the covering

REVIEW: Stryper – The Covering (2011)

STRYPER – The Covering (2011)

In general, I hate covers albums. I remember spendling something like $25 on an Yngwie Malmsteen covers album a long time ago. I came out of that experience $25 lighter for an album I’ll never listen to again. I swore I’d never buy another covers album by a metal band unless I knew I wouldn’t be wasting my money.

Then I started reading about Stryper’s covers album. Stryper? A covers album??

But I was reading good things. Then finally the trusted Tommy Rose posted his Amazon review, and I ordered the album that night. Sold!

The Covering is a damn fine slice of metal, my friends. The cynical must remember that Stryper neither fit in with mainstream Christian rock, nor the mainstream of metal. They have always been outsiders and a lot of their cringe-inducing 80’s music (I’m looking at you, In God We Trust) was due to record company pressure and outside producers. At their hearts, they’ve always been headbanging heavy metal loving Christians, and The Covering proves it.

Featuring the entire classic lineup (Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Tim Gaines, Oz Fox) for the first time in ages, The Covering is the Stryper album to get even the most hardened cynic back into the band. Not that this is the first time, I think Reborn was a damn fine record (check out “Passion”). This however is Stryper at their most accessible and pummeling.

It’s next to impossible to pick favourites, because so many of these songs are ingrained into our collective minds. I found “Breaking The Law” to be absolutely great fun! Stryper’s style and Priest’s style mesh well. Less successful was “Highway Star”. Stryper’s angular, blocky playing doesn’t really complement our memories of Blackmore’s smooth riffing. However a nice fat organ playing Jon Lord’s original arrangement keeps the song from straying too far.

“Blackout” (Scorpions) was interesting because Michael Sweet’s enunciation echoed Klaus Meine’s ever so slightly without becoming parody. I can only surmise that this is due to Sweet knowing that song inside and out, backwards and forwards. “Over the Mountain” (Ozzy Osbourne) was another highlight, as Stryper just nail that Randy Rhoads riff and keep pummeling. “On Fire” (Van Halen) was a pleasant surprise. Oz Fox plays Eddie’s harmonics perfectly, proving he’s got the goods. Not to mention Sweet can hit David Lee Roth’s screams without trouble. (Also without the grit, but that can’t be helped, nobody has David Lee Roth’s grit.) And of course who else could sing Robert Plant’s part on “Immigrant Song”? “Immigrant Song” also features Tim Gaines playing John Paul Jones’ bouncy bass part just perfectly. I’m not too keen on the production in spots, but all I need to do is hear Gaines playing that bass line and I’m back on board!

I can honestly say that, for me, there are only two lowlights to this album. I’ve never been a fan of “Set Me Free” (Sweet) and “Carry On Wayward Son” (Kansas). Yngwie covered “Wayward Son” on his covers album if I remember correctly, and I’ve just never been a fan. “Set Me Free” is one I’ve been sick of for a long time, after hearing numerous covers from Vince Neil and Helix over the years.

Finally, we have the new original Stryper song “God”. Stryper have always felt like they have not been taken seriously as Christians because they have recorded secular music, but “God” is as blatant as it gets. Not to mention it is an absolute ball-crusher. If you don’t know it’s coming next, your first thought as a listener is, “What classic riff are they covering here?” But it’s not a classic riff — it is their own original one, and it’s a great riff to complement this great song. The vocal harmonies soar and hopefully this is a harbinger of what Stryper have in store down the line. The solos are also to die for.

The packaging for this album is great, in digipack, and featuring page after page of comic book artwork.

If you have never bought a Stryper album before, or if you haven’t checked out the band in years, this is the album to get your juices flowing again. Pick it up. Although it is a covers album, it was one of my favourites of 2011.

4/5 stars.

REVIEW: Stryper – Murder By Pride (2009)

Sunday. Time for some Stryper!

STRYPER – Murder By Pride (2009, Big 3 Records)

I was a Stryper fan back in the 80’s, but I was never overwhelmed by the band.  I respected what they were saying, and I never felt like they were “in it for the money”, like some of the other kids at school.   I just didn’t think their 80’s albums were that amazing, hanging on to a sort of Dokken-level of quality as far as I was concerned.  A few good hits, a few good album tracks, but nothing blowing me away like a Van Halen album does.

Since their reunion, though, holy smokes! (Pardon the pun!)  They’ve been awesome, and putting out quality albums.  They have improved with age.  They are better musicians, better singers, better writers, and don’t have hair 12″ tall anymore.  Michael Sweet certainly proved himself on tour with the “other band” he was singing and playing with, Boston!

Murder By Pride is really the first reunion era Stryper that was designed to appeal to the old fans.  While I loved the previous album, Reborn, I fully acknowledge that it’s not an immediate thriller.  Its post-grunge sounds threw a lot of people for a loop, although it contained some great tunes such as “Passion”.  Murder By Pride was the answer to the fans who asked for more melody, more harmony vocals, twin solos and riffs.  That is largerly what they got.  There’s even the odd scream!

Murder By Pride is their best studio album.   It’s got everything — great hard rock songs, great piano ballads, great performances and crisp production that brings out the toughness of the guitars and drums.  The drums (by guest Kenny Aranoff) are absolutely flawless.  If you didn’t know better you’d swear it was Robert Sweet, as he nails that Stryper sound.  I don’t know why Robert didn’t play on the album, as he plays on their current album, the also-smoking The Covering.

If the idea of Christian lyrics throw you for a loop, I won’t lie to you, they haven’t backed down over the years.   If anything they’ve gotten more bold.  (The Covering contained a song just called “God”!)

Key tracks:  Some of the heavy rockers like “Eclipse of the Son”, and “The Plan”.  The Boston cover “Peace of Mind” featuring Tom Scholz on guitar.   The acoustic ballad power “I Believe”.  The stunning title track, with a classic Stryper riff that must be second-cousins with “Free”. If you’re not knocked out by this song, you’re not a Stryper fan!

Great album.  Welcome back Stryper — may you continue to stick to your guns, deliver your message, and rock hard!

4/5 stars