It's not always easy to stand for your convictions. It's also not easy when you stand so tall that others on your side start to look at you with a curious and, sometimes, judgmental eye. Since their first release in 1984, Stryper has been known to take a bold stand for their faith, but occasionally in controversial ways.
In 1986, they released the Platinum-selling album "To Hell With The Devil." That album received some backlash from the Christian retail community, both by the title and the album art (which they changed). But it ended up becoming the best-selling Christian rock album until P.O.D.'s "Satellite," the album became the first to have two simultaneous hits on the MTV Top 10, it earned a Grammy nomination, and its most popular single, "Honestly," cracked the Top 40.
They disbanded after a relatively controversial album, "Against The Law" (a period when they did compromise their message), but they returned in 2003 to bring new music. And since they released "Second Coming" in 2013 on Frontiers, they have proven to the world that they are a force that they cannot be stopped with.
But "To Hell With The Devil" released 32 years ago. While the devil still is wrecking the world that he dominates, there has been a decrease of rock bands on the covers of Billboard with devil hands and 666. Instead, there has been a reported rise of school shooting (according to some, there are less today than 30 years ago, but the media certainly has been reporting more today than 30 years ago) and terrorist attacks on our soil. So the title of the new album is a prayer, according to the members. It's a prayer for God to "damn" evil.
"Damn" is considered a very strong word. It is usually used as a cuss word, especially when paired up with God's name. But it is a word that even the Bible used as a synonym for the word "condemn." Obviously, fans were relatively divided on Stryper's word usage for the title.
(This opening is not meant to convince people that their word usage is correct or to convince people that Stryper's usage is correct. I am simply stating the facts and to say that the title of the album does not entirely affect the content of the album.)
Nevertheless, indeed have a fresh offering to present their fans and the rock community. Michael Sweet is sure that it would "Rock The Hell Out Of You," listing it as his favorite album of all Stryper albums, and the label agrees. Now, with the majority agree?
Unless you've been living under a rock, you may already know that "Take It To The Cross" has fans divided left and right. Why? Well, the song does start with a very long (over a minute long) and dark-sounding intro. Then with no warning, the band kicks in and low "ohh oh-oh-oh"s fill your ears. Then Michael Sweet starts singing, and many fans were thinking, "Finally, a new Stryper song!" But, the chorus kicked in and many fans were shocked: "TAKE IT TO THE CROSS TAKE IT TO THE CROSS TAKE IT TO THE CROSS / TAKE IT TO THE CROSS TAKE IT TO THE CROSS TAKE IT TO THE CROSS / TAKE IT TO THE CROSS TAKE IT TO THE CROSS TAKE IT TO THE CROSS." Half the fans were not expecting (nor were they pleased) with the thrashy chorus. The other half praised the song, either for being Stryper fanatics, or because the genuinely enjoy trash-based music. While I was on the, dare I say, conservative side of the spectrum, I have slowly added this song to my playlists simply because it's Stryper.
The second single, "Sorry" assured fans that the Stryper sound has not been compromised. But this song shines in their discography in that it shows that they know how to speak from real issue. Michael Sweet said that this song is written from perspective of one in a broken relationship. Even though the subject matter is deep, it very much is a "Sing Along Song."
"Lost" is another song that may take some people by surprise, but this time in a good way. The verses accurately describe the state that America, as a whole, seem to be. But it's the chorus that will penetrate and strike the hearts of most who will listen: "Are we lost? / At what cost?" This song may cause people to take a hard look at their lives, or to take time to pray for the citizens of their country.
Then comes the title track. The opening reminds me of Michael Sweet's song "One Way Up," but it is its own unique song. (Michael Sweet has been calling this song 2018's version of "To Hell With The Devil." If he meant that in lyrics and message, I totally agree. But when it comes to the music, it doesn't compare.) But the lyrics have a strong request for the Lord: "God damn evil / God damn it all / God save the people / But God damn the walls." Despite the relatively slow, yet powerful, beat, it features a powerful message that should make us all think and pray harder.
The next song, "You Don't Even Know," is one of the most powerful anthem-based songs on the album. This is a defiant cry against wicked authority that tries to manipulate the way we live: "You continue to show me / That you're only a fraud."
"The Valley" is based upon the comforting words of the well-known Twenty-Third Psalm. "Ye though I walk through the shadow of death, I fear no evil." This song will encourage those who need to be reminded of these words and has a hard hitting riff.
Listening to "Sea Of Thieves," it's one of those songs that it's like "It's Stryper" but at the same time, it doesn't fully feel like Stryper (like "After Forever" on "Fallen"). It's one of those songs that's a little confusing (at least in my opinion), but I'm sure there will be those who will jam to this.
This album has two slow love songs that go hand in hand. "Beautiful" is the first, with touching lyrics from one lover to the other: "I can see the good in you / Even if you never do / Tell me will you ever believe?" The chorus affirms that and Michael Sweet sings, "You are beautiful / You are wonderful / Your life is meaningful / You will always be to me beautiful." If your loved one is feeling down, this is the song they need to hear. This has a "typical" Stryper feel to it, but will probably win people over time.
The second love song is "Can't Live Without Your Love" (which is honestly a little heavy for a ballad). This song was written from the idea that he doesn't always take the time to verbally express his love for his wife, and thus wrote a whole song expressing that love. I think this song has soaring guitars that will be remembered more than the fact that it was supposed to be the ballad of the album.
"Own Up" will get people's heads rocking and fists pumping again with a crunch that people may compare to "Pride," but "Own Up" is its own song. This is a cry to those who lie: "You can't just phone up / And say that it wasn't me / You're gonna have to own up." This is one of those songs that people occasionally might hear you singing at random.
"You've spent a lifetime / Hiding from the final law /But when you bow before the King / You'll have to answer for it all." "The Devil Doesn't Live Here" is one of those songs that will just take off during a Stryper concert. Full of energy and power, this song declares Jesus' authority on this earth. This is the perfect closer of the album that points out the source of the evil, and the One who should damn it all
In writing a review, I usually don't like reading other people's review of the album I'm trying to review. I start to indirectly copy their thoughts because they start to shape my thoughts. But I honestly couldn't resist reading other review while reviewing this album. This album is one of the most anticipated rock releases of the year (I think the view count of "Take It To The Cross" and "Sorry" say it all), and the hype is real. I see nothing but pure positivity about the album. One reviewer called it the "most satisfying" Stryper release. And I can understand that.
I think that "No More Hell To Pay" became a little lyrically boring, but musically diverse (and the vocals could have been a little better, namely in "Saved By Love" and "Renewed"). And "Fallen" was too long (namely "The Calling" and "Til I Get What I Need" are filler songs in my opinion, and while "Let There Be Light" is lyrically preschoolish, it has one of the greatest riffs on the album), but musically engaging . . . and repetitive.
"God Damn Evil" is their most musically diverse album and has some of the strongest lyrics in their history. "Lost" rips the heart, and the title track is thought-provoking (more than "To Hell With The Devil" will ever be). Musically, "Own Up" throws heavy punches, while "You Don't Even Know" has potential to be a future rock anthem. But "God Damn Evil" also features Stryper at its most generic moments. I think "Beautiful" is a perfect example of that statement. Don't get me wrong, it's a great song, but while listening to it, I was thinking that it does have a quality that's like "This sums up a ton of Stryper songs." "The Devil Doesn't Live Here" is another typical Stryper song, especially when using the phrase "sold out."
But I have to remind myself to step back. Really, there aren't a ton of ultra-"negative" qualities of the album. There are a ton of gems on the album. There are a ton of aspects of the album that are very hard to embrace as a Stryper fan (from the thrash in "Take It To The Cross" to the typicalness in "Beauitful"), but some things that they did absolutely right. And some of the things that I didn't enjoy at first are growing on me and becoming my jams.
I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I can't help it. Michael Sweet really did write from personal feelings and was very honest. We can hear that in "Lost." And some songs have some of the heaviest songs in history, like "You Don't Even Know." And some songs that you'll just rock your head to, like "The Devil Doesn't Live Here" (I didn't make it clear; I do love this song).
Was I impressed when I first spun it? Yes. But was I disappointed when I first spun it? Ah, yes. But has it won me over? Not completely, but yes.
All that to say, if you are a Stryper fan, the hype is still real and you HAVE TO make time to listen to this album. I can't say that this is the perfect introductory album for new fans. Either "To Hell With The Devil"/"Second Coming" or "Fallen" would be my first suggestions. But "God Damn Evil" would probably be right behind those recommendations.
"Second Coming" was "heavier." Then "No More Hell To Pay" was their "heaviest." Then "Fallen" was touted to be their "heaviest." But in my opinion, "God Damn Evil" is their "edgiest."
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