Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Album Review: Stryper - God Damn Evil

Stryper in recent years have fallen victim to a sad trend, where band after band feels the pressure to make their latest work their heaviest, if for no other reason than to say "it's our heaviest record ever!" The thing that gets lost is that 'heavy' is a description, not a demarcation of quality. I can point to countless records that prove heavy music can be absolutely retched, and lighter music can be great. So while Stryper's recent albums have all been pretty good, their constant decree that they are heavier than ever makes me wonder if they're missing the whole point.

That was put into sharp focus when they released the album opening "Take It To The Cross" to start the album cycle. It was supposed to show how crushingly heavy Stryper is now, but it created controversy due to the fact it was the least Stryper song ever, and featured a chorus so absurd it single-handedly reversed the decades of work Stryper has done to overcome their initial status as a bit of a joke to 'real' metal fans. Yes, that song is that bad. But we have an entire record following it. Do they atone for that sin?

That's not the easiest question to answer. Like most of the music Michael Sweet has been pumping out across his various projects in recent years, there are positives and negatives to be found. The second single, "Sorry", is classic Stryper, with a simple guitar riff that sets the tone, and a chorus that hits the right melodic tone. It's the kind of song that gets written off for either being too simple, or too soft, but it's what good records are built off; solid songs that give a solid base so the new elements have a core to return to.

Then there's the title track, which is the most 80s of all the songs. The way Sweet builds the chorus, with the chanting backing vocals behind him, is ripped right out of their heyday. Fans of the old days are going to love it, even if the wordplay could be considered a bit forced for the same of buzz.

Also interesting is the mix of the record, which puts the bass right up front with the guitars. It's rare to hear a metal record with this much bass in it, and I wonder how much of that was to showcase their newest member. It certainly makes "God Damn Evil" stand out and not sound like every other record coming down the river. That is never a bad thing.

But there are some negatives here. "Take It To The Cross" is the most obvious, but there is also "Lost", where Sweet spends the entire chorus belting out uncomfortable high notes. It isn't very melodic, and it doesn't sound particularly good either. It isn't that strongest part of his voice.

To swing back to the positive, Stryper is still very good when they stick to what they do best. "You Don't Even Know" is a fun, anthemic track, while "The Valley" mines the well of Egyptian themes for a nice, more epic feeling song. They showcase Stryper at their best, using simplicity to put the focus on the songwriting. Those kinds of songs also make some of their decisions, like the opener, even more confusing. They have been earning a lot of good will in this latest run with albums that were heavy yet classic, and proved Stryper could be a serious machine when they want to be.

Which brings us to judgment day (See what I did there? I can pun too) for "God Damn Evil". If you're tempted to judge the album from "Take It To The Cross", please don't. That song is such an outlier we can pretend it doesn't exist. Once you get past that, you get another modern Stryper record that is simple heavy metal delivering easy to digest songs that should go down well on tour. Michael Sweet still sounds great when he doesn't push his voice where it doesn't belong, and the majority of this record is classic Stryper. Maybe we consider this a conceptual record, where "Take It To The Cross" is the personification of evil, and Stryper spends the rest of the record damning it back to whatever hell it came from. If I think about it that way, it works.

However you view it, Stryper continues on as they have been, mostly hitting the right marks, and delivering another album that more than stands up to anything their 80s brethren have been up to.

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