christian rock

REVIEW: Stryper – Fallen (2016 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Fallen (2016 Frontiers, Marquee Japanese import)

As far as this writer is concerned, Stryper are the reunion kings.  Their 80s output featured fantastic singles like “Calling to You” and “Free”, but many of the albums were uneven and not as rocking as you knew they wanted to be.  Since their heavy-as-hell (pun intended) comeback album Reborn (2005), Stryper have been off the leash.  It seems they gave up trying to fit in to any specific mold and are just trying to be true to themselves through their music.  2016’s incredible Fallen could be the pinnacle of the reunion era.

Unabashedly Christian, the opening track “Yahweh” happens to be one of the most potently epic slices of rock I’ve heard.  A choir sings “Yahweh, Yahweh…” while lead wailer Michael Sweet spits out of his words as few singers in metal can do.  His range is still remarkable and he has lost none of his lung capacity.  There are Maiden-esque riffs, latter-day Metallica grooves, and some seriously epic solo work by Sweet and guitarist Oz Fox.  And that’s all in just the first 6:21 of the album.  It’s strange to say, but you could compare “Yahweh” to similar epic tracks by Ghost.

“Yahweh” may be the most impressive track on a very good metal album, but it’s certainly not the only one.  The cool descending riff that accompanies “Fallen” bites into your flesh, while Sweet’s chorus lifts the ceiling.  There is also material that sounds like old school Stryper, such as “King of Kings”, “Big Screen Lies” and “Pride”.  These songs boast big and classic sounding choruses and riffs.  Stryper even snuck in a Black Sabbath cover (not their first) of “After Forever”.  The words fit Stryper like a leather studded glove:

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He is the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes, I think it’s too late.

A lot of people forget how Christian that particular Sabbath lyric is!  Very amusing how much flack metal took from the church in the 80s, all the while “After Forever” dated back to Master of Reality in 1971!  Granted, I’m certain that most Catholics wouldn’t appreciate the line “Would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”

Whether you are a believer (it’s not a requirement) or just a worshipper at the altar of St. Halen, Stryper serves up plenty of hot metal on Fallen.  The modern grooves of “Heaven” and “Let There Be Light” are two that should appeal to many, and long time fans of Stryper will go bananas for the emphasis on melodies and choruses.  And Stryper didn’t forget their ballad fans, either.  “All Over Again” is a typical bombastic Stryper ballad, but not with the extra saccharine they used to utilize in the 80s.  And if that is too bombastic for you, check out the acoustic version included as a Japanese exclusive bonus track.  I think I prefer the bare acoustic version, but I’m also getting tired of getting acoustic versions as my Japanese bonus tracks.  It seems the go-to bonus track lately has been the acoustic version.

Rest assured, Stryper have not Fallen.  Quite the opposite. They continue to soar on mighty wings of metal.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: King’s X – Best of King’s X (1997)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 9


Scan_20151021KING’S X – Best of King’s X (1997 Atlantic)

Alas, it was inevitable.  After six stunningly good albums, but none of them gold, in 1997 Atlantic dropped King’s X.  In the mid-90’s it’s amazing that King’s X hung around as long as they did.  Many labelmates has long since been dumped, or broke up.  King’s X did not break up, but instead continued to work on their own, self-producing a new album.  Atlantic meanwhile prepared the calculable “best of” package for release.  Whenever a band gets dropped from a label, a “best of” is bound to follow.  It’s a law of science.

It’s a pretty straightforward release.  Chronologically, you get most of the major singles and hits from all six albums.  Then you get the three requisite unreleased songs.  Finally, a 10 minute live blowout from Woodstock ’94, previously unreleased.  In an unusual touch of quality for a release like this, Ty Tabor himself remastered all the tracks for the album.

We already took a close look at most of these songs earlier in the series, and there are no real duds.  The CD is weighted too heavily to the later albums, leaving Silent Planet and Gretchen under-represented with only four songs between them.  Hearing “King” opening the album is perfect, and the inclusion of “Pleiades” earns respect.  The other two tunes, “Summerland” and “Goldilox” are awesome but predictable inclusions.  The self-titled album and Dogman are represented by two tracks each.  We could have done with more Dogman.  “Shoes”, for example, or “Pretend”.  Three songs from this set come from the more commercial Ear Candy.  Again, you can’t really criticize the choices too much, because all the songs are great.  How do you squeeze more in?

Well, one way would be not including the unreleased songs, but these are record company bait to entice fans to shell out for it.  The three studio cuts are self-produced demos from 1996.  Appropriate to that era of the band, these are more commercial sounding than typical King’s X.  The production is not lush, but they have a lively quality.  “Sally” is nothing to write home about, but it’s a concise King’s X pop rocker with plenty of cool noodling by Ty.  Both “Sally” and the next song, “April Showers” feature fuzzy wah-wah guitar, always a treat.  Doug Pinnick sings the funky “April Showers”, which sounds a bit more King’s X.  Possibly the best song is the sparse ballad “Lover”, also sung by Doug.  It just depends on whether you prefer the mellow hippie sounds of “Lover” or the funk of “April Showers”!

The closing piece of the album was a surprising but important inclusion, and that is the live version of “Over My Head” from their opening set at Woodstock ’94.  This 10-minute track features a passionate singing rant by Doug Pinnick. He has often spoken about his difficult upbringing, and how he never heard the words “I love you” as a child. “This is a song about my grandma…she raised me from a child…she was a very religious lady…she went to church every night…she read her Bible all the time…” begins the painful rant. It still gives me chills, but it has a positive note.  If you have kids, make sure they know that you love them, more than anything in the whole wide world.

Yes it’s an odd way to take up 10 minutes of a “best of” CD, but it had to be on here. It was a historic moment for this band. Anybody in the crowd that day who wasn’t completely blasted on drugs would remember that moment forever.

Opening up Woodstock ’94 should have propelled King’s X into the stratosphere. They just couldn’t catch a damn break.  They couldn’t even be given a decent album cover for their own damned Best Of!

4/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)

REVIEW: King’s X – King’s X (1992)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 6


Scan_20151104KING’S X – King’s X (1992 Atlantic)

The end of an era: the self-titled album.  When you self-title a record, it’s usually meant to be a statement.  Who knows if King’s X knew that theirs would be the end of the classic era of the band?  Tensions with producer/manager Sam Taylor were increasing and this would be their last collaboration.

King’s X, the album, seems to hone in on songwriting.  There are no long bombers, just short and taut King’s X songs.  “The World Around Me” exemplifies this.  The main ingredients are intact: Doug’s soulful but pained lead vocals mixed with the lush backing of the other two, the heavy but uniquely constructed riffs, and the diverse assortment of influences.  This song, and the next (“Prisoner”) get in and get out quick, delivering the necessary hooks with integrity.  They don’t spend time noodling or meandering.  The songs are more direct this time, without selling out.  You still can’t mistake what band this is.  There is only one band that sounds like King’s X, and that’s due to a unique vocal blend, and playing that sounds like no one else.

“The Big Picture”, the first ballad, doesn’t sound all too different from the Faith Hope Love material.  Good song, but a retread.  Then we’re “Lost In Germany”, with Doug and Ty Tabor sharing vocals, but this is one song that annoys more than it entertains.  Something about that chorus.  “Germany, lost in Germany!”  Maybe it’s the fact that my old boss at the Record Store used to make fun of this song, or maybe it’s just corny.  It has a tricky little Steve Vai-esque guitar lick, but I don’t want to be “Lost in Germany” any more.  Having found the autobahn, we get off next at the “Chariot Song”.  Accelerating breakneck, this song kicks ass.  Time signatures and keys change left right and center, but it’s a cohesively awesome song.  All I dislike are the self referencing lyrics: “Out of the planet comes Gretchen with faith, hope and love.” You’ll love the psychedelic Beatles section in the middle. Fave tune “Ooh Song” blows out the speakers. The stuttery riff and dark melodies hint at where King’s X were headed. “Ooh Song” and “Chariot Song” are a whopper of a one-two punch, 100% King’s X, no selling out.

“Not Just for the Dead” is uplifting, with hints of piano and sitar. It has a proud, anthemic quality before it too ventures into psychedelia. An album highlight for sure. Then, “What I Know About Love” (the closest thing to a long bomber on this album) has a long Ty Tabor solo section; very cool. “Black Flag” was the lead single but never a favourite of mine. Like “Lost in Germany”, something about the chorus just isn’t happening. Seeing Doug flying around in his underoos, in the music video, is entertaining however. There are also some King’s X puppets — somebody made actual puppets of the guys for props in this video. I sure hope somebody hung onto those!

Winding down the album, Ty’s mellow “Dream in my Life” just kind of sits there. It doesn’t have the drama I crave in King’s X. Fortunately, the closer “Silent Wind” kicks ass completely. The verses and chorus are equally excellent. This is a powerhouse of a song, and though a closer, could have made a much better single than the two they picked!

King’s X created another solid album, but for the first time it felt like they had not progressed. King’s X feels like an amalgam of previous King’s X albums, and maybe that was the point. Still one of the greatest rock bands of all time, they spun their tires a little here. But change was afoot.

4/5 stars

DOGMAN FRONTThe only King’s X album I reviewed prior to this series was Dogman (1994), and that review is the next chapter in this series. You can read it by clicking here now!

As stated above, Kings’s X, the album, was the end of an era. Dogman would be dramatically different. There were no lead vocals by Ty Tabor, and they had gotten much, much heavier. Putting the emphasis more on the groove, and installing Brendan O’Brien at the console, King’s X delivered a punishing sledge of an album. Dogman rates 4.9999~/5 stars, just shy of a full 5/5. Check out the full review for that.  Also previously published is a mini-review for a promotional CD single for the track “Pillow” from Dogman, complete with two then-unreleased live bonus tracks.   Click ’em both.

 

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994)

REVIEW: King’s X – Faith Hope Love (1990)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 4


KING’S X – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990 Atlantic)

This is where I hopped on board the King’s X train.  It was the quirky video for the irresistible pop rocker “It’s Love”.  It wasn’t the first accessible King’s X single, but it was the first I ever had the chance to hear.  And it was instant.  It was an immediate, “Ah!  So this is King’s X!  I have to get this.”  And I did.  Before then, I had only read about them in magazines.  Their cool cover art, striking album titles, and brilliant reviews had them on my radar.

“It’s Love”, written and vocalized by Ty Tabor, emphasizes the melodic aspects of the band.  They always utilized Beatles-like harmonies over chunky guitars.  This mixture was perfected for the charts on “It’s Love”, and it did make a minor dent.

Although “It’s Love” might be the most instantaneous song on the album Faith Hope Love (the band’s third), it’s not the most impressive.  Not even close.  And that’s saying something!

With Faith Hope Love, there was a downshift in intensity but not in quality.  The album is overall a little less edged, but just as challenging.  Indeed, the title track is almost 10 minutes of swirling rock, with dual lead vocalists and startling instrumental integrity.  There is also a song called “We Were Born to Be Loved” with smoking playing, false endings, and enough technical chops to satisfy the most ardent fan.

King’s X have never taken the easy road, lyrically or musically.  “Legal Kill” is abstract but can be interpreted to be about a few sensitive issues in today’s society.  It’s not preachy:  “I only know what I believe, the rest is so absurd to me.”  It’s a beautiful song, a peaceful acoustic ballad.  A song like this could have been a hit for anyone, except King’s X it seems.

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Other accessible rock songs include the love song “I’ll Never Get Tired of You”, a beautiful sentiment.  The “Fine Art of Friendship” combines the vocals of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor in that patented blend, always so tasty.  Then there is the slow, dark ballad “Everywhere I Go” by Doug.   There aren’t any weak songs on Faith Hope Love, although I find the softies “Mr. Wilson” and “Six Broken Soldiers” (vocal debut of drummer Jerry Gaskill) to be not quite as amazing as the rest of this stunning album.

The centerpiece is “Moanjam”.  By the opening rumble of Doug’s bass and the intense tempo, you might think it’s a Motorhead song.  Proving their diversity, “Moanjam” combines smoking metal riffing, lush harmonies, and Doug’s unmistakable soul singing.  You could put “Moanjam” on an album 10 times and it would still be a hell of an album!  With subtle Christian lyrics (“I sing this song because of You, You’re the glory”), you can headbang to it without thinking too much about the words.   In fact, doing so is quite an enjoyable experience.  It’s also a blast to air-drum to Jerry’s speedy parts; just be sure to catch your breath!

Although Faith Hope Love was their most accessible album yet, in many ways it really wasn’t.  It was over an hour long, containing two long-bombers.   The arrangements are still challenging, and still uniquely King’s X.  There is nobody out there who plays guitar like Ty Tabor does, and nobody who can sing like Doug Pinnick.  Faith Hope Love is a completely unafraid album.  Unfortunately it might also have been their last chance to grab the brass ring.   With grunge around the corner, bands like King’s X were hastily pushed aside.  What a shame.  This record could have been their Revolver.

5/5 stars


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KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)

REVIEW: King’s X – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 3


KING’S X – Kings of the Absurd (split 1990 Metal Crash live bootleg with Faith No More)

Live bootlegs vary in quality, but usually have one thing in common: they are almost always interesting.  Kings of the Absurd, a split live bootleg from Italy, raises a curious question.

Why put Faith No More and King’s X together on one CD?

No reason.

The King’s X set is from London at the Astoria; Faith No More’s from a festival set in Italy many months later.   It’s an odd pairing, with no common musical denominator.  If anything, both bands share critical acclaim, but that’s about it.  Why are they together on one CD?

No reason!


Absolutely no reason.

The Faith No More portion of this CD will be reviewed at a later time, probably as part of a Faith No More review series.  For now we’ll just examine the four songs presented by King’s X, which, believe me, are enough to melt your face off without the help of Mike Patton and co.  I found this CD in the racks of the used CD store in which I started working, in early 1995.  Loving both bands, and stickered at just $11.99, this was an easy winner once you figured in my staff discount.  I was just lucky to have snagged it before Thomas, also a massive Faith No More and King’s X fan.

“What is This?” is the only song lifted from their debut album Out of the Silent Planet.  The original set was 10 songs, and this was the second, but it works as an opener as well.  The heavy groove and the slick backing vocals of Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill are intact.  Doug is more impassioned live than on album, which is the way it is with any good soul singer.  Doug’s take on “What is This?” is very different from the album; he just lets the vocal come out as it does.  Even on this crappy sounding CD, you can hear that the bass is hella-heavy, and that Jerry Gaskill is one of the most underrated drummers you will ever lay ears on.

Doug addresses the crowd between songs.  “We’re going to try to do almost everything that we know tonight for you,” he teases, with no idea that these words would end up on a live bootleg with only four songs!  Next (and the next song played that night) is “Out of the Silent Planet” from their then-current Gretchen Goes to Nebraska album.  The complexity of the backing vocals doesn’t seem to present them a problem.  It’s clear that this is one hell of a trio, as if you were in any doubt.  The CD doesn’t have “Sometimes”, the next song played, but instead goes to “Summerland”, also from Gretchen.  The poor sound hampers the song slightly, since it’s lighter and doesn’t slam as hard as the others.  Doug is again outstanding, not only one of the greatest singers in rock but also a top notch bassist.  “Fall On Me” (Gretchen) ends this short set.  It was a great song on album, but live it’s just as amazing.  Doug’s lungs sound as if diesel-powered.

The fact that King’s X only got tacked onto the end of a Faith No More bootleg CD is sadly not unexpected.  They got boned by the music business, so why not by bootleggers too?  The whole set is out there, and it sounds like an amazing show.  Just check out this article and the comments section, over at our friends Every Record Tells a Story.  A few readers were there that night.

You gotta give King’s X a 5/5 stars for a set this hot, but Metal Crash get 0/5 stars for the CD

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet

Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska

REVIEW: King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)

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Complete studio albums, part 2


Scan_20151018KING’S X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989 Atlantic)

Only a year — one measly year! — after debuting with one of the most dearly beloved first albums in memory, King’s X summoned the muse for a second time.  They went back into the studio with Sam Taylor to repeat the magic.  Repeat it they did, with their original blend of influences and talents, but without backing off one inch in compromise. They did make a couple corny but cool music videos, although the rarity of their airplay must have frustrated everyone involved.

“Over My Head” surely made the band look and sound cool. Their souls-meets-metal-meets whatever they want vibe is concisely summed up in under five minutes. “Grandma used to sing, grandma used to sing, every night when she was prayin'” says Doug, opening up old wounds that he would still be singing about for years. But it’s not dark; instead, the music is as uplifting as a church choir. But only if the church band featured Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers.

Production is improved on Gretchen, and diversity has expanded once again. “Out of the Silent Planet” (the title track for the last album!) opens with sitar, but before too long a very Rush-like riff is enveloped by the lush psychedelic harmony vocals that Doug, Ty and Jerry create so naturally. Clearly the band did not take summer holidays that year because the growth is audible. Layers of guitars, sitars and unknown sounds create a swirl of purple haze. And listen to Doug’s chiming bass on the outro. What’s that you hear? Yeah, it sounds like the bass outro to “Jeremy” to me, too. Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam once said that “King’s X invented grunge”. I don’t think that’s true although it probably indicates that some smart guys in Seattle had good taste in music. I think Doug Pinnick invented the way that he and Ament play bass. If you hear Pearl Jam occasionally in King’s X, I think that’s the part that was tapped by Jeff Ament via Doug Pinnick.

Gretchen may be challenging like Silent Planet was, but King’s X try to make it easy for you to climb aboard the train. The light melodic picking in “Summerland” sound enticing so just come on in. Doug’s soulful wailing brings the clouds but Ty’s harmonies blow ’em back away. “Summerland” is a rock triumph, possessing drama with melody and integrity in a flawless mix. Back to church again on “Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something” — but only briefly as we are now on funky ground. Accelerated for action, “Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something” is a pulse-pounder not to be missed. King’s X can do no wrong, especially when combining disparate elements in new ways. Another side of King’s X is the acoustic one often visited by Ty Tabor, and that’s “The Difference”. The setting feels like a chilly fall day but King’s X paint pictures that allow you to see your own images. That’s the beauty of the music.

“I’ll Never be the Same” is more familiar King’s X territory. Never keeping it simple, never making it inaccessible must have been the motto. Their pool of influences seems to come out slightly different each time. Church organ (by Sam Taylor) makes its debut on “Mission”, an appropriate place for it, but that’s a bluff. “Mission” is actually a metallic assault on televangelists. “What is the mission of the preacher man?” asks Doug in an impassioned wail. “Some are true, Some do lie,” he warns. “Fall on Me” will then take your head off with some of the rockingest King’s X on the album. If a record label was looking for an accessible single, here it is. I guess this band really was just too smart for radio, like with the cosmic “Pleiades”.

Far off in the field I see a castle,
Today the people gather at the pole,
He tried to tell us all the world was spherical,
They burned his body but not his soul.

Keep in mind this is a band that is often lumped in with Christian rock!  But what about the riff?  Imagine the love child of Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page.  They had a baby and named it “Pleiades”.

Pinnick brings the soul back on “Don’t Believe It (Easier Said than Done)”.  “This is not the end of the road,” he sings and he’s right — even though it is track 10, it’s not the end.  King’s X beefed up Gretchen with 12 tracks, a rare bounty in 1989.  But this was not a normal band.  These was an inspired trio with thoughts and feelings to get off their collective chests.  “Send a Message” keeps the pace upbeat but not straight; there have to be some twists and turns.  Ty then takes the final track with “The Burning Down” and a mellow ballad.  Floyd meets Rush meets King’s X, and it’s over.

The first two King’s X albums boasted rich and impressive album art.  Gretchen is the best of the pair.  Now that’s an album cover; the LP at least anyway.  On CD it’s much harder to appreciate.  No matter since it’s the music that counts.  It’s rare for a band to grow from an incredible album like Silent Planet to something even bigger like Gretchen.  That’s exactly what King’s X did, even though they did it in obscurity.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)

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SERIES DEBUT

Join us for a serious look at every King’s X studio album!…and more.

Scan_20151018KING’X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988 Atlantic)

The Texas Trio, the soul-bringers of progressive rock…call ’em what you want (I just did, I made those two titles up), King’s X are too important for you to ignore any longer.  If you have been aboard the King’s X train already, then you know what I am about to tell you.  If not, then realize that this band has been tragically ignored for aeons.  Since 1983 in fact, as Sneak Preview, a glammy rock band who released one record before changing direction and name to King’s X.  Even though Sneak Preview were certainly not hinting that there was more beneath the surface than just some good sounding rock and roll, it was obvious that they had the ability to write and to play.  They made a few music videos, and “Linda” depicts them delivering hooks more typical of Bon Jovi or Van Hagar.

Supposedly, the band were not happy with the way the Sneak Preview album turned out. Of 1000 copies made, half were reportedly destroyed on purpose. Today copies sell for over $200.

Newly christened as King’s X, the band and producer/manager Sam Taylor went into the studio for Megaforce, a division of Atlantic, the label that launched Led Zeppelin. They emerged with one of the most startling and important debut albums of the 1980’s, Out of the Silent Planet.  Starkly original and different, King’s X took the critics by storm.  If only the record buying masses followed their lead.

According to esteemed scholar and Sausagefester Scottie Geffros, “From Out of the Silent Planet right up to Tape Head (1998), there is so much good stuff that the world in general should be embarrassed that ‘music fans’ never caught on to the greatness that is King’s X.” Adds fellow ‘Fester Johnny Cheddar, “I remember the first time listening to Out of the Silent Planet with Dr. Dave…we had been on a music buying mission, and he found an elusive vinyl copy; going cheap if I recall. It was a hard album to come by in those days. I was amazed to hear such a heavy riffy metal sound, but without the sinister vibe that goes with it.”

Starting with a dramatic space rock intro, “In the New Age” soon introduces the core King’s X sound:  The soul, the dual vocal talents of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor, and their unique cross of influences.  Ty and Doug have voices on opposite sides of the rock spectrum.  Ty sings high and clean with a hint of Lennon, and Doug goes deep to the howling limits of his soul.  Their trio format, with Jerry Gaskill (another talented singer in his own right) on the drums still allowed them to create expansive rock.  They were not writing anything simple or pandering anymore; “In the New Age” boasts daring changes and a progressive bent that major labels weren’t usually hawking.

The central song might be the ballad “Goldilox”.  On this track, the band have married a knack for a good pop song without compromising their integrity.  “Golidlox” is a spring-like, bright song of hope.  Doug Pinnick has a voice to be envied by anyone, with power and the ability to evoke the classic soul singers of an era gone by.  The other two back him to form a lush curtain of slightly psychedelic harmonies.

“Power of Love” has a pop rock chorus, but punched up by the hard hitting band.  Vocally, this is a soul anthem.  Musically, it’s anthemic rock and roll, good for head-banging or banana-dancing.  It’s up to you — and that’s the “Power of Love”!   Although hard rock songs not unlike this were getting played on the radio, King’s X were probably too smart for radio.  “Power of Love” melds seamlessly into “Wonder”, a song about divisions between us.  “There’s a wall between us, a partition of sorts.”  Yup, too smart for radio.  Chunky like good peanut butter, and still fresh today, “Wonder” is indeed still a wonder.  “This is church, this is state, rock and roll, Amazing Grace.”  Then, “Should I go to the front, should I go to the back?  Should I just pray or should I attack?”  Considering it’s Doug singing (Doug is black), I wonder if some folks of limited intelligence might have found those lyrics just a little scary?  This is some powerful shit.

Doug sounds wracked with pain on “Sometimes”, again tormented by the world he sees around him.  As King’s X progressed, so too would Doug’s subject matter and way of approaching it.  In 1988 he was deeply religious. “I stand here waiting for new Jerusalem, I know it’s greater than the world outside.”  The pain subsides on “King”, which is an incredible high water mark of songwriting…and it’s on a debut album.  Consider that for just a moment.  Again Doug is using Biblical imagery in his words, but King’s X did not seem to preach.  Even if some were starting to suspect that the titular “King” was Jesus Christ himself, hey look an awesome guitar solo!

The rumblin’ bass of Pinnick shakes your teeth on “What is This?”  Heavy and melancholy until the chorus kicks in, “What is This?” nails it again.  “Far, Far Away” ceases the slamming temporarily, for some 60’s textures and dreamy Van Halen-esque chops.  “Shot of Love” has a slight but noticeable jangle to its marching riffage.  Out of the Silent Planet boasted numerous styles of rock on one album but also usually within a single song too.  “Shot of Love” recalls gospel, marches, Queen, Judas Priest and Supertramp.  Finally, “Visions” is heavy on riffage, combined with heavenly choirs of vocals.  Sabbathy riff changes, Motorhead tempos, Eddie Van-shred, and Beach Boys harmonies.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

1988 came and went, with King’s X winding up on many critics’ top 10 lists.  As luck or perhaps just taste would have it, that did not translate into sales.  But in 1988 that didn’t mean the end.  That just meant you go back into the studio and make another album.  A better album.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Stryper – Reborn (2005)

STRYPER REBORN_0002


STRYPER REBORN_0001STRYPER – Reborn (2005 EMI)

A few gigs led to a greatest hits CD and two new songs.  That led to a tour and a live album.  That in turn finally gave way to a new studio album by Stryper.  The aptly titled Reborn was unlike any prior Stryper album:  Detuned and heavier than hell, Reborn shocked pretty much everybody that heard it! Drum loops, chugging riffs…this was Stryper? There was also a new bassist on board — Tracy Ferrie, from Michael Sweet’s solo band.

“Open Your Eyes” begins abruptly, as if to further surprise the listener with the new Stryper sound.  It bears no resemblance to old Stryper whatsoever.  It is stripped down, heavy, droney, with emphasis on the riff, and no screams!  Stryper appeared to go very “2000’s” with their new sound, but unlike Metallica, they hung onto the guitar solos!  Then “Reborn” is stuttery and chunky.  It takes some getting used to, because melody takes a back seat to heavy here.  It’s good — but there are few hooks.  Overall, the CD reminds me of mid-90’s Dio.  I must say that drummer Robert Sweet seems particularly in his element on this heavy stuff, but his snare drum sound is a bit stuffy.

Some understated and cool guitar harmonies help out “When Did I See You Cry” on the chorus.  It’s also the first song to present those uplifting Stryper harmonies.  “Make You Mine” is a slow rocker with a melodic vocal and a highlight.  It’s remarkable how Michael Sweet’s voice has grown to have so much character while retaining its power. “Live Again” steals the riff from “Shout at the Devil” and shakes it up a bit. “Shout” was stolen from “Foxy Lady” anyway, so who cares? The song sounds nothing like “Shout” otherwise, but it’s back to that heavy detuned Stryper sound.

“If I Die” is a slow, heavy burner with a great chorus. That’s followed by “Wait For You” which is a simple pop rock song but recorded heavy, complete with “na na na” backing vocals. “Rain” is a bit of a ballad, and Sweet really reaches for it on the chorus. Solid song albeit a tad generic. “10,000 Years” is stuttery and rhythmic but doesn’t have a lot of hooks. Album closer “I.G.W.T.” is a much heavier, much better remake of the title track from 1988’s In God We Trust. This version kills the original in every single way possible. Michael even nails that final scream.

The best song on the album, by a fair shake, is the mighty “Passion”.  Not only does it possess a chorus that will shake the foundations, but it’s also the most blatantly in your face about their faith.  “Jesus Christ, I wanna serve you, I want what you want for me.  Sacred voice, I don’t deserve you, through your Passion I am free.”  That chorus will not be for everybody obviously, but damn it sure is catchy when Sweet lets it all out!  Give it a listen and see what I mean.  You don’t have to sing along if you don’t want to.

REBORNWhen originally released, the CD came packaged in a semi-transparent yellow cellophane wrap. I found it as such when it first came out at a nearby Christian book & CD store. They wanted $24.99 for it, and I couldn’t justify paying that much for yellow shrink wrap, when I could wait for a used copy to come in at the Record Store at which I worked. I ended up with the used copy, but boy I sure did like the way it looked with the yellow cellophane. The image on the cover of the band ripping the yellow ooze from their bodies is meant to represent how Stryper felt “reborn” individually and collectively. Of course the yellow and black are a return to Stryper’s original trademark colour scheme which they dropped on Against the Law.

Since Reborn, Stryper have zeroed in on the “perfect” sound, sort of a cross between this and old Stryper with loads of melody and power. Their albums continue to impress. Reborn was a necessary first step back, and it takes some getting used to. It doesn’t have the longevity of their classic work, but it definitely ain’t shabby.

3.25/5 stars

I hope you enjoyed Stryper week here at mikeladano.com!  Tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled instalment of Getting More Tale.

REVIEW: Stryper – Against the Law (1990)

AGAINST THE LAW_0001STRYPER – Against the Law (1990 Enigma)

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, Stryper finally took the second biggest gamble* of their lives and dropped the overtly Christian themes in their lyrics.  It was a decision they would quickly regret.  Changing their lyrical message did nothing to help them sell records, and they found themselves without a record deal.  They spurted out some new songs for a greatest hits album called Can’t Stop the Rock before Michael Sweet bailed and the band dissolved.  In the liner notes to that album, drummer Robert Sweet states, “We were making a grab for musical freedom, but we never should have let that be misinterpreted as a change in our beliefs.”

Before the change, cynics accused Stryper of faking the sincerity of their beliefs in order to “cash in” on the “gimmick” of being a Christian metal band.  Now that they had dropped those lyrics, they were accused of cashing in once again.  There was no winning at this point for Stryper.  No wonder the band caved in.

The shame of it is, fans in the know consider their 1990 album Against the Law to be among their very best.  It earned a cult classic status with those who ignored the hype.  The change wasn’t just lyrical, but total.  Eager to reverse the musical damage of In God We Trust, Stryper toughened up their sound and got veteran producer Tom Werman behind the console.  They also changed their image for the better.  Gone were the massive hairdos and the yellow and black bumblebee suits.  In were beards and goatees, and darker understated clothes.  The stripes were still there in the stage costumes, but they were now gray and black.  New logo, new start.  Or not.

A thunderous new sound opened the new album — a funky heavy metal riff.  No, this isn’t Extreme, it’s Stryper.  “Against the Law” is a really cool shuffle with echoes of Van Halen too.  The band were displaying a new toughness, and Werman captured a more appropriate raw sound from the band.  Guitar-wise, Michael Sweet and Oz Fox are not content to just law down some solos, but instead leave jaws on the floor with their creative shreddery.

“Two Time Woman” is not the kind of song title that Stryper fans were used to see on their albums.  This Motley Crue/Scorpions-ish rocker is strong but not a standout, despite its release as a music video. It’s just nice to hear Stryper rocking out with solid production behind them.

The next track “Rock the People” takes the album back to a funky “extreme”. It’s the lighter “Two Bodies (One Mind One Soul)” that really had hit potential. The acoustic guitars lull you in, but the chorus kills! “Two Bodies” gets my vote for best track on the album. It really is a shame that it never became a hit in this universe. Maybe on another Earth, where rock never fell to grunge….

“Not That Kind of Guy” is a blazingly fast Van Halen-style shuffle. David Lee Roth would have given his left nut for a song this much like his old band at the time. This kind of tune really reveals why Stryper were right to free up their songwriting a bit, if only for one album. This kind of music does not really fit spiritual lyrics all that well, so good on them for stretching out and writing a few songs like this. And listen to Michael Sweet’s scream at the end! Never before on a Stryper album had he let loose like that.

The big surprise of the album was the song chosen as lead single: a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”! In a 1990 MuchMusic interview, bassist Tim Gaines recalled that the song was suggested to them and the reaction was “‘Shining Star’? What the hell is that going to sound like?” Not bad, actually. “Then we ended up making a video for it, which I’m not sure how that came about,” said Gaines.

“Shining Star” did not grab me at all, at the time. Today I really find it fun and enjoyable. Stryper already had funky metal elements on this album, so why not cover Earth, Wind & Fire? I’d say they pulled it off in their own way. The only mistake was choosing this song as the lead single! Leading with “Two Bodies” might have given the hard rock fans at the time something more familiar to sink their teeth into, than an Earth, Wind & Fire cover. That’s Randy Jackson on bass for this track by the way — that’s one reason why it’s so dang funky!

A few songs ago, Michael Sweet claimed to be “Not That Kind Of Guy”, now he is saying he is just an “Ordinary Man”. This smooth mid-tempo track retains those classic Stryper angelic harmonies, but better arranged to suit harder rock music. Of course, every hard rock album needed to have a ballad. Rather than keep re-writing the same old piano ballads as they had been, Stryper went acoustic for “Lady” (not the Styx song). It was a good move, and a good song. It too had hit potential, but alas, it was not to be for Stryper. They were “Caught in the Middle”; so goes the next song. It is as close as we got to old-school metal Stryper. It’s good that they did not neglect that side of the band’s sound. Again, Sweet throws in some of those unearthly screams that he is capable of.

The sleek metal stomp of “All For One” sounds like classic Dokken to me, and that’s not a bad thing. It has the same dark, ominous chug that George Lynch is so capable of. No wonder Sweet & Lynch hooked up later on! The chorus kills it, too. Against the Law is ended by “Rock the Hell Out of You” which is about as preachy as Stryper get on this album (not very). It’s another killer speedy metal scorcher to go out on. Kudos to Robert Sweet on drums for being able to play like this!

I like stories with happy endings, so I’ll share this. Stryper has since reunited, heavier than ever. Christian lyrics and ordinary rock songs co-exist on the same albums now, and fans couldn’t be happier that they are back. The fact that their reunion-era albums are so damn good doesn’t hurt, either. If the story of Against the Law has a bright side, it is that it was a step on the journey to Reborn, Murder By Pride, The Covering and beyond.

4/5 stars

*Their biggest gamble was trying to be a Christian metal band in the first place.

REVIEW: Stryper – In God We Trust (1988)

IN GOD WE TRUST_0001STRYPER – In God We Trust (1988 Enigma)

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the President of the United Federation of Planets (Kurtwood Smith) made a throwaway comment in one of his speeches:  “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily mean we must do that thing.”

I wish somebody in Stryper’s circle or record label Enigma thought that way in 1988.

Just because you have an incredible range and clean voice, does not mean you need to shatter glass with it, and it also doesn’t mean it’s best used by creating heavenly, angelic harmony parts.  Just because you had a successful prior album (To Hell With the Devil) does not mean softening your sound on your next album will equal more success.  If a record company executive said, “If you write more commercial songs and record them with less guitars and more keyboards you’ll get on the radio,” that doesn’t mean they were right.

It’s easy to put on my 20/20 Hindsight Goggles and pick apart In God We Trust, the highly anticipated third album by Stryper.  It’s like shooting ducks in a barrel.  Whatever choices Stryper or management made, In God We Trust is their most dismissed album by fans and critics alike.  It was a perfect storm of bad decisions.  Stryper themselves, dissatisfied with the original title track, later re-recorded it as “IGWT” for  their heavy reunion album Reborn.  That modern, detuned version blows away anything on this album.

The first thing that strikes me about “In God We Trust” (the original, not the remake) is the prominence of the angelic harmonies.  It sounds like a cross between a choir and a toothpaste commercial.  Michael Sweet is an incredible vocalist, this is true, but I maintain that it took him a few albums to really find his voice’s character.  Aside from the harmonies, “In God We Trust” is actually quite a heavy speedy metal track.  Drummer and “visual timekeeper” Robert Sweet is a relentless beast.

“Always There For You” was the saccharine-sweet lead single.  Sweet employed his trademark of hiding his religious message behind a neutral, benign lyric.  “I’m always there for you, I’ll always stand by you, when the world has closed the door and you can’t go on anymore, I’m always there for you.”  It sounds like the directive was, “Write us another song like ‘Calling on You’ but more commercial so we can make an expensive video.”  Then the next song “Keep the Fire Burning” almost sounds like they said the same thing, except about “Free”.  Continuing with the theme of re-writing the past hits, “I Believe In You” is “Honestly, Part II”.  It is sunk completely by the too-sweet Sweet harmonies. This sounds like something my mom would listen to!

Heavier is “The Writing’s On the Wall” but I find the lyrics irritating. “The God that Stryper serves is no delusion!” As a Christian myself, I recognize that people don’t like that kind of thing in their faces all the time. That is a personal preference and I believe there is room for everybody’s opinions. A song like “The Writing’s On the Wall” doesn’t strike me as inviting in its message, but the opposite.

The second side of In God We Trust is commenced with the terribly titled “It’s Up 2 U”. This is actually one of the better songs even though it’s one of the most commercial. The harmonies here are lower are thicker, and it turns into a bit of an anthem on the chorus. Then “The World of You and I” starts with potential as an acoustic ballad, but transitions into a sickly-sweet chorus that I can’t decide if I like or not. For glass-shattering high notes, just skip to 2:10! For really bad songs, check out “Come to the Everlife”. This is like bad Quiet Riot circa QRIII.

“Lonely” is morose but not terrible. It makes the album lean terribly ballad-heavy and soft, however. The keyboards and harmonies overpower the song rendering it somewhat limp, but with a smooth and classy beat. Thankfully “The Reign” closes the album on a heavy, Maiden-esque note. It’s a menacing but preachy metal song.

Stryper did an about-face after this album, realizing that their efforts did not produce a hit. Their next record was the most controversial yet. But that’s another review. In God We Trust lacks the firepower to be worth more than:

2/5
stars