|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Michael Sweet & Danny Bernini|
|Record Label: Big3||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website: Stryper|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 45:51|
It was late 2002 and Michael Sweet was contacted by Hollywood Records about his input regarding the song selection process of a new Stryper compilation they were planning. Michael answered by suggesting they not only let Stryper decide upon the track listing but return to the studio and record two new songs as well. The end result was “Something” and “For You”, the opening tracks to the 18 song 2003 compilation Seven – The Best Of Stryper. Stryper proceeded to embark on a 32 city coast to coast US tour to celebrate the release, which also saw the recording of the groups first live album, 7 Weeks: Live In America, 2003.
Upon returning home from tour, long term bassist Tim Gaines submitted his resignation to the band while Michael entered the studio to begin work on a new solo record. Michael finished the project in the summer of 2004, at which point Stryper introduced its new bassist, Tracy Ferrie, at a show in Disney World in Florida. Feeling that a new beginning was starting to take shape for the group, Michael contacted Robert (Sweet- drums), Oz (Fox- guitars) and Tracy about the idea of turning his solo project into a new Stryper album. The three could not have been more excited and were soon brought in to record their parts for Stryper’s fifth full length album, the summer of 2005 release Reborn.
After completing the subsequent tour in support of Reborn, Michael immediately began composing the material for Stryper’s next recording project, Murder By Pride. Returning to the studio in the summer of 2007, Stryper finished mixing and mastering the album in early 2008 but did not release it (on Big3 Records) until the summer of the following year. One of the reasons for the delay is that Michael acted as co-lead vocalist for Boston during its 2008 summer tour, after previously singing several songs with Boston as part of its tribute to the late Brad Delp.
Unlike Reborn, which treaded the waters of modern hard rock territory, MBP finds Stryper returning to its root by incorporating guitar solos and vocal harmonies while featuring the heavier sound. If I were to invite a comparison, it might be To Hell With The Devil (again, the all around heaviness) and In God We Trust (due to touches of the commercial) but with some modern elements not unlike Reborn.
Songwriting wise, Michael has outdone himself on MBP in putting together his best group of songs in literally years (perhaps decades). The guy literally bled his heart and soul into the material here, with the end result being an album that proves in no uncertain terms he has not list his prime songwriting skills.
The albums heavier material showcases this best. “Murder By Pride” and “4 Leaf Clover” stand out with their catchy choruses while “Mercy Over Blame” and “Everything” deliver a metal edged sound. A Stryper album would not be complete without a customary ballad, as is found on “Alive”, while melodic hard rocker “Love Is Why” stands out for the strength of its music and lyrics. A more modern – but no less able – direction is taken on the energetic “Eclipse For The Son” and the albums second ballad, “I Believe”. Rounding things out is a very fine cover of the Boston classic “Peace Of Mind”.
Michael remains in top form as a vocalist. While singing in a somewhat lower key when compared to the bands eighties heyday, he does let loose with several trademark screams throughout the project- and proves he has not lost his range in the process. You will also find guitar solos in abundance here, as Michael and Oz aptly demonstrate on “4 Leaf Clover”, with its duel lead guitar trade off, and the ripping eighties style leads gracing “Murder By Pride” and “Mercy Over Blame”. It also must be noted Tracy Ferrie’s skillful bass work, which is placed quite prominently in the mix.
I am sure most of you reading this are aware that Robert Sweet did not lend his timekeeping skills to the project. While the reasoning behind this decision is beyond the scope of this review, session drummer Kenny Aronoff puts in a capable if not somewhat generic performance. I cannot help but think Robert’s creativity would have resulted in the all around better project, which leads to my final point here: a significant interval existed between the completion of MBP and its final release- a period in which Robert could have been brought in to complete his drum tracks.
Now, by no means is MBP a perfect album. Production has some rough edges that could have been smoothed out. The drum sound is particularly weak. Also, I have never liked the album artwork while there are a couple of songs – “The Plan” and ”Run In You” – I have been unable to warm up to.
“Eclipse For The Son” starts to a raucous guitar riff that almost has a punk vibe to it. Is this Green Day? No, of course note, the song proves undeniably Stryper, reflected in the signature harmony vocals backing its chorus and trademark pull out all the stops guitar solo. Great hook, great energy and great way to get the album going- both musically and lyrically:
Where did I go wrong?
A shattered life, a wasted song
I composed, I lived and wrote each one
What is destiny?
To Live and Love and Die Honorably
So I'll trade My Eclipse for The Son
“4 Leaf Clover” heads in the heavier musical direction while maintaining the group’s melodic sensibilities. Upheld its distance by a big, eighties style guitar sound, the song will command your attention with its slow and driving verses and catchy chorus in which Michael exhibits the full range to his voice. The duel lead work hearkens back to “The Rock That Makes Me Roll” (from Soldiers Under Command). Being careful about what you put your faith in is the subject matter at hand:
There's no strength in a unicorn
No luck in a 4 Leaf Clover
There's no life unless it's born
And no death when it's over
We've listened with open ears yet closed our minds
We've loved without any tears from our own eyes
We've gone to the parties in our cheap disguise
Stryper imbues its signature sound to the Boston cover “Peace Of Mind” while staying true to the original at the same time. Layered backing vocals, once more, make their presence felt while the guitar harmonies – ranging from the melodic to bordering on all out metal – are as tight as they get. Boston guitarist Tom Scholz lends his abilities to the song as well.
Several quality ballads have been composed by Stryper over the years, with “Honestly” (THWTD) and “Lady” (ATL) both coming to mind. “Alive” ranks with the group’s finest. The song draws its inspiration from “Honestly” as a piano sustains its verses and just the right amount of guitar its emotionally charged chorus. Released as a single in the 80’s, I cannot help but think “Alive” would garner its share of MTV and FM radio airplay. This one talks about how there is no denying God’s love:
Then I realize - I'm Alive, I'll survive
I was only dreaming that our love died
I'm Alive, I'll survive
I'll never stop believing or deny
Listen, the birds are singing once more
The waves are crashing on shore
'Cause You love me....
“The Plan” is one of my least favorite tracks here. The song is really not that bad, it just ranks a couple of notches below the albums better material. Musically, it heads in a mid-paced melodic rock direction with a modern edge. Decent hook and, again, far from bad but not remarkable either. My overall feeling is the guys could have come up with something better.
“Murder By Pride” has old school Stryper written all over it. Now, by “old school” I mean it is by far the most eighties sounding of the albums tracks, delivering a wallop guitar wise but also showcasing a gripping chorus certain to remain with you for some time. I cannot help but think this would also receive its share of airplay twenty years ago. “Murder By Pride” talks about surrendering to God:
Seeds that were growing have been dried up by my flesh
I walk the walk and talk the talk but where's the rest
I could have everything even what's behind the stars
But I built my prison without windows, without bars
Gotta fight, gotta stop living a lie
Gotta fall, gotta lay down and die
Gotta stand and run to the other side
Gotta live or it's Murder By Pride
“Mercy Over Blame” challenges for albums heaviest. With Tracy Ferrie’s pronounced bass lines leading the way and Michael delivering several trademark screams, the song establishes a near unrelenting impetus – the rhythm guitar is right in your face – but proves surprisingly melodic upon reaching a chorus shored up by Styx-like backing vocals. “Mercy Over Blame” contains some of the finest lyrics here:
When we all reach Heaven
There will be no shame
'Cause when we stand before Him
He will know each name
It's all about believing
He died and took the pain
When we all reach Heaven
It's Mercy Over Blame
Faith heals the scars
That pride has brought upon
Grace will be ours
When all we have is gone
“I Believe”, the albums second ballad, takes a modern approach. The modern emphasis comes about as a result of a guitar sound which many have compared to Creed, a particular I cannot help but agree. Musically, I find “I Believe” – due to its copious melody – to be near the equal of “Alive” and stands out as an example of Stryper staying relevant to not only its past but the present as well. “I Believe” proves aptly entitled:
I Believe in You and You believe in me
I Believe in Love and Love believes in me
I Believe in faith and hope and destiny
I Believe in Life and Life believes in me
I Believe in God and what He sees in me
I Believe there's more to life eternally
A joining of acoustic guitar and pumping bass lines characterizes the laid back “Run In You”, a polished melodic rocker that would not sound out of place on In God We Trust. Similar to “The Plan”, however, I find it to rate just below the albums better material in that it seems to be missing that extra element of creativity or inspiration. Again, I cannot help but think they could have come up with something better.
The quality returns on “Love Is Why”. The acoustic guitar also makes its presence felt here but the music is much stronger, reflected in a chorus that is perfect as it gets and elements of the commercial and guitar driven in just the right amounts. This one can best be described as melodic hard rock not unlike “Free” (THWTD). “Love Is Why” is a song of true love:
Love is patient, Love is Kind, Love - it has no pride
Love will wait forever, Love won't hide
Love is patient, Love is Kind, Love - it has no pride
Love will wait forever, Love won't hide
“Everything” represents a return to a heavier direction. Yes, metal edged rhythm guitars play a leading role here but what stands out about the song is its impetus, gradually building force throughout its verses until exploding in full fury for a decisive chorus in which the bands makes a faith based statement:
You're my everything - (everything)
My bridge across the water - (my living spring)
The melody and the song I'll - (forever sing)
Don't You know that You're my everything
You're my everything
I find the “My Love (I’ll Always Show)” cover to be anticlimactic. The song first appeared as a syrupy ballad on the 1986 The Yellow And Black Attack re-issue only to return as an all out hard rocker on The Roxx Regime Demos two years ago. And therein lies the problem: the song has already been done recently- so why bother record it again? It only lessens its impact. And besides, in later 2007 there was talk from the Stryper camp of covering “Save Me”, a blistering hard rocker off Michael’s 2007 solo release Truth. “Save Me” was actually written with Stryper in mind and would have sounded right at home on MBP. Why wasn’t it included instead? It would have made for the better album.
On MBP Stryper does a good job of recapturing its classic sound while staying relevant to the present. The more complete recording when compared to Reborn, MBP features the total package: top notch songwriting (Michael, once more, outdid himself in this area) and strong band performance (lead vocals, lead guitar and bass all stand out). Despite some misgivings in terms of packaging and production, the album comes highly recommended.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Eclipse Of The Son” (4:04), “4 Leaf Clover” (3:42), “Peace Of Mind” (3:58), “Alive” (3:36), “The Plan” (3:10), “Murder By Pride” (3:18), “I Believe” (3:43), “Run In You” (4:15), ”Love Is Why” (4:07), “Mercy Over Blame” (4:07), “Everything” (4:26), “My Love (I'll Always Show)” (3:14)
Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Oz Fox – Guitars
Tracy Ferrie – Bass
Kenny Aronoff – Drums
Paul McNamara - Piano & Keyboards
Danny Bernini – Percussions
Tom Scholz – Guitars