Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Why is there a Stryper review in my news-feed? Well, it’s there because the infamous yellow and black bumblebees of Christian metal are back with a new album called Fallen, and since we covered W.A.S.P. in their post-Satan phase, it only makes sense we cover these saintly chaps in their Still-God phase (AMG would strongly disagree, but he’s traveling and doesn’t know about this yet). I was but a young, impressionable teenager ov steel in the 80s when Stryper dropped their oh-so-pious Soldiers Under Command and To Hell With the Devil platters, and they were received by my peer group with a healthy dose of derision for their look and overweening preachiness. However, you couldn’t knock their musical chops or how much they stood out from the rest of metaldom. While I never bothered keeping tabs on their various reunions and disunions over the years, I did notice 2011s album of cover tunes where they had the holy nutsack to cover Sabbath‘s almighty “Heaven and Hell.” I missed 2013s No More Hell to Pay but Fallen shall not fall through the same cracks into oblivion.
So what can one expect from Stryper in 2015? Pretty much exactly what they’ve always delivered. A motley mix of powerful metal anthems that beat you over the head with massively unsubtle Christian messages and more hard rock oriented fare that would be considered “cock rock” except these dudes would never sing about their nether regions. Getting things off to a Godly start, “Yahweh” is shockingly heavy, hugely catchy and bombastic, like a steroidal Euro-power ditty. Michael Sweet’s Broadway-ready voice has taken on a slightly rougher hue over the years, which helps punch the song up a few notches, but he can still wail away like a choir boy on helium when necessary. The riffs are thick, heavy and sharp, the solos shine and the whole tune soars like an an….ah, skip it. If they delivered an album full of this kind of stuff, I’d be a true believer and renounce my evil ways. The title track is another sacrilicious dose of classic metal with vocals bordering on harsh and a chorus so big, even the Lord would struggle to lift it (Sweet’s screeching on the chorus is particularly hard hitting). The path of the righteous continues with the power-balladry of “Pride,” which is surprisingly addictive, enjoyable, and lighter-in-the-air friendly.
While hard rocking “Big Screen Lies” is less miraculous, it’s still a solid tune with nifty riffing and a hooky chorus, and though “Heaven” had me cringing in anticipation of a serious brow-beating, it’s actually good enough where I don’t mind the repeated refrain of “I choose Heaven.” Just when it seems the writing sessions for Fallen benefited from divine intervention, the band’s worst tendencies begin to resurface on the cloying pop country of “All Over Again.” I’ve definitely heard worse soapers, but this disrupts the album’s momentum and if I wanted to hear this kind of thing, I’d go to a Taylor Swift concert.
They recover nicely by having the temerity to cover yet another Sabbath classic (“After Forever”) and by jacking the music back to “anthemic” for rockers like “Let There Be Light,” “The Calling” and of course, “King of Kings.” “The Calling” in particular is a meaty tune you”ll find yourself enjoying no matter how much you generally resist the power of Christ.
With the same line up from their classic period, this sounds like the Stryper you loved or hated back in the day, but heavier and much better at their song craft. Michael Sweet’s big, Dennis DeYoung-like vocals are still crystal clear but now have enough of a edge to make the music sound more dangerous than a midday Styx concert. Sweet and Oz Fox provide a healthy collection of fist pumping riffs, many walking the line between hair and classic metal, but they certainly work well. The key element is the beefed up guitar tone which reminds me of 80s metal mavens Obsession and helps the songs feel less cheesy and poofy.
This will likely be as close as I ever come to White Wizzard levels of shame, scorn and eternal banishment at the hands of the ruthless and judgmental AMG staff, but I cannot tell a lie – Fallen is a much better album than I (or anyone else) expected from Stryper and a testament that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Yes, it lays the Good Book’s message on mighty thick, but if you’re able to ignore the numskulled satanic and faux-pagan idolatry of most metal acts, why should this be any different? You can rock along with the Bible Bees even if you don’t want to join them on Sunday for the big church bake sale. Praise bee.