It’s 2015 and Stryper’s yellow and black attack continues. And I dare say it’s stronger than ever. Just listen to “Yahweh,” the blistering opening track of their new album, Fallen. When I heard Michael Sweet was writing a song with Clint Lowery of Sevendust I thought we were in for a disaster, just based on the fact that I do not care for Sevendust at all. But it’s a truly epic, six minute sonic masterpiece. Everything about it is perfect. Michael Sweet continues to hit the high notes and his voice arguably sounds more powerful today than in the past. It just keeps improving over time, whereas so many singers from back in the day can’t hit their notes anymore. Michael’s bandmates only seem to improve over time as well, as Robert Sweet continues to rival Tommy Lee for the title of heavy metal’s best drummer, knocking it out of the park here. Listening to this song is like seeing your favorite baseball team score four consecutive home runs. It’s exciting and it feels inspired. In fact, the same could be said about the entire album, which is I feel is Stryper’s best since they reunited in 2005. Every album they’ve released since then has been on par with their classic catalogue, but Fallen finds them at their heaviest and yet at their most melodic as well. With each album they release, they continue to up their game. You can’t say that about their peers. The only other band I can think of that’s continued to release so many high quality albums is Helloween.
“Fallen” is a prime example of how the interplay between Michael and co-lead guitarist Oz Fox works splendidly. They each have their own sound, but it’s the combination of the two that makes Stryper so unique. Another area where Stryper stands out is in the backing vocals department. Just listen to the band sing “Fallen” over and over on the chorus here. Their voices fit together like pieces of a puzzle. A beautiful puzzle. The backing vocals are like the pixie dust that renders the songs magical.
The band goes with crunchy, almost grinding riffs on “Pride,” which sounds unlike anything they’ve ever done before with its very modern feel. But there’s something very classic about this one, too, which is the fact that it lends itself to singing along very well. With “Yahweh” and “Fallen,” I can certainly see fans doing the classic head banging thing, but I think they’d injure their voices if they tried to sing those songs, especially the choruses. There are some high notes here, of course, but Michael sings much of the song in a more relaxed manner that calls to mind classics like “Calling on You” and “Free.” “Love You Like I Do” is also a remarkable track you’ll find yourself singing along to.
I could write about every song on the album, as they’re all outstanding. One thing that’s obvious is that Michael Sweet has become one heck of a producer. Every element of these songs sound perfect. And whereas most albums you hear today have everything mixed as loudly as possible, Michael gives each instrument proper breathing room here, so things fit together but don’t blur each other out. You can hear the bass guitar clearly, for example. To that end, Tim Gaines continues lay down some killer bass lines. Listen to his grade A playing on “Heaven” for evidence of that.
On their album The Covering, Stryper surprised fans when they did songs by artists like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. If they’d done that back in 1989 they would have lost half their fans. Stryper was supposed to be the antidote to “evil” bands like that. But The Covering was a clever step for the band, showing fans that the guys grew up listening to the same bands they did and that they actually appreciated their peers’ music, whereas Stryper fans always viewed Maiden and Priest as the enemy. Seriously, there were a lot of die-hard Christian rockers out there during the metal years and most of them listened to Christian rock exclusively. Boy do I know that because I was in charge of props for a high school play that took place at a radio station and I brought in some of my own records to display on the wall behind the DJ booth. And Christian rock fans had a blast defacing them. On the cover of Motley Crue’s Theatre of Pain, they wrote “burn in hell, devil worshippers.” On Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon, they wrote “die anti-christ.” What’s worse, they even scratched up my records, rendering them unplayable. The funny thing is, at that point I wasn’t even aware of Christian rock. And as I was sitting there starting to cry about my records being ruined, a couple of students came along and said those records were evil and blah, blah, blah. So, I asked them, “What am I supposed to listen to then?” Their response? “Stryper and Barren Cross.” I’d never heard of either of them, but I soon saw them on MTV and became a fan of both. I still listened to Motley Crue and company, too, though. So, it really amused me when Stryper put out The Covering, revealing that they listened to non-Christian bands, too. Well, on Fallen they cover Black Sabbath’s “After Forever.” But if you didn’t know it was a Sabbath tune, you’d just think it was another Stryper original because they totally make it sound like a Stryper song. And when you hear the lyrics coming out of Michael Sweet, you realize it kind of was a Christian rock song. Check out this verse: “I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ / I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced / Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don’t believe? / You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can’t retrieve.” Sounds very Christianly to me!
The bottom line? If you’ve ever been a Stryper fan, you need to have this album. I mean, if you have all of their classic albums and haven’t bothered to keep up with them, this is the perfect place to get reacquainted. Trust me, you’ll be blown away. And you can go listen to it for free on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/4JKttJ732nWpT6Scc3Lznu So, you really have no excuse not to check it out!