Stryper - God Damn Evil

Stryper God Damn Evil cover
God Damn Evil
Frontiers Music Srl
Honestly now, who among us hasn’t poked a little fun at Stryper’s brand of Christian themed borderline heavy metal at one point or another in our lives? Seeing as I’m accountable for more than my fair share of jibes at their expense, I’m thrilled to announce the holy rolling L.A. rockers from days of yore have risen to the challenge and launched yet another thunderbolt of a release today, comprised of eleven solid tracks which vary between poignantly soulful hard rock crooners and more metallic foot stomping crunchers, while stoically keeping their signature religious bloviating in check.
In other words, aside from a sibilant and rustling opener in “Take it to the Cross”, which sees long-time front/ax man Michael Sweet frenziedly repeat said gospel mantra like a fire and brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, the 23rd psalm encapsulating “The Valley” and brashly loud, as well as rampantly sped up Jesus Christ Superstar evoking closer, “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”, the subject matter touches on spiritually pragmatic issues such as love, loss and truth. Ironically, the latter’s overt metal edge makes it feel like it belongs on Judas Priest’s “Hard as Iron”, but I digress!
Chops wise, I’m shocked at Sweet and fellow guitarist Oz Fox’s dexterous skills, as well as overall competence and class. While the mid-tempo riffs are often choppy and staccato – as on top highlights “Sorry” and “Sea of Thieves” – some of the leads are downright stellar, even evocative of Slash and Uli Roth. The rhythm section, comprised of drummer Robert Sweet and new bassist Perry Richardson (Timothy Gaines’ replacement and sole deviation from the original, founding line-up dating back to 1984’s “The Yellow and Black Attack” debut EP), duly pulls its weight, notably on “Lost”, another sure-fire go-to track, which sees the latter loosely carom about and slap the crap out of his instrument with reckless abandon; namely, after the bridge right before the stand-out and oh-so-rock-ish solo section. The fact his bass is so dominant and bold is a huge factor in enhancing the album’s crushing as well as “enrapturing” appeal.
Even the per-requisite mellow, feel-good humdingers unequivocally put a smile on my face. “Beautiful” harbors a chorus, which is just that: beautiful, grandiose and majestic. In a sense, its uplifting splendor and all around worry-free eloquence remind me a bit of Striker’s “Bad Decisions”, a track which received mixed reactions from its fans but duly hit home with me. On the other hand, “Can’t Live Without You” is a much more saccharine, heart melting Poison/Bon Jovi-ish ballad, yet can readily be forgiven thanks to the punch and pummel of the succeeding “Own Up”, a quintessential 80’s heavy rocker imbued with a laid-back and devil-may-care refrain benefiting from cowbell, rattle and best of all, high-pitched and squeal-some gang vox, which unabashedly make it a bona fide highway night rider, its wickedly mellifluous and reaching leads withstanding.
The production and mixing is very well balanced, allowing each member to fully ingratiate himself. What’s more, Sweet’s heartfelt and soaring vocals sit slightly high up in the mix, with all the instruments on an even keel. A great example is the languid albeit caustic and raw, coming of age fist-pumper, “You Don’t Even Know Me”, the cripplingly evil, tempestuous guitar riff, meaty, pounding drum beat and sky-high chorus of which almost make me wonder where the band’s loyalties lay. Granted, it’s a moot point as we all know which Lord they worship at the altar!
Effectively, there’s no question the title track (along with the grand, wrathfully vice clearing cover art) represents Stryper’s true essence and devotion. Nevertheless, I find its spur kicking tempo, honky tonk string bending main riff, as well as undeniably cheesy lyrics a bit too cliché for my taste. Not only is it the most radio-friendly cut but also cheekily, if not nostalgically, brings to mind Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock n’ Roll” from 1978 (“L.A. Connection” maybe?). Ha! I actually sent it as a “Stryper comeback sampler” to my fanatic flat-Earther of a counselor, so at least it served a purpose! Mind you, its festively liberating, old yeller backing choir is one for the ages!
When all is said and done, I’m actually quite impressed and pleased with “God Damn Evil” as a whole. Considering heavy metal in general mainly caters to dark deities (with perhaps another exception in Trouble), it’s quite refreshing – and reassuring! – to experience the flip side of the coin. Suffice to say, the Big Man upstairs is cool again, so a deep bow and tip of my hat/chair goes out to Stryper for its classic powerhouse of a God shot!