STRYPER – Even the Devil Believes (2020 Avalon Japan)
The resurrected Stryper have been riding a solid yellow and black wave of quality for several albums now. Singer/guitarist Michael Sweet has honed in on an early-80s metal sound as Stryper’s foundation, with emphasis on riffs, vocal melodies and cool guitar solos. 2020’s Even the Devil Believes dwells within this rich landscape, drawing inspiration from classics galore.
Speedy metal abides. “Blood From Above” sounds like Accept and Stryper in an atomic collision. No quarter given here; this song is full-on, and you can easily imagine it coming from a lost album of the 80s. However, a title like “Make Love Great Again” could only have come in 2020. Stryper usually stay out of political commentary, but it’s obvious what “There’s a culture building walls, just like vultures consuming all,” is an oblique reference to. While no artist should have to “stay in their lane”, this isn’t the kind of thing I want to be reminded of when I listen to Stryper. Otherwise, the track is a slow metallic Dokken-esque groove, with an uplifting chorus. Perhaps George Lynch has been rubbing off on Michael Sweet, but if Dokken had recorded “Make Love Great Again” in 1987 it would been a single.
Third song “Let Him In” is back to straight preachin’, only it’s preaching from a the open window of a yellow and black ’81 Corvette, rippin’ the tires. The Dokken vibes resume on “Do Unto Others”, with a guitar solo that sounds as if inspired by the School of Rhoads. But then the title track “Even the Devil Believes” sounds like “Breaking the Chains”. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means these songs have a classic vibe that brings back memories and emotions. The chorus has the melodic sensibilities of Harem Scarem while there’s a dual solo a-la the mighty Priest. Stryper then ease up on the pedal with “How to Fly”. Still heavy, but nobody’s racing this time. If anything this recalls some of the better kinds of 90s rock, with still uplifting melodies playing over slower grinds. But then it’s back to biting, vicious and righteous metal on “Divider”.
Something cool happens on “This I Pray”. Out come the acoustics, and we have a ballad that doesn’t sound all that different from Stryper’s celebrated underdog album from 1990, Against the Law. Though Michael Sweet has spoken poorly of it (mainly because they dropped the Christian lyrics), fans have praised the musical direction of that album. “This I Pray” feels the same, but without the lyrical change, and should please many diehards. “Invitation Only” on the other hand brings back the keyboards, and not in a wimpy way at all. More like Marillion. This track sounds like a harder, tougher lost song from In God We Trust.
Moving on to the end, the penultimate “For God & Rock ‘N’ Roll” sounds like a Stryper anthem. Some fun solos and a fist-pumping chorus to go? This sets off “Middle Finger Messiah” (now there’s an image for ya) to thrash its way to the finish line. Kudos to drummer Steven Sweet for laying down the pace for this one. It’s a fully loaded McLaren flying the flag of Jesus, but at least you know what you’re getting with Stryper. Plenty of folks who can’t relate to the lyrics just get off on the music. And “Middle Finger Messiah” sets the phasers on “stun”, especially during the solo/breakdown 2/3rds of the way into the song. The album doesn’t state who is playing which solos, Michael Sweet or Oz Fox, so we’ll just salute the both of ’em.
The Japanese bonus track is an acoustic mix of “This I Pray” which, in this version, is more in the ballpark of later period Cinderella. Once again, not a bad thing. The electric guitars are turned down, letting us hear the nice acoustics, with keyboards providing a little bit of colour.
Here’s the problem with Stryper of late, and it’s a nice problem to have. They’ve put out some pretty awesome albums in recent years. Murder By Pride (2009), No More Hell to Pay (2013), Fallen (2016), and God Damn Evil (2018) all raised the bar, collectively by several measures. Stryper have been so great for a good stretch that it’s almost futile to rate them all numerically. May as just say: yep, they did it again, so go and get it.