The multi-platinum crossover Christian metal band, Stryper, continues to share their positive message and energetic stage presence with a passionate following throughout the world. Since the band's beginning over 35 years ago, the founding members have stayed true to their deepest convictions. Some of their modern hits include "No More Hell To Pay," "Yahweh," and "The Valley." The band released their 13th album, Even The Devil Believeson Friday, September 4, 2020.
There have been some personnel changes with the new album: bassist Tim Gaines has departed and Firehouse's Perry Richardson has replaced him. The 11-track project is one of Stryper's best albums. It builds upon every strength the band has developed in their modern music era.
I recently spoke with Michael Sweet, the lead singer, founder, and primary songwriter for Stryper. Michael calls Even The Devil Believes, his favorite Stryper album, as resounded through multiple Facebook posts such as this one and that one. The band has exciting things in store, with more music videos, a live recording of the album, and some surprises in the album for fans of all types.
I know you have a lot of classic rock fans, as well as modern rock fans. How did this affect the band's songwriting process for the new album?
I think it always affects us does to a degree. We want to appease our classic diehard fans that have been with us from the beginning. And, we want to appease our new fans. We have a lot of new fans. When I write, I keep it in mind that we can't abandon our past, but we also can't abandon our future. We have to merge the two.
We have some modern sounds but it also has to have what the fans expect: the twin harmony solos and the high screams. Perform the style that we've always done, but with a modern twist. And, I think we've done a pretty good job pulling that off—especially for the last four albums.
We're not going to try to be a modern rock band. We tried that a little more with the Reborn album. But, in all fairness, Reborn wasn't a Stryper album. Originally, it was a solo album. What we did differently was to add a few solos and a few harmonies here and there.
And, then we added a song, which was the modern version of "In God We Trust." But, that album, probably out of all the more recent Stryper albums, has the most modern sound to it. And, it's funny because that's not a fan favorite. I just want everyone to know that just to be fair, that's all.
Many Stryper songs have a very evident scriptural basis. Did you have any foundational scriptures that you had in mind while writing this new album?
Certain songs are taken right out of the scriptures. Songs like "Soldiers Under Command" or "Yahweh." "Yahweh" is literally the crucifixion of Christ set to music. There are times when it's right from the scriptures itself. And, then there are other times where we'll actually find the scripture that goes hand in hand with the lyric itself.
We often put the used scripture under the lyrics on the album credits, so people can go to that scripture and read it. Everybody knows we have Isaiah 53:5, that's been our scripture from day one. Everything we do is based around scripture, for sure.
You say that "Invitation Only " was a song you wrote in 1989. What's the story behind having an older song as your choice to bring to the modern age?
"Invitation Only" was a song I wrote in 1989. We started recording it for the Against The Law album. It would have certainly been the most commercial song on the album. But, it never got finished. I just could not finish the lyrics or the melody to save my life. So, I thought it'd be great since a lot of fans over the years keep saying, "Man, it'd be great if you could do something that's totally 80s."
It's going to be very interesting to see what people say about that—whether it has an '80s sound or not. I'll get a kick out of people saying, "No, it doesn't sound '80s. It doesn't sound anything like your old stuff." I'll laugh because I'll be able to say it is. It's that song that those fans have been wanting. It's a cool song.
You primarily have one ballad on the album, "This I Pray." It's beautiful, a prayer about needing God's mercy daily. What led to that song becoming the album's main ballad? And, how did the prayerful structure form out of it?
"This I Pray" is one of my favorites. Most people expect a certain style from us when we record or release a ballad. It's got more of a southern rock feel and almost a gospel feel to it. I co-write songs often. A friend of mine, a local legend by the name of Livio Gravini, and his fiance Lisa Marie Grenia, submitted this song to me. It was more in its raw form, and I really liked it.
He asked me if I could come and sing this song with him. You know, make it a duet. I took it a step further and said, "Well, what if Stryper recorded this?" He got really excited about that. I wound up basically rearranging the song, adding the chorus, and then writing a few more verses.
By extending it, and adding a solo section, I made it a complete song. It turned out so good. It was such a pleasure to work with Livio and Lisa. I think fans are going to love this song. Some diehard Stryper fans don't want to hear ballads. They'll come right out and tell you. They won't even give it a chance. I always find that interesting because so many times the ballads are one of the best songs on the album.
Stryper has always released attention-grabbing or even controversial song and album titles: the '80s classic, "To Hell With The Devil" or 2018's album title, God Damn Evil. Now, you have "Middle Finger Messiah" as the closing track on the new album. Can you explain the meaning behind that lyrics?
My brother, Robert, wrote that, and to be honest, I was not a fan of it. I'm still not completely. Mainly because I didn't really understand it myself entirely until he explained it to me. It's supposed to mean the world flips off God. Robert was going to finish the lyrics, but he just submitted part of them.
I wound up finishing the lyrics. And, it made it even more so about how we basically shun God in our world. Because of that, He's become the middle finger Messiah. But, it's not to do with Him flipping us off, which some people have taken it that way. Musically speaking, it's a hard-rocking metal track, a good closer. Our most powerful metal track on the album.
Any other songs on the album have meaning to you?
Speaking of powerful tracks, the one that really made a statement for us was the first song we released "Blood From Above." We were really excited about releasing that one. Musically, it makes a statement—it's different for us. When it gets to the chorus, it's a bit more modern. The lyrics are just so powerful. It's all about the blood of Jesus. We need to let it wash over us—to change us and to cleanse us.
"Do Unto Others," our third single from the album, is also one of my favorite songs. We made a music video for it and it's so powerful. It has a great video and I can't wait for people to hear it and see it. I also love "How To Fly." What I love about this song is it's very different for us. The vocal arrangements and structure of the song, as a whole, make it unique.
I also love "Divider." We have a video coming out for later for the song. This one is special because the fans sang on it with us. We had 30 people in the room with us. Musically, it's very cool. We made a video for that—we'll release that after we release the album. Lyrically, it's about dividers. We see them every day online—especially on social media.
Some people live for dividing others. The message is, 'Please, take your message of division away from me, I don't want it in my life. I'm going down a different path.' It's a powerful message and the riff is so cool.
Anything else you want to share about the album?
Yes. I want to let people know that we just recorded the whole album, live from start to finish, in the studio, Spirit House. And, we're going to be releasing it on-demand in the next six to eight weeks. A lot of these other things you see that are streaming, they're just not done well. The audio or the video—or both—is poor quality. This project is album quality. Not to mention the video is amazing. I can't wait for people to see this. We're super excited about it.
How can we be praying for you?
You can always be praying for us for strength, consistency, and longevity—specifically for healing. Everyone can not only pray for Oz, who is going through physical tough times right now, but for the whole band. We're all getting older, we're not getting any younger. I've got kidney issues. We all have health issues here and there, so we can always use prayer to get through the battle and overcome what we need to overcome, so we can keep doing what we do.
Ryan Adams grew up in Boise, Idaho and fell in love with rock and metal through his high school best friend. While he searches for long-term guidance, he contributes to NRT.
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