That Stryper’s twelfth studio full-length, God Damn Evil, starts out with a frankly awful song that features death growls from a member of Shadows Fall just goes to prove what difficult, confusing times we live in.
Take it to the Cross is the offending composition, and to stay it stinks like Billingsgate Fish Market at the end of a hot Summer’s day is an understatement. Stryper are a band with a proud tradition of marrying melody to muscles, so what they think they are up to on TittC is anyone’s guess.
Happily, this sorry state of affairs seems to be the result of a brain fade suffered only momentarily by the band and everyone around them. Second track Sorry is a bona fide Stryper stomper, as is nest track Lost, wherein frontman Michael Sweet unleashes that scream again and again, in the process reminding us all that he’s still one of the best in the business when it comes to down-the-line heavy metal wailing. To paraphrase the mighty Pink Floyd: We don’t need no death rock grunting…
Then comes the title track. My word.
God Damn Evil is pure, unadulterated primetime Stryper. Chunky riffs, gang vocals, singalong choruses a go-go, this is the sort of song that made us love this band in the first place all those years ago, even if we didn’t catch on of those bibles they used to chuck out at shows (unlike Mrs Strickmann, who was the lucky recipient of Stryper largesse at their Hammersmith show in 1987. Not that I’m bitter).
You Don’t Know Me is a bit grungy, although anything sung by Sweet always reaches the stratosphere even when the music’s dark and doomy. This song sounds a bit like a relative of the Kiss album we’re not allowed to like, Carnival of Souls. But better, obviously. Much better.
The Valley is classic US power metal, built on a quotation from Psalm 23 and a slow, quasi-gallop from Sweet and six string partner Oz Fox; Think Iced Earth at their mid-period best and double the riff power and you’re getting close. It’s histrionic, it’s overblown, it’s pompous and it’s one of the standouts of the album.
Next track Sea of Thieves motors along nicely without moving any mountains, but the same can’t be said for the totally epic Beautiful. In simple terms, this is Stryper at their melodic best, pulling out a song that could easily have found a home on In We God We Trust. A massive, spine tingling solo, a similarly gargantuan chorus, massed backing vocals, dramatic skinpounding from Robert Sweet… welcome back to the eighties!
Of course it’s going to be hard to top such a song, and wisely the band don’t try to try, opting instead for a slinky, Whitesnake-style ballad in the shape of Can’t Live Without Your Love which features some soulful lead work and, of course, another top drawer vocal from that man Sweet. How does he keep doing it when one by one his contemporaries falter and fail? I don’t know, but we should all, well, give praise that he can. You either like Stryper’s ballads or loathe them, but this is up their with their best so I’ll leave further judgement up to you.
Penultimate track Own Up goes nowhere but at least goes there riffily and with a half decent chorus,, leaving closer The Devil Doesn’t Live Here to round things out with a fast-paced boogie that’ll get heads nodding and fists banging without a doubt. And of course there’s a big singalong chorus to get stuck into as well if you’re so minded.
So, after that horrendous start Stryper turn it around and deliver a tidy album that really is about as good as they’ve managed in any of their twenty first century incarnations. They’ve given up – largely – trying to outheavy themselves and settled instead for playing to their many strengths, the upshot of which is an edifyingly listenable collection of true metal anthems that fans old and new are going o lap up. Tremendous work, reverend blokes!
God Damn Evil is released on April 20 through Frontiers Music.