A lot of heavy metal bands from when I was growing up have re-recorded their hits during the past decade. My understanding is that most of them do it because their former record labels no longer produce copies of their albums, so new fans can’t obtain their songs unless they shell out some serious money on ebay. Plus, if the labels aren’t making the albums anymore, then the artists aren’t making much in the way of royalties. (Mostly just what they get from (satellite) radio airplay.) By releasing new versions of their old hits, they can start making some money off of those songs again. It’s understandable enough. But sometimes the main reason these bands release such albums is to milk the die-hard fans who already have all of their classic albums. If they re-record their songs, the die-hards will feel compelled to buy these recordings. And, hey, it’s hard to survive a musician these days so I really don’t feel fault them for that. After all, nobody is putting a gun to anyone’s head and forcing them to buy these releases. That said, there is one simple reason why I generally loathe them: because they suck. Seriously. Usually these releases are horribly produced and end up sounding like poor quality demos. Plus, sometimes the bands don’t even play the songs properly anymore. You get drummers who can’t keep time, guitarists who botch their own solos, singers who can’t hit their high notes, etc. I’ve heard some recordings where the songs sound like they’re in the wrong key. Or the tempo is pathetically off. Ultimately, I end up feeling like a major sucker for buying them. Fortunately, that is not the case with Stryper’s album of re-recorded tunes, Second Coming.
I had a feeling that this one would be good because the band has put out a few great new albums since they got back together several years ago and can clearly still play and sing just as well as ever. Also, often when bands release albums like this they haven’t even bothered to release an album of new material in ten years, so they’re clearly just going through the motions and trying to make a buck. Since Stryper had released some great new material, I didn’t feel cheated when they released this. And, as it turns out, this is probably the very best album of re-recorded tunes to be released by any “hair band.”
First of all, I have to point out that this album is 16 tracks, which is at least a few tracks longer than most of these albums of re-recorded tunes are. And it’s usually only $9.99 on Amazon. So, that alone makes it a good deal. Of course, that wouldn’t matter if it was a piece of shit. But it’s not. Far from it. These guys still have their chops.
Singer Michael Sweet can still hit all of the high notes and seems to do so effortlessly, his voice never sounding the least bit strained. He also does this interesting thing where he sings certain parts of the lyrics a bit differently, making subtle changes with his pronunciation. If he did this during the choruses, it would probably be annoying, but he mostly does it during the verses. I’m sure some die-hard fans will be bothered that he’s made all of these little changes, but I personally found it refreshing. It puts a new twist on the old favorites without sounding like he’s butchering them at all. And having a new spin on things made me feel even better about paying for these songs again.
Michael can still play guitar extremely well, too, as can lead guitarist Oz Fox. They’ve always been a killer guitar duo and remain so today. And their playing is just as heavy. Which can be said about drummer Robert Sweet’s playing, too. He used to go head-to-head with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee in debates and contests about heavy metal’s best drummer back in the day and I’m pleased to say that he’s still deserving of the Tommy Lee comparison today. He pounds the skins furiously here and can still keep time perfectly, keeping the rhythm nice and tight along with bassist Timothy Gaines who’s also at the top of his game here, as evidenced during the bass solo during opening track “Loud ‘N’ Clear.” His backing vocals remain strong, too. Excellent backing vocals were always one of Stryper’s trademarks and they shine just as radiantly here as ever.
If I am to make one small complaint here, it’s that they opted only to re-record songs from their first three albums, The Yellow And Black Attack, Soldiers Under Command and To Hell With The Devil. They already re-recorded the title track from In God We Trust on their first reunion album, Reborn, but it seems a little odd that their massive hit “Always There For You” isn’t here. Then again, their biggest hit of all-time — the ballad “Honestly” — isn’t here either. It also would have been nice if they’d re-recorded something from Against The Law. That’s the album they made when they stopped wearing yellow and black all of the time and wrote some songs that weren’t about God. It was pretty controversial back in the day, but it’s funny in hindsight. I mean, at least half of the songs were still about God and those that weren’t were still very Christianly. Yet you would have thought they’d made an album praising Satan from how some of their die-hard fans reacted to the release of the album. Now it’s amusing because at least half of today’s Christian bands do songs that aren’t directly about religion. But back then, if you were a Christian rock band then every single song had to be about God or Jesus or somehow otherwise Bible-related.
When Stryper first got back together and released Reborn, which was totally about Christianity, I thought they were going to be all God, all of the time again, which frustrated me a bit because I loved hearing them sing about other things, too, on Against The Law. But a couple of years ago the band released a superb album of cover tunes called The Covering and it included covers of songs by Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, among others. If Stryper would have covered either of those bands in, say, ’89 then they would have lost a huge number of their fans. That would have been considered far more Satanic than anything they did on Against The Law, considering that Priest and Maiden were two bands who were often cited by Christians as being down with the devil. Priest were even accused of putting evil subliminal messages on their albums. And said subliminal messages were actually blamed for suicides, which got the band sued, though it was later proved that there were no subliminal messages on their albums. But, yes, I was happy to hear them covering Priest and Maiden, even if it did feel a bit odd to hear them doing so at first.
Getting back to Second Coming, the album ends with two brand new songs and they’re both top notch. The first, “Bleeding From Inside Out,” is easily one of their heaviest tunes to date. “You’re bandaged in fear and doubt / Brought to your knees by a life and death collision,” Michael sings during the potent chorus. The song is basically telling a sinner that they can find redemption. While it’s not one of their catchiest songs, it’s still fantastic and really grows on you with repeated listenings. The same must be said about the second new tune, “Blackened,” which is basically about someone who’s been living a sinful life and finally decides that they don’t want their soul to be “blackened.” Obviously, both of these new songs are very Christian, but they’re both shining examples of a spectacular band at their prime and they fit quite nicely here with the new renditions of the classics. And judging by the samples recently posted online, the band’s new album No More Hell To Pay is going to be in the same vein and sure to be killer.
STRYPER’s Michael Sweet talking about Second Coming: