CD Review: Stryper - No More Hell to Pay

CD Review: Stryper - No More Hell to Pay
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B+

Stryper - No More Hell to Pay 2013
Onward go these Christian heavy-metal soldiers, trudging off again to a war they've been fighting since their inception in 1984. Stryper's missionary work is never done, and on No More Hell to Pay, their eighth studio album, they unapologetically proselytize for Jesus as they always have. 

It's forgivable, given that it's pretty well established that for Stryper this religious fervor was never meant to be a gimmick. This is who they are, for better or worse, and if nothing else, at least they're not Jehovah's Witnesses.

Begrudgingly, the metal community, not known for being tolerant of religion and Christianity in particular, came to respect Stryper, even as cynics derided their black-and-yellow outfits and their teased hair. Trading in their bumble-bee spandex for black denim and t-shirts, Stryper's look is edgier and not so glamorous these days. The same goes for their sound. 

Was it God telling them they needed to get heavier? If so, the Almighty had the right idea. Living in the shadows, No More Hell to Pay is grittier than past Stryper offerings, with beefy, Goliath-sized riffs streaked with dirt and the strongest songwriting ever attributed to Michael Sweet and the disciples. Toggling between mid-tempo crunch and enticing crawls, Stryper has channeled its inner Accept or Judas Priest, forging melodies that have a firm grip and filling No More Hell to Pay to the brim with meaty, satisfying hooks. Tracks like the punishing "Legacy" and the stomping "Marching into Battle" are surprisingly aggressive, while "Sticks and Stones" slithers menacingly and Sweet and Oz Fox take their axes to the sharpening stone and grind away on "Water into Wine." 

All of them, though, bow to what becomes a powerful anthem of a title track, where slow-burning riffage sticks in your craw and a wind-swept chorus signals a redemptive change in fortunes, a theme near and dear to Stryper's heart. Mostly foregoing speed in favor of heft, Stryper, nevertheless, rips through "Saved By Love" like a righteous twister, and perhaps predictably, they give a euphoric reading of the old Doobie Brothers' hit "Jesus is Just Alright," which makes some of the embarrassingly ham-handed lyricism found throughout No More Hell to Pay easier to swallow. It's not all cringe-worthy or hackneyed, as there's always been a sincerity and sense of purpose in their writing that's refreshing and unusual in the world of metal, but then comes a chorus crafted around the old "sticks and stones may break my bones" mantra that shakes your faith in Stryper, even if its spirited attitude is admirable. 

Still, like Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, Stryper has driven away its more pop-oriented inclinations for No More Hell to Pay. This seems to be the kind of music they've wanted to make all along. More comfortable than ever in their own skin, Stryper has come out swinging against their critics, landing haymaker after haymaker, with Sweet's trademark vocal wailing and the technically brilliant guitar fireworks of Sweet and Fox throwing caution to the wind. And their backing harmonies are as golden as ever. While they may advocate a peaceful "turn the other cheek" philosophy, with No More Hell to Pay they've shown themselves to be tougher than anybody thought.
- Peter Lindblad

No comments:

Post a Comment