to date? Well, it’s really hard to say as I find their three latest albums almost equally brilliant. Highly recommended!
More Stryper reviews:
1. Take It To The Cross
4. God Damn Evil
5. You Don’t Even Know Me
6. The Valley
7. Sea Of Thieves
9. Can’t Live Without Your Love
10. Own Up
11. The Devil Doesn’t Live Here