Just about anybody who knows even a little about the history of Christian Rock music probably at least knows the name Stryper. Along with other bands like Petra, they were one of the forefathers of the genre, and their name is among the most legendary in the chronicles of Christian Rock. Furthermore, they were the first band to become a genuine "crossover" into the mainstream, gaining notable success on several mainstream music charts and getting massive airplay on MTV.
They were even among the first bands to get the now infamous criticism from many Christians for "selling out." They caused controversy when they departed from their Christ-centric lyrics with the release of Against The Law. Their 80s glam-metal appearance earned them accusations of not upholding the Christian standard of modesty. Stryper was a pioneer in so many areas that many of the Christians bands in the decades to come would come to learn very well.
Stryper disbanded in the early 90s and lead vocalist Michael Sweet pursued other projects for over a decade, including maintaining a strong CCM presence as a solo artist. But not content to remain merely a star of the early chapters of Christian Rock, the band had a comeback in the mid-2000's with the aptly titled Reborn. What could have been a one-off reunion turned into another extended chapter of the band's career. They've released albums fairly consistently since then, nearly doubling their discography in just the past 8 years. While their success is a lot tamer due to the dated nature of their sound and the increased competition from bands who owe so much to them, they've managed to once again make themselves a strong and relevant part of the current industry.
And so this brings us to the band's latest metal offering, No More Hell To Pay. From the title, to the album color, to the classic yellow and black logo, you can tell before you hear a single note that what you're about to get into is very much Stryper. I personally only had a modest exposure to their music growing up. They were more a name I knew well rather than an artist I heard regularly. Still, I was a little more than familiar with their style of glam metal and Sweet's iconic 80s metal vocals. And as the opening track pounded in, metal guitars blazing, it was clear that Stryper wasn't about to throw us a sonic curveball with this release. They know what their fans want, they know what their corner of the market is, and they know how to craft a well-rounded album in this genre.
"Revelation" is exactly what I'd expect from Stryper, and this feeling continues right through until the last track. At this stage in their career, it's likely unsurprising that Stryper isn't looking to reinvent themselves. They're doing what they've always done, and doing it well. The aforementioned "Revelation" carries a polished and rocking backing, complete with soaring chorus, nostalgic solos, and rousing choral vocals. Essentially, it's Stryper. "There's a revelation / it's coming down for you / without hesitation / it's gonna bring the truth" serve as quintessential Stryper lyrics. And then the title track comes in and the feeling starts all over again. Headbanging 80s metal sound, soaring choral vocals, and the lyrics that pointed many to Christ throughout the 80s: "When the night has stolen everyday / I'll follow You till there's no more hell to pay!" While the Stryper formula isn't going to win them fans outside their genre, there's something to be said for knowing your base and giving them exactly what they want. And on that front, this album goes out of its way to deliver.
This isn't to say the album has no variance at all. "Saved By Love" adds in a faster and slightly scream-heavy veneer to the Stryper sound. A cover of Arthur Reid Reynolds' classic "Jesus Is Just Alright" sounds exactly like you'd think a Stryper cover of the song would sound and offers some levity against some of the heavier themes present in the album. "The One" is the album's obligatory "slow song" and offers a good counterbalance to power metal chords dominating the rest of the album.
"Marching Into Battle" sounds exactly like its title implies and thematically, it fits right in with everything about Stryper. The song's chanted chorus offers an almost haunting vibe, contrasting with the soaring power choruses most of the other songs boast. "Te Amo" (translated, "I Love You") keeps the momentum going and stands as one of the more memorable tracks on the album. The chorus feels dated but in a throwback, exciting kind of way. Like most of the album, it would've fit seamlessly into 80's radio, but there's still plenty to enjoy for those willing to overlook the obvious era it's harkening back to.
"Sticks and Stones" makes a bit too much blatant use of the iconic statement, but puts it to good thematic use as only Stryper could. The last three tracks essentially continue the same feeling established throughout the album. There isn't really anything that stands out, but that can be a good thing as well since there's also nothing particularly weak either. The Stryper formula propels the album towards a satisfying finish, offering just enough diversity to avoid stagnancy, and never flinching in its polished delivery of a sound that serves as one of the foundation blocks of the industry we love.
It's good to see veteran bands still willing to get out there and rock, proudly donning the sound they made iconic and not trying to change who they are for profit. This might limit Stryper's appeal to those into the power/glam metal sound, but it's a sound that worked well for them in its heyday, and isn't entirely without merit now. With an album that still manages to check all the right boxes after all these years, it's hard not to root for these guys to keep on going. The rock hasn't died, and this album is proof that this industry icon still demands respect.
From start to finish, what you're getting here is essentially the picture of an ideal Stryper album. If you're familiar with them, you're about to be gifted with a solid offering from start to finish. Fans other bands like Theocracy would do well to give the power chords and guitar energy of Stryper a chance. Even those like me who only had a sort of acquaintanceship with the band can appreciate this release. It's definitely like a lost treasure out of a time capsule of another era, but it brings with it an energy and craftsmanship that should still be an example for many acts today.
Song to Download Now: