From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach W. Lorton, who is slowly crawling out of his cave after Daylight Savings Time thought it necessary to end…
The name Stryper is thrown around the rock world today with both reverence and derision. Cheesy and campy when they hit the Southern California scene in the 1980s, their musicianship was nevertheless undeniable. These guys knew how to use heavy metal to their advantage. Today, the cheese and camp have been abandoned, and while they still don their signature yellow and black look when performing, gone are the days of the battle armored van and military-styled uniforms.
With “No More Hell to Pay”, Stryper’s first release of all-new material featuring the original lineup since 1991, the band finds themselves firmly back into the groove in which they thrived back in their heyday. With 2006’s “Reborn”, the band resurrected their legacy with a renewed energy, but still seemed like they were finding their way back to what worked best for them. “Murder By Pride”, while a worthy effort, didn’t hit the high marks of freshness set by the previous release. But since then, the band has released “The Covering”, an album of cover songs, and “Second Coming”, an inspired re-recording of 12 of the band’s most well-known classics. Those two releases have given Stryper the chance to sink into the confidence worthy of their legacy.
“No More Hell To Pay” is Stryper in classic form, aged very well and more mature for the new era (think Metallica’s triumphant “Death Magnetic” after the fetid mess of “St. Anger”). Everything you love about the band is here — the classic harmonies, the relentless backbone from drummer Robert Sweet and bassist Tim Gaines, and the soaring, inventive solos from guitarist Oz Fox and frontman/guitarist Michael Sweet. Speaking of the darker-haired Sweet, his vocals on this record are by far some of the best he’s ever recorded, with Stryper or anyone else. Yes, his voice is one that you either love or hate, and while there’s still some sugary sweetness there, he sings with the grit and growl that this music really calls for. The habanero of Sweet’s range and power help cut the syrupy timbre and make him sound like the frontman we’ve all wanted him to be.
The production values are also improved from the band’s last two albums of original material, and while some effects are a little dated and somewhat annoying (the phase shifting on “Te Amo” doesn’t add to the song at all), this is a very well-balanced record. The drums have a sharpness to them that’s been missing from their last efforts, and the mix draws you in from the very first track. From brutal soundscapes to majestic melodies and anthemic riffs, the boys from SoCal don’t give the listener much room to breathe, but it’s a welcome claustrophobia. There are some cliche lyrics (just look at the track listing to see what I mean), but when they abandon cliche for creativity, the content is as strong as it’s ever been. A misguided cover of the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright” plops its middle-aged butt in the #4 track spot, which is unfortunate — not only was the remake unnecessary, but with the exception of the slow bridge, it sounds plodding and uninspired.
On the bright side, “The One” could be the standout cut from this album — a powerful ballad in the band’s signature style with a soaring guitar solo throughout, and in this reviewer’s opinion, worth the price of the album on its own. Seriously, it’s that good. Thankfully, Stryper’s tricks are plenty, as cuts like “The Legacy”, “Saved By Love”, “Water Into Wine”, and the opener “Revelation” stick in the listener’s mind like a virus. Of course, the album isn’t perfect — they could have left 3 tracks off the album and ended up with a more cohesive and higher quality product.
It’s unfortunate that the faults on this record are as glaring as they are, because there are so few of them. But in my opinion, this is one of the strongest album’s of the band’s career, and while it doesn’t have the platinum potential of “To Hell With the Devil”, the new record is definitely a slice of fried gold.
Rating: 4 Geeks out of 5
Zach W. Lorton is a media producer and professional DJ/MC by trade, and a comedian, actor, and musician by default. His debut music project is set to begin recording in 2014, and will likely take the world by storm, possibly in the form of a Sharknado.