Graded on a Curve: Stryper,
To Hell with the Devil

I admit it; I’m in awe. In awe of the awesome chutzpah of the awesome dudes who actually thought they could make it in the heavy metal biz by eschewing metal’s standard demonic trappings in favor of an overtly Christian message. And who thought they could pull it off wearing yellow and black bee outfits, nonetheless. While tossing Bibles to the crowds at their concerts. But it worked. Good Lord, it worked! And Satan wept.

I’m of the Devil’s Party, but I firmly believe in giving the Loyal Opposition a listen. I mean, I’ve listened to straight edge (more or less against my will) and the message is about the same; no drugs, alcohol, casual sex, or smoking. Straight edge was all about keeping your head empty for no good reason. Stryper, on the other hand, was simply adhering to their interpretation of Christ’s message. And if your straight edgers had any guts they’d say to hell with the Devil, too, but they don’t. Strike one up for Stryper, bee outfits and all.

Stryper was, once you took away all the religious trappings, a standard mid-eighties MOR hair metal band. Vocalist Michael Sweet’s multi-octave vocals and guitar were standard issue, as were brother Robert Sweet’s drums, the wonderfully named Oz Fox’s lead guitar, and Tim Gaines’ (who was replaced during the sessions by Brad Cobb) bass. (Oh, and non-member John Van Tongeren contributed keyboards.) In short, nothing much, besides their faith, distinguished them from the hair metal pack. But something amazing happened with LP no. 3, 1986’s To Hell with the Devil. It blew up. Write it off to divine intervention, or the almost unfathomable stupidity of the American listening public, but To Hell with the Devil went platinum, and included two songs that scored near the top of MTV’s list of most-requested songs. The Devil must have thrown a hissy fit, and spent the entire day pouting.

Neatly divided into (1) crushing metal threnodies with Michael Sweet’s vocals attaining heights normally reserved for satellites and (2) power ballads, I’ll say this for To Hell with the Devil—it’s not too hard to ignore the Christian message, at least on most of the songs. Which makes me suspect that a large part of Stryper’s audience was no more Christian than Lemmy Kilmister. I will concede they know their way around a melody, and have listened (or so I suspect) to the Raspberries at one time or another. As for the non-hard rockers the lyrics are maudlin, and directed towards JC and not the girl they left at home, which I find only mildly irksome because, as is the case with “Holding On,” the power pop influences make it a winner.

But what about the rest of the LP? I’m glad you asked. “All of Me” is pure treacle, and makes me want to puke pea soup like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. And I’ll give you one guess as to who the very hard-rocking “More Than a Man” is about, before conceding that this is one overtly Christian rock song that I can listen to if I ignore the lyrics and focus instead on the song’s Axl Rose-friendly melody, Sweet’s glass-shattering vocals, and Fox’s plenty cool guitar solo. As for opener “Abyss (To Hell with the Devil)” it’s all cheap sound effects including a thunder burst and segues (duh) into the title track, another rock hard number with some great guitar and lots of pneumatic thrust. Sweet is totally off to the races on this one, and the chorus (“To hell with the devil!”) is catchy enough. True, Fox’s guitar is sub-Eddie Van Halen, but I’ve always been a sucker for Eddie imitators and always will be. As for “Calling on You,” it’s less metal than pure pop for Jesus people, and pretty catchy pop at that. Doesn’t rock my world but it might rock yours, capiche?

“Honestly” is a piano-laden monstrosity, a Barry Manilow song that somehow escaped from the confines of Barry’s mind and caught the first plane to Jesusville. Meanwhile, “Rockin’ the World” is more MOR metal redeemed less by Our Savior than by the cool group vocals and Fox’s stellar guitar solo. Message: They’re not rocking the world for us, but for Jesus, which is one audacious move if I may say so myself. “Free” also kicks some ass in the traditional hair metal manner, and includes some happening group vocals to boot. And once again Fox comes through with a solo that is just proficient enough to thrill a low life like me. Finally, “The Way” opens in a very Van Halen-like manner, with Fox playing Eddie and Michael Sweet the Beaver. And on his solo Fox equals Eddie in my opinion, while Sweet’s vocals ascend to Saturn. As for “Sing-Along Song,” I swear Sweet opens the tune with the line, “In the land of Fritos,” though I’m probably wrong, but one thing I do know is that the multi-part ascending harmonies telling us to sing along are cheesy sub-par Styx and well beyond the pale. Bet the holy throngs loved this one live though.

You have to hand it to Stryper for turning a musical genre designed to scare kids’ religious parents with Satanic imagery into a genre designed to scare kids’ atheistic and agnostic parents with Christian imagery. Lord knows, if I had a kid, I’d prefer he or she listen to Black Sabbath. But that’s the way kids are; they rebel. And I can think of nothing more rebellious than embracing rock dedicated solely to the Son of God. I can almost see America’s shocked parents bursting into their kids’ bedrooms and, pointing at the Stryper poster on the wall, shouting, “Take that abomination down!” That’s what I’d do. As for the music, I’ve heard worse. Stryper, who broke up and then reformed and are still out there pumping up the volume for the Lord, are a scary inducement to our children to find God. Which makes them, perhaps, the most radical rock ‘n’ roll band to ever stand on a stage. And that’s no small accomplishment. Scary, but an accomplishment nonetheless.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text