Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Stryken - First Strike (Collector's Edition)
   
Musical Style: Thunder Rock Produced By: Rex Carroll
Record Label: Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2009 Artist Website:
Tracks: 18 Rating: 75%
Running Time: 67:03
Stryken - First Strike - Girder Records version

Often referred to as the “fundamentalists in armor” and playing what it describes as “thunder rock”, Stryken was put together in Arizona in the late seventies by founding members Dale and Steve Streiker initially under the moniker Stryker.  After releasing a single and a four song demo, the two proceeded to place a want ad for a drummer, which led them to a talented timekeeper by the name of Joey Knight.  A move to Austin came about in late 1982, and by the spring of the following year the band recorded a nine song cassette only release entitled Blitzkrieg that sold very well in the Southwest.  By the mid-eighties, however, Stryker started to receive pressure from the Stryper camp about changing its name.  Yes, Stryker rhythms with Stryper, but one important thing to keep in mind is that the name Stryker was trademarked by the band after it formed in the late seventies- a time when the boys in yellow and black were more than likely still in junior high school.  Needless to say, cooler heads prevailed and the band agreed to make a change by switching the last letter in its name from an “r” to an “n”.  Hence, Stryken was officially born.  With a permanent name in place and its line up finalized with the addition of bassist Ezekiel Vade, Stryken went through a complete makeover in its image which saw each member of the group don body armor that is symbolic of the Armor of God as described in Ephesians 6:11.  Stryken soon formed its own label, Chrystal Records, which it used to release a 12” single that included the tracks “Rock On” and “Surprise” in addition to its 1987 full length debut, appropriately entitled, First Strike (which came out only on cassette and red transparent vinyl). 

While First Strike went out of print and became a hard to find collectors item, Girder Records in 2006 digitally re-mastered and re-issued First Strike on CD for the first time with new album artwork and a detailed band history written by HM Magazine editor Doug Van Pelt.  Three years later First Strike was re-mastered and re-issued again, this time by Retroactive Records as a “collectors edition” in the digipak format and with the nine songs from the Blitzkrieg recording as bonus tracks.

The new re-mastering corrects the flaws characteristic to the 2006 re-issue – particularly the overemphasize on the highs and the too bright or “tin-like” feel that goes along with it – in presenting a more balanced and even mix.  This - along with the Britzkrieg tracks - makes purchasing the Retroactive re-issue a necessity.

The digipak, unfortunately, proves a step down in that it comes without a booklet (hence, no lyrics) while the CD struggles to fit onto the “button” glued onto the back cover.

So, what is the best way to describe “thunder rock”?  Well, according to the band, “thunder rock” is a slower, powerful, driving beat, highlighting on guitars and drums.  I might describe it as a combination of eighties influenced metal and straightforward hard rock certain to appeal to fans of Stryper, Bloodgood, Saint, Messiah Prophet, Whitecross, Motley Crue and Kiss.  First Strike, upon repeated listen, actually proves itself quite the consistent effort in that its tracks, for the most part, are well constructed and hold up under repeated play.  The album, for example, delivers its share of anthemic hard rockers (“Crush The Head Of Satan” & “Rock On”), a couple of upbeat melodic metal tracks (“One Way” & “State Of Emergency’), a  slower, more driving number (“The Young Men have A Vision”) and a pair of ballads (“The Answer” & “Surprise”).  And the band pulls it off without a hitch, which is a credit to the strength of the songwriting here. 

Lead vocal duties are capably handled by both Dale and Steve Streiker; however, the albums liner notes fail to specify which vocalist handles which track.  While not quite on the same level as contemporaries Michael Sweet (Stryper) or Les Carlson (Bloodgood) in terms of talent, the two put forth a commendable showing with their mid-ranged approach.

Dale performs solidly on lead guitar as well, delivering a blistering solo on “Crush The Head Of Satan”, taking a more gritty approach on “Rock On” and even demonstrating a bluesier side to his playing on “Surprise”.  Drummer Joey Knight and bassist Ezekiel Vade round out the rhythm section.

Production values, unfortunately, are not much more than a step above demo quality.  That being said, it is important to keep in mind that First Strike was recorded on a very limited budget – “$800 and a used car” in the bands own words – using mid-eighties technology.

Stryken - First Strike - original album artwork

The album gets off to a strong start with “Crush The Head Of Satan”.  A keyboard solo sets the song in motion before a hard hitting riff takes over as the band shouts “Crush!” in the background.  Advancing through its first verse in anthem-like fashion, “Crush The Head Of Satan” gradually builds in impetus until it peaks for a bombastic chorus driven by deep sounding vocal harmonies.  Dale delivers the goods with an over-the-top guitar solo.  “Crush The Head Of Satan” talks about doing exactly that:

He roars like a lion, seeking whom he may devour
Oh yeah!
But think for a minute, who gave him the power,
Oh yeah!
I know, you know, it’s time we all choose
Jesus – satan, you win or loose

Crush the head of satan!  Under our feet
Crush the head of satan!  Lord God of peace
Crush the head of satan!  Don’t let him breath

“One Way” begins to a few seconds of open air rhythm guitar before picking up in pace upon reaching its first verse.  Gaining momentum as the rhythm guitar moves to the front of the mix at the start of the second, “One Way” culminates for a chorus that repeats its title four straight times in a hook driven manner.

“The Answer” is the first of the albums two ballads.  A blend of quietly played guitar and lead guitar helps slowly propel the song through its first verse before a touch of vocal harmonies enters the mix in time to accent a chorus with a simple but straightforward message:

He’s all you need (x3)
The Answer, The Answer

Gaining impetus for its second verse as the drums kick in, The Answer is compelled through its conclusion at a steadier, more mid-tempo pace.  “The Answer” details, the birth, life and ultimate crucifixion and resurrection of Christ:

They laughed at Him,
A crown of thorns on His head
Beat His face with their fists,
Stripped His clothes and spit
Made Him carry the tree,
And they laughed in glee
Drove the spikes
through His hands and feet
Crucified my King, the King

“State Of Emergency” is a re-worked version of a song called “Played” which initially appeared on the bands Blitzkrieg tape.  Introduced, appropriately, to the sound of a “test emergency broadcast” followed by several seconds of beeping, the song forges through its verse portions fast and heavy as Joey Knight pounds away on drums.  The high-octane chorus that follows is carried at a resounding upbeat tempo.  “State Of Emergency” details how Christ will heal your broken heart from the impressions of a kid:

Your heart it feels no more
So you’re stabbing at your own back,
Never saying what you’ve sown

State of emergency!
Christ! Will heal all that you feel
And I know you will live for ever MORE!  WHOA…!

The instrumental “First Strike” is the only track here to not quite make the grade.  The song is pretty much carried its distance by a bizarre amalgamation of guitar feedback, offbeat sound effects and distorted rhythm guitar, creating an effect that almost comes across disjointed if not lacking in direction.  Perhaps if “First Strike” had opened the album – as opposed to “side two” of the vinyl version (remember those days?) – it might have come off better.

“Rock On” does, well, exactly that.  Getting underway to a drum solo before progressing through its first verse in an anthem-like manner as the rhythm guitar bounces in and out of the mix, “Rock On” culminates for a driving chorus that comes across in the form of a Christian metal anthem:

Rock on!
Got my feet on the ground, got my eyes on heaven!
Rock on!
It’s the dawn of the day of the true revelation!

Dale once again delivers the goods with a nice extended grit-laden guitar solo.  Great song.  Somebody should do a cover of this…

Beginning to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar, “The Young Men Have A Vision” advances through its first and second verse at a slower, more mid-tempo pace before evenly transitioning to a background vocal driven chorus coming across every bit as heavy as it is stalwart.  Dale steps forward and contributes a fluid guitar solo to a song that focuses on the issue of spiritual warfare:

Soldiers pledge allegiance
Allegiance to the cross
The One who lives for all
He’s living for ever more!

Everyone’s a soldier
Fighting for his life
Everyone’s a sinner
Born after Adam’s kind

The hard rocking “Riot” kicks in to a commanding riff backed by a touch of quietly played guitar.  Establishing a driving and bluesy tempo pace for its first and second verse, “Riot” culminates for a down tuned chorus that comes across almost biting if not forceful in its delivery.  Again, another example of the bands mature songwriting skills.

The album closes with “Surprise”, a six minute Beatlesque ballad that made its first and only appearance on the B-side to the bands 1986 12” single “Rock On”.  The song opens slowly as an acoustic guitar helps lead the way through its first verse.  Picking up in pace at the start of the second, “Surprise” gains further momentum for a catchy chorus with an overriding commercial feel.  An instrumental section carried by several seconds of bluesy lead guitar work puts things over the top.

I might describe the Blitzkrieg tracks as good but unremarkable- and nostalgic at the same time.  The original cassette release, of course, has been out of print and impossible to find for literally decades, which only adds to the value of the Retroactive re-issue.

Musically, what we have in Blitzkrieg is a blend of hard rock and melodic rock with a heavy early eighties influence.  If I were to invite a comparison, the First Strike material comes across heavier in reflecting the more pronounced metal feel.  Production values are surprisingly commendable - when considering the era and budget at hand - and hold up well in light of First Strike.  Again, mastering is spot on.

Getting things underway is the title track “Blitzkrieg”, which is an altered version of the instrumental “First Strike”.  The two that follow, “Look Away” and “I’m Alright”, are rugged hard rockers.  “Look Away” maintains more of an upbeat heading while “I’m Alright” moves at the reduced tempo in featuring the catchier hook.

The keyboard based sounds of “Need Your Love”, with its notable melody, rates with the stronger of the Blitzkrieg tracks. Keyboards also play a role on “Circus Man”, a swarthy piece with a pumping bass line and determined impetus that carries its full length. 

“Right Of Way” is a good but generic hard rocker (plenty of spicy lead guitar work on this one) while “Cross The Line” maintains the “back to basics” hard rock approach but with complementary touches of cow bell.

As previously referenced, “Played” is a different version of “State Of Emergency” (in terms of its lyrical direction) and “It’s Over” a pop-based rocker that represents the mellowest of Blitzkrieg material.

Following the release of First Strike, the band was approached by K-Tel Records about placing “Rock On” on a Christian metal compilation it was putting together.  Stryken, of course, gave their permission and Righteous Metal soon saw the light of day in 1987, a very fine effort made up of tracks by Bloodgood, Barren Cross, Messiah Prophet, Philadelphia and many others.  After Righteous Metal started to take off and do well in sales, K-Tel again contacted Stryken, this time about signing a contract to its sister label and even went so far as to suggest a “heaven and hell” tour with Venom.  With an offer on the table that included an upfront advance for the new album, the band, unfortunately, fell apart at just the moment things were starting to fall in place.  The members of Stryken went their separate ways and, as a result, put an end to this very noteworthy chapter in the history of Christian metal.

Review by: Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing (First Strike): “Crush The Head Of Satan” (3:13), “One Way” (2:39), “The Answer” (5:04), “State Of Emergency” (2:37), “First Strike” (2:38), “Rock On” (3:14), “The Young Men Have A Vision” (4:51), “Riot” (5:03), “Surprise” (5:50)

Track Listing (Blitzkrieg): “Blitzkrieg” (2:30), “Look Away” (2:32), “I’m Alright” (3:42), “Need Your Love” (3:56), “Circus Man” (4:53), “Right Of Way” (3:41), “Cross The Line” (4:25), “Played” (2:19), “It’s Over” (4:29)

Musicians
Dale Streiker – Vocals & Lead Guitar
Stephen Streiker – Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Ezekiel Vade – Bass
Joey Knight – Drums & Percussion

Reference List
Peterson, Doug. ”Stryken Interview.” White Throne 2 (1987): 16-18.

 

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