Stryper - No More Hell To Pay (2013) Nov 5, 2013 20:25:12 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Nov 5, 2013 20:25:12 GMT -5
Few bands find a way to retun to truly classic form the way Stryper has with their new album, No More Hell To Pay.
No More Hell To Pay is a great Stryper album. Whether or not you like Stryper is almost irrelevant - they have made one of the best albums of their career more than a quarter century after their commercial peak. That's noteworthy.
Their last all new studio album, Murder By Pride, was a very, very good album, and among their best, but this album significantly raises the bar from that one. Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines (the entire original line-up) made it a point to come up with an album that sounds like classic Stryper plopped down into 2013. Take the 1985 version of the band and transport them in time to 2013 and No More Hell To Pay is what you'd get. It's the classic early Stryper sound with just a slight nod to what is current.
"Revelation," is a majestic opening song, one loaded with both the typical Stryper vocal melodies & harmonies and some fairly heavy guitars. This is a great song, period. Michael Sweet's voice sounding almost exactly like it did in the mid 80's (he's lost maybe the top note or two on the high end of his range, but other than that he sounds almost exactly like he did back then - with a slightly richer quality to his voice), and the rest of the band sounds like they haven't missed a beat over the last twenty five plus years.
The title track which follows is just as good. The twin lead guitar harmonies between Michael Sweet and Oz Fox still sound great, and despite the fact that this is the second mid tempo song in a row the album feels like it's opening with a ton of power to go along with the powerful melodies.
And then comes the fast, uptempo track. "Saved By Love," is nothing short of great when it comes to melodic Metal. Michael Sweet's vocals are particularly powerful here, and his gritty near screeching in the chorus is powerfully effective. "Saved By Love," is definitely one of the album's highlights (of which there are several). But after this track things get interesting.
Stryper covering the Doobie Brothers? Yes, that's what's up next, and it's the obvious song for Stryper to cover - "Jesus Is Just Alright." It's a radical reworking, and from a Pop Metal standpoint it's appropriate, but, unfortunately, they strip all the looser 70's California Rock elements out of it. Gone are most of the, "Doo doo do doo do doo's," and in their place is a tighter arrangement that focuses on power and energy as much as melody. About halfway through there is a Hammond organ present, which brings things a little closer to the early 70's roots of the song, but that is short lived. It's not at all bad, it's just lacking in the looser swing and laid back vibe of the Doobies' original version.
"The One," is a power ballad, but it is fairly moody and dynamic. It's not the saccharine sweet ballad that Stryper was known for writing in the 80's. Not bad. Pretty darned good for a power ballad, really.
Fortunately, they get back to the heavier side of things with a full on Heavy Metal track in, "Legacy." This is a song firmly rooted in 1985. You can hear bands like Loudness and Malice echoing in this track as much as Stryper's own 80's output (particularly the Soldiers Under Command era). It's upbeat and has a nasty attitude. It's not a great track, but it is a very good one and it sounds really good in context of the album as a whole.
And then the Soldiers Under Command go, "Marching Into Battle." Make no mistake, that title intentially referenced their first full album. While the song has it's roots in that album, it is a tad darker and heavier than anything from their 1985 release. The verses and bridges are excellent, but the chorus is merely good. A great chorus can rescue a weak verse, but the reverse is not true. The chorus here isn't really weak as much as it just, well - is. It's OK. As a whole, the song is good, but with a better chorus it could have been great.
But if it's great that you want (and we all do) then look no further than the next track, "Te Amo." WOW. This is classic Stryper all the way. Upbeat, exciting, melodic, and powerful, this is another of the album's highlights.
At this point I would be remiss if I didn't mention just how well the entire band plays on No More Hell To Pay. The lead guitar work is fantastic, and Robert Sweet and Tim Gaines are absolutely locked in as a rhythm unit. The entire band sounds like a young, hungry bunch of musicians, not a bunch of guys in their early 50's.
The hits just keep on coming with, "Sticks And Stones," a mid tempo stomper that finds a great blend between big melodic (almost Poppy) choruses and thunderously heavy drums & guitars. Great stuff.
The naysayers will be surprised at how Stryper has turned, "Water Into Wine," on this album. This song is another of the mid tempo tracks, and again it's got a big chorus - a great big chorus. It's hard not to smile once you get to this point of the album if you've been a fan of any of Stryper's previous albums. Even if you haven't been a fan this may very well be the album that changes your mind about the band (in a good way). This song grooves along really nicely (there's almost a bit of funk in that groove), which makes this yet another of the album's highlights.
"Sympathy." With an song like this on an album like this they won't need any. It's another very mid 80's sounding song, and like the other songs on this album that sound like they're from that era it is very well written and delivered with conviction. This would have been a hugely popular song in 1986, but in 2013 it's likely going to just be a favorite among their remaining fanbase. Still, with album sales the way they are now that's just a reality. Even so, this is a great song and deserves to be heard by a wider audience than it is likely to get.
By the time we get to the album's final track it's clear that Stryper has a, "Renewed," energy to go along with their passion for the type of music that they play. This is a band that sounds like they're having fun. "Renewed," is an uptempo song with a ton of that renewed energy and it just sounds great from top to bottom. This is really good stuff.
The only possible flaw through the album is the snare drum sound. It's passable, but less than great. The guitars, bass, and the toms & kick drums all sound great, but the snare sound is merely OK. Having done some studio recording I know how hard it can be to get a top notch snare sound, but I have to think that they could have done better than this. Oh, well - the album is killer and being overly critical of this snare drum sound is really just nit picking. I've heard a lot worse.
Their last all new studio album, Murder By Pride, was a very good Stryper album, but No More Hell To Pay is a great Stryper album. And the more I think about it the more I think that this may very well be their best album ever. How's that for the pleasant musical surprise of 2013?