REVIEW: STRYPER – “God Damn Evil”
In a world where Christianity has become a four letter work, Stryper are kicking against the pricks with their new record God Damn Evil out 4/20/18 via Frontiers Music s.r.l. The funny title should serve the dual purpose of pissing off the more pious contingent of their fan base, while reaffirming a commitment to stand true to their moral convictions. While the infamous “J” word only explicitly finds its way into 1 of the LPs 11 tracks, the group continues to espouse their Christian convictions, albeit with a slightly subtler message. More importantly, they remain true to their own musical vision with a collection of middling to great songs rooted in melodic metal with nods to both old school metal and more modern influences.
In the press release for God Damn Evil, the band alludes to this being their heaviest LP to date. While this is highly debatable, I will concede that with a few exceptions, the best songs on here are the heavier and darker ones. “Lost” with its driving rhythm, symphonic falsetto-laced chorus and trademark harmonized leads is an early standout—also, bonus points for the word “tonightmare.” “You Don’t Even Know,” a condemnation of condemnation, begins with a throwback riff that wouldn’t be out of place on 1986’s seminal To Hell with the Devil, before morphing into an effective melodic, alternative rocker. On “The Valley,” one of the best things here, the group steers directly into classic metal territory to excellent effect with a riff that takes inspiration from Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell”—which they covered on 2015’s The Covering. These weightier tracks benefit from a bass heavy mix which punctuates the interplay between drummer Robert Sweet and very capable newcomer Perry Richardson (Firehouse) on bass, and succeeds in spite of its modern-metal dynamics-starved bent.
While the band’s willingness to try new things is admirable, some of these experiments fall flat. “Take it to the Cross,” is probably the heaviest thing here, but it is also the biggest misstep. inclusion of some completely out of place death growls by Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall), comes across as forced, and while I don’t doubt the sincerity of the lyrics, the “Take it to the cross! Take it to the cross!” chorus is a little tacky.
Elsewhere, Stryper channels AC/DC via hair-metal on the title track. With its shout along chorus and extended lead break, it’s a reminder of how fun hard-rock was in the 80s; however, like “Take it to the Cross,” it suffers from some (likely intentional) over-the-top lyrics.
It’s no secret that singer/guitarist Michael Sweet and co-guitarist Oz Fox are talented guitarists. Nowhere is that more apparent than on “Can’t Live Without,” a ballad that taps into the bands inner adult contemporary, in which they choose the most unlikely of places to double-down on their virtuosity. On paper, Stryper’s take on a modern love song replete with extended solo breaks sounds disastrous, but in reality, the straightforward and subtle nature of the song really allows their attention to detail in song-craft and musicianship to shine through.
Stryper’s ‘God Damn Evil’ is the restless sound of a band in the midst of a minor musical identity crisis. The record is at its best when the band filters their back catalog through a slightly modern metallic alternative-rock lens, but overall it suffers from overreach. Despite these shortcomings, it succeeds in making a joyful noise, as its majestic melodies, divine musicianship and righteous guitar playing pull the set heavenwards.