stryper

Best of 2020 Part 5: Nigel Tufnel Top Ten Albums and More of 2020

2020 may have sucked, but the music didn’t.  This year I bought and reviewed more new releases than ever before, which I narrowed down to the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten studio albums of 2020 listed below.

I would like to dedicate this list to my good pal Uncle Meat who originated the concept of a “Nigen Tufnel Top Ten” earlier this year.  It has become our thing.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2020

11. Now or Never – III

10. Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

9. Sven Gali – 3 (EP)

8. Kim Mitchel – The Big Fantasize

7. Corey Taylor – CMFT

6. Stryper – Even the Devil Believes

5. Harem Scarem – Change the World

4. Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol 1

3. AC/DC – Power Up

2. Deep Purple – Whoosh!

1. Storm Force – Age of Fear

 

Storm Force’s debut album goes straight to #1 on their very first appearance!  No surprise here.  I’ve been raving about this disc since February and I owe it to Superdekes for putting these guys on my radar in the first place.  This is a well-deserved #1.  Age of Fear is an uplifting album with depth.  It’s a thoughtful, heart-pounding blast of classic hard rock.

Deep Purple’s Whoosh! and AC/DC’s PWRUP prove two things:  old dogs that both learn and don’t learn new tricks can all be champions.  (I call this theory “Schrödinger’s Dog”.) Deep Purple’s growth continues while AC/DC managed to tap into the vein of success that always worked for them.  Both records deserve their spots in the Top 3.

It was a thrill for me to learn that Dennis DeYoung both read and enjoyed my review of his newest album 26 East Vol 1.  It’s a terrific, Styx-like conceptual work that will please the old fans.  As will the new albums by Harem Scarem and Stryper, who didn’t stray far from their successful classic hard rock formulas.  Kim Mitchell and Sven Gali on the other hand dared to be different.  Kim went laid back and acoustic, while Sven Gali went with their heaviest uninhibited inclinations.  As for Mr. Bungle, it has been 21 years since their last album California.  All four Bungle studio albums are completely different from one another — four different genres.  For The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, they teamed up with Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo to re-record their first thrash metal demo tape.  And it could be their best album since the self-titled debut in 1991.  Not bad for a bunch of songs they wrote in highschool.

Corey “Mother Fuckin'” Taylor makes his debut on any list of mine with his solo album CMFT.  It’s a surprising collection of commercial hard rockin’ tunes.  Also appearing for the first time is Now Or Never (NoN) with their third album called III, featuring singer Steph Honde.  It’s an excellent, dramatic metal album with light and shade.


BONUS LISTS

Most disappointing:  Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man

Song of the year:  LeBrain Train by T-Bone Erickson

Single of the Year:  Mammoth WVH – “Distance”

Ultimately whether or not you liked the new Ozzy, its success or failure falls at the feet of producer/guitarist Andrew Watt.  He is already working on the next Ozzy album, so….

Huge thanks to T-Bone Erickson for the “LeBrain Train” theme song, which amazingly and unexpectedly became the song of the year in 2020!  Weird how that happened.  No bias here I assure you.

Finally, Wolfgang Van Halen finally released his first solo music under the name Mammoth WVH.  The non-album single “Distance” is dedicated to his late father Eddie.  Though musically it’s a modern power ballad, the lyrics and especially the music video evoke serious emotion.  Well done Wolfgang.  Can’t wait to check out his album in 2021.


TOP FIVE LIVE OR COMPILATION ALBUMS IN 2020

5. Metallica – S&M2

4. Thin Lizzy – Rock Legends

3. Sloan – B Sides Win Vol. 1 1992-1997

2. Def Leppard – The Early Years 78-81

1. Iron Maiden – Nights of the Dead – Legacy of the Beast

There were a lot of cool rock releases in 2020, so we need more lists!  Of course the brilliant new live Maiden deserved some loving attention.  Meanwhile, Sloan, Def Leppard and Thin Lizzy have continued to put out quality collections of rarities & unreleased material, well worth the time and money you’ll spend on them.  The Sloan collection is a vinyl exclusive and the first in a series of LPs re-releasing some of their B-sides and non-album and bonus tracks.  Finally, Metallica delivered the goods even without Michael Kamen on S&M2, a very different live set than the first S&M.  That’s the way to do it!


BEST LOCKDOWN SINGLE

5. Queen + Adam Lambert – “You Are the Champions”

4. Scorpions – “Sign of Hope”

3. Marillion – “Made Again 2020”

2. Marillion – “Easter 2020”

1. Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up”


 

A LOOK AHEAD AT 2021

It’s naive to assume that major touring and concerts will return in 2021.  This appears highly optimistic at present, with Covid still ravaging the landscape and vaccinations only just beginning.  Instead of looking ahead at things like the resuming Kiss tour, or the Motley Crue reunion, we should continue to put our faith in new music.

Accept have a new album due January 15 intriguingly titled Too Mean to Die.  It is their first without bassist Peter Baltes.  Steven Wilson has a new record out at the end of that month.  In February we get new Foo Fighters, The Pretty Reckless, Willie Nelson and Alice Cooper.  Greta Van Fleet, Weezer, Rob Zombie, Ringo Starr, and Thunder will be back soon too.  Many other bands are writing and recording without an announced due date.  Ghost, Marillion, Scorpions, Megadeth and even Ratt are hard at work to make next year suck a little less.  Support the bands by buying the music.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Stryper – Even the Devil Believes (2020 Japanese version)

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.

5/5 strypes

REVIEW: Rulers of Rock – Various Artists (1988 cassette)

RULERS OF ROCK (1988 PolyTel)

When the front cover features crumbled tinfoil, you know you’re in for a seriously good time.

This tape still sounds amazing!  It was a gift 30 years ago from an old girlfriend, and it somehow survived all my cassette purges (even the one that sent most of them to Thunder Bay.)

From the fine folks at PolyTel, you get an assortment of hot rock that makes for a remarkably good listen today.  Opening with Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” you couldn’t ask for a better embarkation point.  That goes right into the back-to-basics brilliance of “Love Removal Machine” by the Cult.  I remember that old girlfriend really hated The Cult, so it was kind of her to give this to me.  I didn’t have Electric yet, so this was my first ownership of the song.

The Ozzman cometh on “The Ultimate Sin”, still relentless today even though Ozzy tries to ignore most of the Ultimate Sin era.  Ozzy and Jake made some incredible music together and this is one.  The cassette swings back towards hair metal with Cinderella and their early hit “Nobody’s Fool” from 1986.  On tape, the ballad sounds thicker and heavier.  It also appears to be the full length version and not a single edit.  Up next, it’s the non-metal of The Alarm, but “Rain in the Summertime” fits like a glove.  It’s really no softer than “Living on a Prayer” when you think about it.  Unfortunately the cassette has a warbly spot right in the middle of the song.  Kiss close the side with the softest one yet:  “Reason to Live” from Crazy Nights.

Flipping the tape, side two opens with a hit just about equal to the one that commenced side one.  The keyboards sound carpet-deep on tape, as you recognise “The Final Countdown” by Europe.  If there were only two bands battling for rock supremacy in 1987, it was Bon Jovi vs. Europe.  Side one vs side two!

Our first Canadian content is predictably by Rush.  Hey, it had to be either Rush or Bryan Adams.  “Time Stand Still” featuring Aimee Mann was the kind of mainstream hit perfect for a tape like this.  Less predictable is the presence of Yngwie Malmsteen with “Fire” from Trilogy, a song totally out of character for a tape with The Alarm and Cinderella.  Deep Purple are next to crash the party with 1987’s Bad Attitude.  Once again, it was my first time owning a song.  I imagine Deep Purple with a little less shocking next to Yngwie, though probably just as unfamiliar to an unsuspecting buyer.

Why not a little Christian content, since so many styles of rock are represented here?  Stryper’s “Honestly” may sound like a romance, but it’s a cleverly disguised prayer.  And finally, because why not? It’s “Hourglass” by Squeeze!  I was 17 years old, and I hated it!  Different story today.

30 years down the road, Rulers of Rock was a delightfully entertaining listen with twists, turns and surprises.  And it’s still the only place I own those Squeeze and Alarm songs!

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Stryper – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Avalon Japan)

Stryper kill it live.  This is evident right from the starter’s gun on the band’s 2014 album Live at the Whiskey.  Pulling no punches, they tear immediately into the Priest-like “Legacy” from the acclaimed No More Hell to Pay.  Anybody who showed up that night expecting frills and lace hasn’t been paying attention.

Another newbie, “Marching into Battle”, which sounds as if it could have rolled off the same assembly line as Soldiers Under Command, wields riffs like swords.  Vocal sweetening is unfortunately obvious.  Most fans would prefer to hear bum notes or missed words over two Michael Sweets singing at once.

The first oldie is a goodie for sure:  “You Know What to Do”, followed immediately by “Loud N’ Clear”, both from the original Yellow and Black Attack.  As if trying to cram all their best early hooks into this one segment of the show, the trinity of “Reach Out”, “Calling to You” and  “Free” are rolled out one by one.  Robert Sweet (Stryper’s “visual timekeeper”) is far heavier live, imbuing the songs with more tonnage.

Heavier metal returns on “More Than a Man” which could have been Iron Maiden if the lyrics weren’t about receiving Jesus in your heart.  After “The Rock That Makes Me Roll”, Stryper returned to their present day with the awesome “No More Hell to Pay”, riffy and slow, like soaring Dio-era Sabbath. “If the dawn reveals the end of days, I’ll follow You till there’s no more hell to pay.” It’s a catchier chorus than it reads, and it’s followed by “Jesus is Just Alright With Me” which is basically all chorus and guitar solo!

Stryper didn’t ignore their most pop album, 1988’s In God We Trust.  The hit single “Always There For You” is stripped bare of its keyboards and re-arranged for blowing speakers.  Even Against the Law, from a brief period when Stryper dropped religion from their lyrics, is visited.  “One For All” was one of the heavier tracks from that great LP, and the lyrics maintain a positive outlook.  Focus then returns to the first cluster of albums with “The Way”, “To Hell With the Devil” and of course “Soldiers Under Command”.  No more mistaking the message now!  “Oh, oh, oh, what did you say?  Oh, oh, oh, Christ is the way!”  In the early days, Stryper were far less poetic, but they sure were heavy.

As is the norm, Japan received a bonus track for their pressing of Live at the Whiskey, and it’s actually a studio song. “All of Me” is the only ballad on the album, a spot-on re-recording from To Hell With the Devil.  Aside from the lower key, it’s almost identical.  One has to assume it’s an also-ran from 2013’s Second Coming album.  Can’t have too many ballads on one album, of course.  Valuable bonus tracks are always appreciated.  This one came as a bit of a surprise.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – Second Coming (2013 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Second Coming (2013 Avalon Japan)

Re-recordings?  Who needs ’em?  Well, in Stryper’s case, you might!

Let’s be blunt.  There are some 80s bands who sound better today than they did when they were the most popular.  Voices change, skills improve, but production values have also evolved.  Stryper’s early albums were great but they don’t have the gut-punch sonics of Stryper today.  What’s wrong with some older, wiser and heavier versions?  It’s not as if Stryper were foisting these upon the fans instead of writing new music.  They never stopped writing and releasing new albums.  Second Coming is a nice treat, and also a way to get consistent versions of the old songs that can sit on a mix CD with the new ones.

Second Coming begins with the first EP (The Yellow and Black Attack), and the songs “Loud N’ Clear” and “Loving You”.  They’ve never sounded heavier, and Michael Sweet’s voice is still a powerful one.  Shame “You Know What To Do” wasn’t updated as well, since that’s such an awesome song.

Get in line, you soldiers, for up next is “Soldiers Under Command”.  Sure, the voices aren’t as high as they once were, but sometimes an older voice has more character.  That’s certainly the case for Michael Sweet, who is twice the singer now.  “Soldiers” can stand proudly next to the original as a slightly different but no less excellent monument.  There are a generous number of songs (six) from Soldiers Under Command, including a stunning “Reach Out”.

The beloved To Hell With the Devil album gets five more inclusions, including “Free” and “Calling On You”, though not “Honestly”.  Second Coming is light on ballads, with only “First Love” representing them.  In one way it’s cool that Second Coming is kept heavy.  In another, it’s too bad we didn’t get new versions of tracks like “Honestly” or “I Believe in You”.  There is also nothing from In God We Trust or beyond.  (Granted, they already re-recorded that title track on 2005’s Reborn.)  In essence, Second Coming collects some of the best and heaviest material from the first EP and two albums.

And new songs too!  Since their triumphant reunion, Stryper have scarcely slowed down, releasing a constant stream of acclaimed heavy metal albums.  The two new songs here are “Bleeding From the Inside Out” and “Blackened” (not the Metallica song).  The heavy vibe continues.  “Bleeding” has a solid, groovy riff and an adventurous arrangement including piano and patented harmonies.    “Blackened” just slams.  Robert Sweet’s one of the hardest hitting drummers out there, and that’s what he does on “Blackened”.  Tim Gaines gets a bass groove going off that and it’s a slamdance from there.  Count on melodies, solos and harmonies to help soften those jagged guitars.

Japan always gets the bonus tracks, and they got a good one this time.  Second Coming needed more ballads; Stryper’s success always had a foot in ballads.  “Together As One” is the added bonus track, a simple version with Michael accompanied by piano and strings.  Lucky, lucky Japan!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – The Roxx Regime Demos (2007, 2019 vinyl edition)

Stay tuned this week for a slew of Stryper — every album this week is an edition with bonus tracks!

STRYPER – The Roxx Regime Demos (2007, 2019 coloured vinyl reissue)

Before we get to Stryper, you know what I’m sick of?  Vinyl reissues.  Charge me $30 or $40 bucks for some coloured version of a record I’ve bought three times already?  I could walk into any store and walk out with a dozen coloured vinyl reissues of stuff I have on CD.  Who cares anymore?

Stryper cares.*

Original CD cover

In 2007, Stryper released and album of their earliest demos when they were known as Roxx Regime.  (Fun fact:  they released it on July 7 2007, or 777.)  The album had eight songs, some of which made it onto later albums like The Yellow and Black Attack and To Hell With the Devil.  When they issued the album on vinyl this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Stryper.com, they did it right:  three bonus tracks included!  They also gave it a new cover.

Upon dropping the needle on this lovely clear blue and yellow record, it’s immediately Stryper.  The lineup is the classic:  the Sweet brothers Michael and Robert, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines.  The Stryper sound was there from the start: shards of metal paired with angelic harmonies and blatantly Christian lyrics.  The recordings are expectedly rougher than the album versions you’re used to, which is one reason people buy these demo albums.

“You Know What to Do” one side one is the track that stands out as special.  The others form a backdrop of yellow and black soundalikes, solid enough but not unique.  There’s also an early ballad called “You Won’t Be Lonely” that is missing the magic of “Honestly” on side two.  Some odd drum fills for a ballad too, and a cowbell too?

“Co’mon Rock” on side two borders on thrash metal, lyrics aside of course.  Bang thy head; it’s a corny ass-kicker.  “Tank” is an interesting drum solo, brief and pounding.  That leads into the first bonus track, an alternate demo of “My Love I’ll Always Show” from side one.  The song has some cool components, but at least Stryper added value to the reissue by offering a second demo of it.  Same with “Loud N Clear”, even rougher than the more polished demo on side one.  The drums sound more like a machine press than a musical instrument!  Then, Lord have mercy, another version of “You Won’t Be Lonely”, including cowbell!

The best track among the Roxx Regime Demos is a nearly perfect version of the hit ballad “Honestly”.  Why did it take three albums for these guys to finally release “Honestly”?  This demo has piano and keyboards but relies mostly on an acoustic arrangement.  It’s more lullaby-like, but still gleams with the class that the final song boasts in droves.  Check out the keyboard solo!

The whole thing amounts to 40 minutes of music including the bonus tracks, so the Anniversary Edition of Roxx Regime is the version that collectors and real fans want to grab.

2.5/5 stars

3/5 stars for the reissue

 

*Maybe they don’t after all.  Shortly after this LP arrived, Stryper announced a CD reissue with the bonus tracks intact.

 

 

VHS Archives #14: Stryper on the Power Hour (1990)

On location in Hollywood, MuchMusic spoke to Tim Gaines and Oz Fox of Stryper about their new album Against the Law!  Cast your memories back to 1990.  Stryper told the bold step of dropping the Christian lyrics and yellow-and-black outfits.  It was a move that they expressed regret about later, but check out the young Stryper’s perspective in this interesting Power Hour clip.

REVIEW: Stryper – God Damn Evil (2018 Japanese import)

STRYPER – God Damn Evil (2018 Frontiers Japan)

Timothy Gaines ejected from Stryper, unfortunately not on the best of terms.  He was swiftly replaced by Perry Richardson of Firehouse, who fit into the rock regime smoothly and easily.  God Damn Evil is Stryper’s first with the new bassist, but latest in a long string of credible and crucial Christian metal albums.

But first a word about Walmart, who refused to stock this album based on the title alone.

This exemplifies two huge problems in society today.  One:  the inability to think for oneself.  Two:  pandering in fear to the whims of the general public.  Walmart were afraid they’d get complaints about an album called God Damn Evil, and so refused to offer it.  It’s patently obvious what the title means; just look at the cover art.  God is damning the evil.  Spelling it out even further, the evil is clearly depicted as “money”.  (Maybe the corporate mega-giant doesn’t like this anti-capitalism message.)

Maybe Stryper should have titled this album God Damn, People Are Stupid.  You can’t buy God Damn Evil at Walmart, but you can buy Night of the Demons on Blu-ray.  Go figure.

The music is what matters most, and the word on the street is that God Damn Evil is their best album yet.

That’s a tough claim.  After all, Fallen and No More Hell to Pay are both excellent metal albums, and surely rank among Stryper’s top five.  God Damn Evil shares a similar heavy direction, and even matching cover art, forming an ad-hoc trilogy.  The new one is the heaviest of the three.  Fans were taken aback by lead track “Take It to the Cross”, the closest Stryper have been to thrash metal.  From guttural grunts to screams so high they border on self-parody, “Take It to the Cross” is aural shrapnel of the best kind.

The only other track that comes close to “Take It to the Cross” in terms of speed is the Priest-like closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”.  There is no question that Stryper can make metal as gleaming as their heroes do.

More traditional is “Sorry”, a metal groove with a slaying chorus on top.  It’s one of many contenders for “favourite song”, along with a swaggering “Own Up”.  “Lost” reduces the tempo, but not the power.  The message is there too, but not overwhelming.  Anyone can headbang along.  The title track “God Damn Evil” is unexpectedly different, being a straightforward hard rock tune with an anthemic chorus.  Stryper fear no evil in “The Valley”, a heavy metal retelling of Psalm 23 (“the valley of the shadow of death”).  Another top track is “Beautiful” which bears a Sabbath groove the likes of which is the basis of the genre.  It’s melodic, but not a ballad.  There’s only one of those:  “Can’t Live Without Your Love”, available in Japan in two versions.  The standard 80s-sounding power ballad would stand proudly next to “Is This Love” by Whitesnake.  The Japan-exclusive acoustic version is even better.

The highlights are many, and filler nonexistent.  Without giving up a shade of their integrity, Stryper have managed to remain true to their origins and yet evolve into higher, heavier grooves.  The key is the eternal youth of singer Michael Sweet.

Although some still think Stryper are a synonym with bad 80s bands, you’d be wrong to discount them now.  Stryper may well indeed have done their best album in 2018.

5/5 stars

Intermission: Mail Call!

The mailman has been busy this last week or so.  Just look at the goodies!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” Record Store Day single

DEF LEPPARD – Live at Abbey Road Studios 12″ Record Store Day EP

RAINBOW – Memories in Rock II Japanese CD – 2 bonus tracks

STRYPER – God Damn Evil Japanese CD – bonus track

STEPH HONDE – Covering the Monsters 

DALE SHERMAN – Mel Brooks FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Outrageous Genius of Comedy books – one for me, one for my dad’s 80th birthday!  SHHH don’t tell.  He doesn’t read this!

 

 

 

 

 

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