The following commentary is from NRT staffer and longtime Stryper appreciator JJ Francesco.
Stryper, you are one of the most recognizable names in Christian music. Your classic '80s metal sound that you execute so well embodies what it means to be iconic. While Christian metal has since carved a niche for itself, you blazed a trail of bold vertical lyrics set against blistering metal guitars long before it was cool. But despite decades of roaring success, you've been accused time and time again of venturing over the line. Let's take a look at some of the greatest hits:
God Damn Evil
Most recently, your new album is called God Damn Evil. What could go wrong with a title like that? Never mind the fact that the words are used in their literal meaning, calling for God to banish evil to where it belongs. When words have become associated with profane and blasphemous slang for so long, you couldn't possibly expect people to ever accept a proper usage of them in their literal intended contexts.
The "Death Metal Song"
What better way to lead off a controversial album like God Damn Evil than with a song that goes where no Stryper song has gone before? "Take It To The Cross" has verses that are familiar enough within the clean power metal framework Stryper has owned for decades, but that chorus? Get ready for the vocal pounding of a death metal song.
The Original "Hell" Album
You wouldn't think that "To Hell With the Devil" would be such a controversial concept, would you? I mean, isn't that where the enemy belongs? But of course, we wouldn't be Christians if we weren't offended any time that word appears. Back in the day, not only did this title cause quite a stir-up, but the album's initial artwork sparked some backlash too (it depicted 4 angels casting the devil into hell). Apparently, thousands were traumatized by this unsettling violence (The Walking Dead hadn't desensitized us yet). So subsequent releases adopted a more benign black cover with the band's logo on it. I guess you were prepping for the digital revolution making album covers bland early, huh Stryper?
That Time Stryper Went Against The Law
So you managed to become pretty successful singing that Jesus metal, and then you decided to release just one album focused more on human experiences? You had to know there'd be trouble, especially when you shed your signature logo too. Now sure, it seems you wanted to show the mainstream market that you weren't just mindlessly putting out the same thing album after album. That, and you were also answering many of your Christian critics. Who could possibly fault that? Apparently, your Christian critics.
Stryper Enters A Godless Musicscape and Brings in... God?
Metal was supposed to be "the devil's music." And that wasn't just an old Church lady stereotype. For many bands at the time, it was accurate. So even independent of what Christians would think of a Christian metal band, you couldn't possibly expect to bring lyrics about Jesus into the metal industry and not face some backlash. It was always a struggle to be taken seriously as a legitimate band by a jaded secular metal crowd. You worked so hard to prove your worth and garnered much mainstream success, but even with that success, some just couldn't swallow the idea that you brought God into a genre where He "wasn't allowed."
Frontman Michael Sweet Publicly Doubts Motley Crue Bio
Probably the least known of these controversies, but still just as real. When your singer Michael Sweet came out with his own biography, he expressed public doubt about some of the crazy stories in the biographies of other metal bands such as Motley Crue. Who could possibly doubt that their singer had died three times? Well, apparently Crue vocalist Nikki Sixx took umbrage with the insinuations and called out Sweet on social media.
Stryper, You Existed
Let's face it: from day one until now, Stryper has been controversial. Michael Sweet even declared that "Controversy follows Stryper" in a Blabbermouth.net interview early this year. Take a look at any radical Christian "exposé" of the sins of Christian rock and you're likely to find Stryper near the top of the lists.
In the '80s, your concerts attracted protesters to picket outside. You had to fight for respect from both the Christian and mainstream markets, and you won. Even until today, you're still putting out music that grabs attention despite any controversy.
Everything about Stryper seems to attract people who want to complain, and yet your mountains of fans have made you relevant decades after your contemporaries have called it quits. Stryper, you have been found guilty of challenging a music market deeply in need of being challenged. And most importantly, you're convicted of raising the bar on what metal can and should be. Your sentence? Musical immortality.
J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.
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