Album Review: Stryper – “God Damn Evil“
In 2015, Christian metal pioneers, Stryper released “Fallen”, the follow-up to, “No More Hell To Pay”. It was thought of at the time that there would be no way to top the 2013 release which, while a throwback to the band’s glory days, was much heavier (with a modern production) than such classics as “To Hell With The Devil”, “Soldiers Under Command” and “In God We Trust”. However, those thoughts soon turned out to be premature as “Fallen” indeed proved to be a superior release. With songs like “Yahweh”, “Pride”, the epic title track, and the incredible closer, “King of Kings”, the Yellow and Black had once again raised the bar on their legendary career. However, after a much publicized split with long time bassist, Timothy Gaines, and a brief hiatus, the band was surrounded by uncertainty as they entered the studio in late 2017 to record the follow up to Fallen. Despite hiring former FireHouse bassist Perry Richardson (who was unable to play on the album due to touring commitments with country artist Craig Morgan) to replace Gaines, there was a lot of doubt as to whether or not a band in their mid-50’s (with a session bass player) could raise the bar once again.
Fast forward to 2018, and Stryper is back with their new album entitled, “God Damn Evil”. The title alone has been the subject of much controversy, as many hardline Christians have proclaimed that the band is taking God’s name in vain with such a title. Admittedly, I was thrown off by it at first also. However, having followed the band since I first discovered them in 1989, and having personally experienced tremendous growth in my own Christian faith in large part due to the music and lyrics of Stryper, and having met and talked to frontman Michael Sweet on several occasions, I felt they had earned the benefit of the doubt. But I did not do this lightly, as I spent about 2 months leading up to the April 20th release of the album reading various articles, and listening to many interviews with Michael, and hearing his explanations behind the title. I also read the lyrics to the song, “God Damn Evil”, studied the album artwork and most importantly, prayed about it and asked God to make it abundantly clear to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was indeed a righteous album title, and that the message it was sending was clear, in your face and not blasphemous. All of my research, coupled with much prayer and thought convinced me that “God Damn Evil” IS a prayer to the Lord God Almighty Himself, for Him to damn the evil currently taking place in this world. Evil that has sky rocketed out of control. Everything from public shootings, to the wars that are breaking out on the other side of the world, to the moral depravity of our society, to the evil side of social media…it doesn’t take a genius to see that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. And almost every single song on this new Stryper album addresses that, in a very bold way.
The album kicks into gear with “Take It To The Cross”, which begins with a minute and a half introduction of eerie sound effects and very low, but indistinguishable chants of what I have been told may be lead guitarist Oz Fox reading scripture backwards. Regardless, the song soon explodes into a heavy, thrash influenced guitar riff followed by lyrics portraying society’s bad habit of trying to do everything itself, instead of laying it at the feet of Jesus. This transcends into a chorus telling us over and over again to, “TAKE IT TO THE CROSS”, with guest vocalist, Matt Bachand of Shadows Fall providing background death metal growls. I’m sorry…did you say death metal? From Stryper? Yes, you heard that right. This song, along with the title, caused a lot of dissention amongst the Stryper faithful as most fans either loved it or hated it. Admittedly, it is not my favorite song in the catalog, but one cannot deny the statement Stryper is trying to make as it prepares you for an unflinching, in your face and angry album. My 2 young kids (aged 2 and 4) love this song, and it basically made them fans of the band…so the guys must’ve done something right!
Hit single, “Sorry” follows next with another thrashy riff. However, this song is much closer to classic Stryper with an infectiously catchy chorus, and lyrics about betrayal in a relationship to the point where one party has had enough, and apologizing will no longer make everything okay. The video currently has over a half a million views on YouTube, and at one point was hailed as the best one the band had ever done…until their next one, of course.
With an explosive opening fill by drummer, Robert Sweet, and a heavy, progressive sound, “Lost” follows next, and this is THE best song on “God Damn Evil”, in my opinion. With a thick, galloping bass reminiscent of Iron Maiden, this is a song that could have very easily been on Fallen, it’s that good. Just an extraordinary track that addresses the downward spiral of society, and a chorus that pleads for answers and begs the question, “Is there any hope for us?”
“God Damn Evil” opens with a guitar riff that will surely bring crowds to their feet and clapping along in concert. With lyrics depicting the evils of social media, and an anthem like chorus, this blistering title track has been called a modern day, “To Hell With The Devil” by many fans, and by Michael Sweet, himself. And deservedly so, as it instantly transports you back to the band’s glory days.
“You Don’t Even Know Me” continues the assault on social media with another killer opening riff. It’s no secret that Stryper is one of the most scrutinized bands in all of metal, from their earliest days when various Christian groups used to protest outside their concerts, and Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart once infamously referred to them as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” to the current divide amongst fans on their social media pages, this track calls out online bullying and the keyboard warrior mentality that is so prevalent in society today.
Opening with Psalm 23:4 from the Old Testament, “The Valley” is heavy, sludgy and another song that could have very easily been on “Fallen”. This was the 2nd video released by Stryper for the album, and it is by far THE best one the band has ever done, flashing back and forth between a church pew, a desert (no doubt representing the “valley of the shadow of death”) and a candle lit bedroom (perhaps representing middle ground), this probably the most biblically prolific song on the album, with a blistering guitar solo. I have used the term, “epic” to describe many aspects of Stryper’s recent work, and it is certainly appropriate here. The themes in the video are no exception.
“Sea Of Thieves” is probably the closest thing to “filler” you will find on this album, the only difference is it’s actually a pretty good song. Very similar to “Til I Get What I Need” off the band’s last release, I almost feel like they’re the same song, but with different lyrics. It’s a somewhat non-descript track, but the band does a good job with it.
Taking a break from all the anger and calling out of society, the band changes pace on the next 2 tracks, starting with “Beautiful”. This is a song that offers hope, telling us to not give up on ourselves, and that our life has meaning. It almost feels like a continuation of the Michael Sweet solo song, “I’m Not Your Suicide” which addressed not letting anyone get you to the point of ending your life. The structure of the song reminds me a little bit of the Scorpions, “Don’t Believe Her”, which was always a favorite of mine. However, the bridge leading up to the chorus seems to be missing something for me, although I can’t quite place my finger on it, and the solo is similar to “Love You Like I Do” from Fallen. But it is still a great song with a deep meaning, and much needed on an album with an overall theme that calls humanity on the carpet.
“Can’t Live Without Your Love” is a guitar based ballad that would have been a huge hit for the band back in the 80’s, but is definitely not “syrupy” like the band’s previous softer songs such as “Honestly”, “Lonely” or “First Love”. This is a track that I admittedly had an issue with at first, as I found it similar to songs from Michael’s last solo album, as well as the last Sweet & Lynch project in terms of subject matter. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with writing a love song about your wife, I would have preferred lyrics focused on another world issue, or on the love of Christ, and how He is the only hope in this world. And no, I’m not one of those fans that feels every song must be about God, have a Christian theme, or proclaim the name “Jesus” 10 million times in it, but I just felt there was an opportunity to continue the message of hope that “Beautiful” had started. It is still a great song though, with a catchy chorus, and great guitar work to finish it out at the end.
A slick, naughty, cautious tale about a person caught in a lie, “Own Up” may or may not be describing someone from the band’s recent past, but we’ll leave that open to interpretation. This is a great kind of slow, sludgy track that picks up the pace in the chorus, and most importantly…has cowbell in it. And we all know that when you’ve got a fever, there’s only one prescription…and that’s MORE cowbell!
“God Damn Evil”, closes with a fury with the appropriately titled, “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”. Another modern day revisiting of a previous Stryper song, this vicious heavy metal assault basically picks up where “Rock The Hell Out Of You” from the 1990 “Against The Law” album left off 28 years later, and absolutely rips it to shreds. Say what you want about Stryper, but one thing is for certain…they sure know how to close an album!
While many of Stryper’s peers from the 80’s are tuning down in concert and putting out substandard material (if they put out anything at all), this band continues to show tremendous growth 34 years into its brilliant career, which is almost unthinkable. Michael Sweet may no longer possess the crotch grabbing vocal range he once did, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as his voice is more mature, in tremendous shape, and still capable of hitting many of his trademark high pitched screams. The dual guitar playing of him and Oz Fox is one of the most underrated in all of metal, and Robert Sweet is one of the best drummers on the planet. And despite Perry Richardson not being able to contribute to the recording, session bassist John O’Boyle played phenomenal bass on this album. In terms of actual “message”, this is clearly the most bold, the most in your face, and quite frankly the most angry album Stryper has ever released. It’s righteous anger, but anger nonetheless with an overall message that the band is sick and tired of this horrible, evil world and is calling for action, prayer and change. I don’t know if I can rank it over “Fallen”, as I feel that is still the standard as far as the perfect Stryper sound, song structure and a more positive, uplifting message go. But God Damn Evil comes very close. Overall, I give the album an A-.