Monday, October 19, 2015

Album Review: Stryper - Fallen

When you think of the hardest working people in rock and metal, a name that might not come to mind is Michael Sweet. But in the last couple of years, he's put out a good late-career record with Stryper, a solo album, a collaborative effort with George Lynch, and now yet another Stryper album. That's a lot of music for someone to be putting out, let alone at this stage of his career. Sweet has been around long enough that he doesn't have to work this hard, since I'm sure most of the fans at Stryper shows don't care a lick if they ever write a new song. It proves that he's in it because he loves what he does, and there's not much more you can ask of a musician.

"Fallen" has been talked up as being the best Stryper album in many a year, and also among their heaviest. Naturally, that makes me a bit curious to see what path they're on, so here we go again.

The album opens with "Yahweh", one of the tracks that was previewed before the release. I thought it the first time I heard it, and I still hold the same opinion; everything about the song is really good except for the chorus, which is what I've heard many people say is one of the best Stryper has ever penned. For me, while the choir-work is beautifully executed, and certainly has the angelic sound they're hoping for, it's just not catchy. The entirety of the chorus is the single name repeated over and over, and there's not much there without the layers and layers of vocals. Production doesn't stand in for songwriting, so I can't say I'm loving it. But the riffs, solos, and the buildup are all quality. It's a good song in need of a better chorus.

The press materials are, for once, right. This is Stryper being as heavy as they've ever been. These songs all live off thick, chugging riffs that make the most of the guitar's range. They're the best part of almost all these songs, playing the kind of riffs that are heavy enough to appeal to metal fans, while still being simple enough to have that Sabbath-esque catchiness to them. Being able to remember riffs after hearing songs is something that I'm sad to say a lot of bands don't seem to take into consideration anymore.

Oddly, where the album doesn't quite hit the mark for me is with Sweet's vocals and melodies. I've heard him say in interviews that this album was written extremely quickly, and while I don't want to dip into the cynical, it sort of sounds like it. His melodies are under-developed, and not often up to the standard they should be. Just look at the opening one-two punch. "Yahweh" and "Fallen" both feature choruses made up almost exclusively of the repetition of one word. That's awfully hard to pull off.

"Pride" is the first official single, and it makes an even more baffling decision, replacing the expected soaring chorus with a screamed approach that doesn't sound very appealing to my ears. "Big Screen Lies" is more appealing, even if you realize the entire hook is only three notes.

I'm not sure if it was a decision to come out of the gates with the heaviest songs first, but stacked in a row are my least favorites. Once we get to "Heaven", things make a turn for the better. That song is the turning point, and the first great track is "Love You Like I Do", which is a bit softer, but not at all a ballad. Sweet's hook is the strongest yet, and the solos are an excellent addition. This strides the line between heavy and melodic perfectly.

The ballad of the record is "All Over Again", which like most ballads, is among my favorite tracks on the record. I'm a sucker for them, mostly because they're the songs where the bands focus their melodic attention. Sweet finally lowers his intensity and sings with some feeling here, and even though this sounds incredibly 80s, I can't help but get swept up in it. Honestly, I'd rather have an entire album of this kind of stuff, but I'm weird like that.

Let me break down the album like this; the back half of the record is as good as anything I can recall hearing from Stryper. There's some really nice songs, culminating in the fantastic closer "King Of Kings". The album is also indeed heavy, and the guitar work throughout is tight, chunky, and laden with groove. Instrumentally, this is all highly enjoyable stuff. My only real issue is that the opening songs have choruses that are too underdeveloped. They aren't unenjoyable, but they give the wrong impression. The fact that those are the songs that have been chosen to represent the album is a source of confusion. It seems to be working, however, so maybe I'm the crazy one. Anyway, two thirds of "Fallen" is Stryper at their best. That's not so bad.

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