REVIEW: Stryper – To Hell With the Devil (1986)

The rest of the week here at mikeladano.com will be STRYPER WEEK! Hope you dig it.

TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL_0001STRYPER – To Hell With the Devil (1986)

Now here is an album I’ve not heard in a long time.  10 years, I’ll wager, or close to it.  I played To Hell With the Devil a lot when I was a kid, and I seem to recall it being Stryper’s best album.  I’m curious how I feel about it today….

To Hell With the Devil came in my initial Columbia House order back in 1989!  I remember my aunt saying, “This one must be Michael’s because it has the word ‘devil’ in it.”  I told her Stryper were a Christian band but she did have a point, it was mine and not my sister’s tape!

Stryper are a heavier band today than they were in 1986, but this does have some of their best songs.  Even the sound-effect intro “Abyss” is classic.  It’s as familiar to me as “In the Beginning” by Motley Crue or “The Dark” by Black Sabbath.  I used to use all three of those bits for sound effects at Halloween time, in fact.  “To Hell With the Devil” itself is a strong metal song, with Maiden-esque guitar harmonies.  What may turn off modern listeners is the powerful bellow and angelic harmonies of Michael Sweet.  Sweet is an awesome singer — not everybody can take Brad Delp’s place in Boston — but I think younger Sweet hadn’t learned to tame and control his voice the way he has today.  His range is exceptional though, and the guy plays lead guitars too!  What a talent.  “To Hell With the Devil” kicks off the album on a melodic, but heavy note.

TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL_0004

Anthemic hard rock songs are one of Stryper’s specialities, and “Calling On You” is one of their best.  Michael Sweet said in past interviews that he tried to make his songs accessible by keeping the overtly Christian themes a little more subtle.  So, if you know Stryper are Christians, you know what “Calling On You” means.  If you don’t, you think “You give me love, you keep me company” is about two people in love.  This is something I appreciate.  While I am not “in your face” about it, I am a Christian myself, but I don’t always want to be hearing that in my music.  I like balance in my life, so I enjoy both Stryper and Ghost, and that’s just fine.

“Free” kicks ass.  That guitar riff smokes, and once again Stryper composed a melodic, heavy anthem.  Lyrically, Sweet reminds us that we are “free to walk away and deny” if we decide.  “It’s your choice,” go the words, and that helps make the song more inclusive.  “Free” was the song that got me seriously intro Stryper.  As soon as I saw the video on MuchMusic, I was hooked.

A successful hard rock album had to have a ballad in 1986.  That was the key to getting on the radio.  “Honestly” was the big piano ballad.  I don’t care for the quiet opening, but once Michael starts givin’ ‘er, it’s really great.  I didn’t think I’d still care for this ballad today, but it’s exceptionally well written and like I said, Michael Sweet really kicks ass.

The side closer on cassette was “The Way”, the only track written by guitarist Oz Fox.  (I always liked that Oz’s costume in this era had a Darth Vader-like control panel on the front.)  “The Way” is pure heavy metal — riff, smoking vocals, slamming drums.  This one is not about the melodies so much as the fast licks and high screams.  Great tune, although “Rocking for the One who is the rock,” is not the catchiest chorus I’ve ever sung along to.  The guitar solo doesn’t really fit either unfortunately.

“Sing-Along Song” has a “Metal Gods”-ish pulse to it, but it is as far from Judas Priest as you can imagine.  This is a pop rock song with a synthesizer where there should be a bass guitar.  Pretty good tune regardless.  I can imagine this one being quite good in concert.  Meanwhile, “Holding On” reminds me of “Mystery” by Dio but not as memorable.  More metallic is “Rockin’ the World”, a good album track.  A second piano ballad called “All of Me” isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as good as “Honestly”.  Thankfully, “More Than a Man” ends the album on a solidly heavy moment.  “More Than a Man” is an appropriate bookend for “To Hell With the Devil”, closing the record with one of the most openly Christian songs on the album.  “More than a man, God almighty, He created you.”

Side one of To Hell With the Devil may well be the best side that Stryper have ever done.  It’s almost perfect.  Side two is more uneven.  Good album — but I think Stryper have done better overall since then.

3.5/5 stars

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27 comments

  1. It’s the yellow and black attack! Enjoyed this review… never heard a note of this band though so I’ll have to just take your word for all this! I have been tempted to try some of their newer albums but I just can’t quite bring myself to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well dude the reunion era has never been more solid than Murder By Pride or The Covering, which I already reviewed so not a part of this series. I think The Covering is the one you would like the best. It’s just awesome!

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  2. Another band that I’ve never heard of (or heard). I was sorta expecting what I heard in that video from their image, though. Braun volume was obviously big in the Stryper camp.

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  3. Nice. I have a copy on vinyl I bought used and have never heard yet. It might be time.

    Last week I was in a Bibles for Missions thrift store looking for music. I scanned tons of Christian music and figured there would be no real rock or metal. Then I spotted about 10 Judas Priest and one Kingdom Come cassette. All for 10 cents each. I assume the sorters would only put Christian music on the shelf and obviously anything with priest or Kingdom Come on the cover had to be religious music right. I bet if they saw this album, they would toss it in the garbage because it was the devil’s music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow that’s weird! There are a few Christian artists that you can’t find in mainstream stores that are worth checking out. REZ is one band, Darrell Mansfield is another good one. He played with the guys from King’s X a few times I believe (who are 2/3 Christian and 1/3 formerly).

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  4. Stryper could very well be the most underrated band of all time – maybe a tie with Winger. I think they’re in my top 10 list of bands I love the most, if I had one. Or something like that.
    They have been forced to eat so much crap just because of their faith (and the fact that they made a thing out of it) which is just so unfair. Nobody makes fun of Satanist bands, even though I truly believe it’s all just nonsense. Still, I believe in people’s right to say what you want, believe in what you want and do what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone.
    And I couldn’t care less about their faith because I love their music no matter what. And as you mentioned, Ghost. But Ghost aren’t for real, no satanists in that band.
    This album is awesome. I might have an issue or two with the somewhat messy production, but songs are killers, almost everyone of ’em, except maybe for Rockin’ The World. I’d give this 8/10, very close to a nine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jon, when I get to the Against the Law album on Thursday, I will get into that “forced to eat so much crap” stuff. I totally agree and their music was overlooked in almost every single interview or article. All they wanted to write about was the faith stuff. But as I said many of their songs don’t require a religious interpretation, and that was smart of them.

      I always thought Ghost were for real. You’d know better though!

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      1. Ghost is an act. I know that the guy that plays the part of the Evil Pope has been trying forever to get somewhere in different musical constellations and now he has found his thing, I guess. Very smart, but he’s just an orinary metal dude, really.
        Still think their records are really damn good!

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        1. You know that guy? I’ve always thought they had a great gimmick and sound. But by their lyrics, I always wondered if they were really into that stuff. I think it’s just a great sounding band.

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  5. “To Hell With the Devil” is a good album although I still prefer “Soldiers Under Command.” I saw Stryper on this tour and they played songs from both albums, a good night had by all. I thought my one friend was going to convert.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Good write up Mikey ..they got a ton of press with this record! All the magazines featured them…I even bought this but have not heard it in years…..

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    1. I saw them at Sweden Rock Festival a couple of years ago. They were smokin’ and one of the highlights of that years festival. Brilliant live act.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Cool write up on THWTD, Mike Ladano. I have enjoyed Stryper’s EP and Soldiers as a phase with them for a few years. A high school wrestling friend would wear a To Hell With The Devil baseball type jersey to practice often. It seemed to motivate him. I saw him improve and get more serious with his craft. Not sure how related it was to his vision quest, but it’s an observation.

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    1. Thanks Adam glad you enjoyed! Hope you check back all week for the other three reviews!

      I’ll have to get the EP and Soldiers. For whatever reason I still do not have them. WHen I was working at the used CD store, a few copies of Soldiers came in, but never in good enough shape for me.

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