One of the more popular motoring shows over here in Blighty is called ‘Wheeler Dealers’ and has a simple format wherein the host of the show, a cheeky Essex chap, searches out dilapidated old classic cars and then barters the owners down on price to get a bargain, he then gets his trusty mechanic to transform it into something much more modern and desirable whilst never losing the original character that made the car a classic in the first place. I have often stated, in previous reviews, that you shouldn’t look to the past as that has been and gone and we are in the here and now. However, if you take a classic band who produced classic music in years gone by and give it a metaphorical lick of paint and overhaul to update it to what is more prevalent today, would it appeal in this modern world? Well let’s take the classic Christian rock band, Stryper, as a case in point.
Stryper were formed in 1983 by brothers Michael and Robert Sweet. Originally called Roxx Regime, inspired by bands such as Van Halen, but distressed by their message, they sought to form a band that would extol their worldview and beliefs, the band soon changed their musical message to suit their Christian beliefs, and the band’s name was also changed to Stryper. Featuring Michael on vocals and Robert on drums, the band’s line up is completed by Oz Fox on lead guitar and Tim Gaines on bass (he briefly left the band in 2004 but returned in 2009). In 1983 they signed to major label Enigma records and released their debut EP, The Yellow and Black Attack. 1985 saw the release of their first full length album, Soldiers under Command. The band released To Hell with the Devil in 1986 and it became a huge hit and was seen as the first commercially successful Christian music and Christian metal release. 1988 saw the release of In God we Trust which saw the bend leaning toward a more glam metal look which was poorly received by fans and critics alike. In 1990 Stryper released Against the Law with a more classic rock appeal and no mention of god, this coincided with a hiatus for the band until the new millennium. Since the turn of the millennium, Stryper have released Reborn in 2005, Murder by Pride in 2009 and The Covering in 2011. Signing with Frontier Records in 2013, Stryper have released an EP, Second Coming, with re-recorded songs from their first 3 albums and will be releasing their latest album, No More Hell to Pay. Is it a polished update of their classic albums from the 80’s or just a drudge down memory lane? Let’s find out.
The album kicks into gear with 2 exceptional rockers, first track Revelation that lives up to its name, and title track, No More Hell to Pay. Some thunderously powerful guitar riffs, epic drumming and a tasty bass line back up one hell of a vocal performance as the guys set about creating a massively heavy wall of sound. Polished guitar solos, quality licks firing off left and centre and brilliant harmonising give a masterly feel to the whole proceedings, heavy rock at its best. The hyperactive feel to Saved by Love is cemented by the insane pace of the song, rollercoaster riff and frenetic drumming adding more of a hair metal, rock n’ roll feel to the track. A nice, slick and tasty solo and great vocals sliding right up the range completing the picture. Initially, I was put off by the slightly cheesy vocals and staccato chanting of the title on Jesus is Just Alright but, before the almost simplistic lyric and nature of the track got too much for me, the vibe of the song changes completely, taking on a cool, low down and dirty feel. A nice slowed down riff and the great flashes of keyboard giving it a grungy feel, a song of two halves indeed. Is it about time for the customary ballad? Yes indeed it is and The One has no intention of letting the side down. Emotional vocals, silky smooth guitar and nicely pared back drums all blend well to produce a top notch power ballad which would not be complete without a superior, heartfelt solo which is all present and correct, now where’s my lighter? A high pitched vocal and strident riff lead us into another terrific, hard rocking track. The harder edge to the vocal working nicely on Legacy, paired well with the staccato nature of the down and dirty riff, Sweet’s voice taking on a cleaner note as he moves up through the range. Another fine solo from Fox showcases the quality and musical ability that the band possesses.
Marching into Battle takes me back to the great heavy metal bands of the 80’s, an absolutely monstrous riff and classic vocal all reminiscent of some of the era’s great bands and the classy chorus is just brilliant, foot stamping stuff. Discordant licks from the guitar and a masterful solo with twin guitars thrown in for good measure are just the icing on the cake. Another fast paced riff flies us into Te Amo, a fine rocker with hints of early Bon Jovi in the nicely harmonised chorus. Another supreme solo? Oh yes indeed, up and down the scales, twin guitars firing licks in all directions, we are treated, once again, to some exceptional hard rock. The next two tracks take us back to the hard and heavier side of Stryper, Sticks and Stones and Water into Wine have the requisite thunderous guitar and pounding drums which, combined with the accomplished rock vocal and classy, harmonised chorus’, delivers up to date, modern heavy rock to our senses. I am more and more impressed by this album the further I get under its skin, the impeccable, supeb solos leaving you just wanting more. Sympathy has a more discordant and fractious edge to the riff, the vocal more akin to modern power metal bands, this is heavy rock brought bang up to date with terrific harmonising of the vocals, solid drumming, great bass work and a superbly well constructed solo, well, would you have expected anything less? Final track Renewed is another accomplished rocker with that heavier feel to it. Tightly constructed with another compact riff and powerful drums driving the track along, all complete with a harder edged vocal and a dazzling, showy twin guitar solo before it all comes to a thunderous conclusion.
Well, after getting my breath back and dusting myself down, I have to say that, whilst not breaking any musical ground, No More Hell to Pay is different enough to make you sit up and take notice. Tightly constructed with flawless execution, it has brought Stryper bang up to date and shows other heavy rock bands how rock and metal should be done in the here and now. Give it a spin, if you’re a heavy rock and metal fan, you’ll like it, a lot.