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