It's hard not to come to a new Stryper album and not recall their Eighties glam metal days. I remember, with some fondness, those outrageous yellow and black band uniforms and the cheesy pop metal tunes proclaining the Gospel of Jesus Christ (and throwing out New Testaments). After all, I was (and still am) a believer and there for it all, had all their albums (on CD and vinyl, of course), and saw them twice on the To Hell With The Devil tour in 1987. (Hey guys, if you're reading this, I'd love to have tix to see you again.)
Well, the 'yellow and black attack' is back once more, 30 years into it, with No More Hell To Pay. Vocalist and guitarist Michael Sweet says its the album they should have made after To Hell With The Devil. But it mostly picks up after 2009's Murder By Pride. It's heavier, closer to metal, melodic hard rock written in minor keys, so it should appeal to current modern hard rock fan.
(But, I doubt it will, because Stryper won't compromise: they still sing about Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Good for them. It's the only truth that matters and makes sense in the crazy world.)
Riffage is also bumped up substantially as well as the guitar solos, which are plentiful. But it's unclear, with the information I received, who delivers a solo, Sweet or Oz Fox. Either way, the leads are some of the best you'll hear in hard rock, and likely the strongest part of this record. I always thought Fox was underrated back in the day. Curiously, the vocal harmonies, for which Stryper was famous, seem downplayed. It's not that they're not there. You hear them in Sticks and Stones, Marching Into Battle, and the only ballad The One, where they peak. Brother Robert Sweet and Tim Gaines, on drums and bass respectively, are heavy and steady, but never overwhelm a song. Yet they are significant in presence as within the title track, Saved By Love or Sticks and Stones.
Adding all this up, the course of No More Hell To Pay is rather consistent: that basic heavier, close to metal, melodic hard rock. After the first spin I want to say the listener could stop listening after Sticks and Stones as the remaining songs are lackluster. After the second and third listen, you can stop after Water Into Wine, as both Sympathy and Renewed, while genuine hard rock, simply fall flat.
There's a curious interpretation of Jesus Is Just Alright, written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and made famous by The Byrds and more so by The Doobie Brothers. That latter longer version is what Stryper tackles. The get the riffs, melody and vocal arrangement right. But if you remember The Doobie Brother's version has a serious blues breakdown, and I wasn't sure I liked what Stryper did with it. But now, after several listens, I dig the whole interpretation: it's a good kick ass (yes, you can say 'kick ass' about a Christian band doing music) hard rock version of the song. Next to The One, it's my favorite song here.
No More Hell To Pay displays a more mature, still very talented, Stryper at the top of their game. Okay, sometimes I miss those cheesy yellow and black spandex and leather outfits, and the 'poppy' side like Reach Out and Calling On You. And I still think Robert Sweet looks like a man-chick (see image at right), but Stryper rocks, regardless of whether Jesus is just alright with you. Easily recommended.
No More Hell To Pay displays a more mature, still very talented, Stryper at the top of their game.
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