There were the fluro colored parachute pants, the big screaming hairdos, the first appearance of music on a shinning plate called CD, the rise of wholesome family fuzzy TV shows such as the Cosby Show, the emerging popularity of video games, and then there was Stryper. The 80s was certainly a decade for us to be nostalgic about. Though many things that were patented about the decade are already a transient memory, Stryper is not. Taking their name from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5, Stryper’s drummer Robert Sweet also created a backronym for their name, “salvation through redemption, yielding peace, encouragement and righteousness.” Stryper is never reticent about their faith. Rather, what has set them apart from their metallic rock peers such as Def Leppard, Van Halen and Bon Jovi is that the message of faith that is always at the front and center of their songs. Dressed in black and yellow outfits, they would even go further by tossing out Bibles in their concerts. Yet, despite their message, Stryper became hugely successful starting with their sophomore album “To Hell with the Devil.” This is one of the few Christian rock albums to achieve Platinum status selling over a million copies in the US alone in 1986.
However when the 90s rolled around, with the advent popularity of stripped down rock, thrash metal and post-grunge, the death knell was starting to ring for many pop-metal bands. Stryper too felt the strain to accommodate. Thus, with their 1990 album “Against the Law,” the band made some concessions but the changes were far too radical for fans to accept. Not long after, with the ensuing departure of lead singer Michael Sweet, the band finally called it quits in 1992. However, at the turn of the millennium with a resurging interest back to the nostalgic sounds of the 80s and the loyalty of the band’s legions of fans, Stryper has been back. Having signed a multi-album deal with Frontiers Records, they have issued a re-recording of their older hits (with 2 new songs) entitled “Second Coming” earlier this year. And now they are back with their long awaited Frontiers Records debut of entirely newly recorded songs.
While many artists who had started off in the 80s feel like they have moved with the times by incorporating a new computerized cut and paste sound, you won’t find such doltish compromise here. “No More Hell to Pay” has that loud glam metallic roar that fans have been waiting for since the 1980s. This album, which features one cover and 11 originals coming mostly from Michael Sweet’s pen, has everything fans have loved about the band. “Revelation,” which kicks off the album, is indicative of the record. Sweet’s high falsetto vocals, rifting guitars and the bold faith-centered message are all intact. Lyrically, “Revelation” is a masterpiece: it brilliantly uses images from the book of Revelation as a call for all of us to repent. While the title cut “No More Hell to Pay” speaks about an unwavering trust to follow Jesus despite of all the doubting voices that might surround us. With a track like “Saved By Love,” Stryper has certainly eradicated the common (mis)conception that heavy metal is often associated with Beelzebub, as they could not have presented the Gospel with greater perspicuity.
Interestingly, the only cover here is Arthur Reid Reynolds’ “Jesus is Just Alright,” a song popularized by the Doobie Brothers. However, fans of Contemporary Christian music would have also remembered that DC Talk had a cover of the same song way back in 1992. The Stryper has certainly heightened the rock elements of the song but most exquisite is their tight harmonies that radically transform this folk song into a faith-affirming anthem. Perhaps the only drawback of this record is the dearth of big ballads such as “Honestly” and “Always There for You.” The only time the tempo decelerates is with “The One;” a couple of ballads would certainly have shuffled the album’s pace a little. Nevertheless, if you are looking for copious dueling guitar solos, enormous melodic hooks, locomotive drumming and lots of loud passionate singing (with a few screams thrown in), “No More Hell to Pay” won’t disappoint.