|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Michael Sweet|
|Record Label: Frontiers||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website: Stryper|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 95%|
Still fresh from its 2013 Angelic Warlord album of the year (95% review) and successful recapture of its eighties prime form in No More Hell To Pay, Stryper returns in the fall of 2015 with its ninth full length studio offering entitled Fallen. The album picks up where No More Hell To Pay leaves off in maintaining the classic melodic metal and hard rock leanings while upholding similar levels of consistency and continuity- no skip buttons or filler tracks, just one ballad and emphasizing the heavier aspect to the groups sound. If anything, Fallen takes things to the next level in this regard in serving as the most aggressive album from Stryper to date, with an overall darker vibe and bit of a tuned down E to dropped D flair throughout. I like to think of Fallen accordingly as joining the metallic edges of Soldiers Under Command and metal arena rock qualities inherit to To Hell With The Devil with the understated bluesy tones of Against The Law.
When placed alongside one another, I find No More Hell To Pay slightly more polished and Fallen a touch rawer, albeit without sacrificing production quality. Where the two meet in a photo finish is overall merit, reflected in the consecutive final scores of 95%. As both a reviewer and fan, I am grateful that not only Stryper is still around and productive as it is, but also performing at such a high level. Hence, how it is icing on the cake the group is delighting fans in playing up a heavier sound as opposed to going in a pop influenced direction akin to In God We Trust, an album that while having its moments was (in my opinion) softer than a down comforter. Speaking of which, I had recent opportunity to hear a song off the new Def Leppard album that was ‘drenched’ in so much backing vocals it sounds as if recorded at Pakaderm Studios (circa late eighties to early nineties) with brothers Elefante at the production helm.
Stryper has actually been on the comeback trail since 2003 when it reunited to celebrate its 20th anniversary to embark on a tour across America, which resulted in its first live album, 7 Weeks: Live In America. Full-length effort Reborn, with its polished modern hard rock sound, followed in 2005, and Murder By Pride, starting the transition back to eighties based metal and hard rock, in 2008. Outside of NMHTP and Fallen, Stryper has also put out a pair of cover albums, 2011 and 2013 efforts The Covering and Second Coming, respectively, in addition to its second live release Live At The Whiskey from 2014. It also must be noted the productivity of vocalist and songwriter Michael Sweet, who released a solo album in 2014, I’m Not Your Suicide, in addition to an early 2015 collaboration with guitarist George Lynch under the heading Sweet & Lynch, Only To Rise.
The natural inclination might be to think Michael is potentially spreading himself too thin songwriting wise due to contributing to so many projects, but such is not the case in that Fallen maintains a remarkable high level throughout. It starts with opener “Yahweh”, not only Stryper’s lengthiest piece ever at six and a half minutes but also the first time it has touched upon complex power metal territory. The song starts to layered acapella choir vocals that give way to a Soldiers Under Command dual guitar attack, not cresting until the procurement of an over the top epic refrain that would make Theocracy stand up and take notice. Credit Stryper for the creative experimentation and willingness to take some musical risks and expand upon its sound in the process.
Fallen proceeds to unleash two of its heaviest tracks in “Fallen” and “Pride”. Former manifests those darker qualities, incisive with its biting riff action and bombastic from timekeeping Robert Sweet’s thunderous presence in staying true to a tempo of a tempestuous form. The explosion at the end is straight off “Loud N’ Clear” from The Yellow And Black Attack. Latter gives rise to a straightforward hard rock feel in carried its distance by freight train guitars and momentum of a chugging, mid-paced nature. Refrain has intense written all over it. Inherit to the two is how Michael lends some biting edge to his vocal delivery. Otherwise, he continues to exhibit his trademark forthright power and range, keeping in mind he sings in a somewhat lower register in comparison to the groups eighties heyday (observation and not critique).
“Big Screen Lies” combines the best aspects of the heavy and melodic. With its militant metal anthem feel, the song battles from the start as contesting guitars and penetrative rhythm section (sort of like “The Rock That Makes Me Roll” either way) power things ahead. Sustaining the vibrant impetus is one of the albums catchiest and most arresting choruses. A Stryper album, of course, would not be complete without some searing dual lead guitar work and such is what “Big Screen Lies” delivers in abundance (Michael and Oz Fox form the most underrated of guitar teams).
Album takes a turn towards melodic hard rock on the two that ensue. “Heaven” scintillates with its tight as it gets guitar harmonies and AOR flavorings of its chorus in which the group’s signatures vocal melodies shine. Of note is the larger than life grooving bass line of Tim Gaines. “Love You Like I Do” ups the initiative further with some light pop flavorings in an eighties based metal format as the polished Stryper vocal melodies make a further defined statement (I am reminded of “Free” off THWTD). What I appreciate about Stryper is how it produces backing vocals that blandish and stay true to the song without unnecessarily ‘drenching’ things in the process.
Each Stryper album comes with at least one customary ballad, with the lush “All Over Again” playing said role on Fallen. This one takes a relaxed and laid-back approach, with ample doses of what sounds like steel guitar and bluesy harmonizing to create an eloquent (almost Country Western) effect. An emotional guitar solo tops things off. I cannot help but think Michael got the idea to use steel guitar from the track “Coming Home” off I’m Not Your Suicide. While not my favorite track from Fallen, “All Over Again” at the very least proves the equal of NMHTP ballad “The One”.
As many of you know, Stryper has an affinity for recording covers, including songs by Earth, Wind & Fire (“Shining Star” off Against The Law), Boston (“Peace Of Mind” off Murder By Pride) and The Doobie Brothers (“Jesus Is Just Alright” off NMHTP). The group even recorded an entire album of covers by mainstream artists that inspired them in The Covering. Stryper might not know it, but it actually is a cover band that also happens to perform originals on the side…
In all seriousness, the cover chosen for Fallen is the Black Sabbath classic “After Forever”, a somewhat predictable and conservative choice in light of the number of Christian bands that have also recorded the song, such as Deliverance (off What A Joke) and Troglodyte Dawn (self-titled). Still, Stryper stays true to the spirit of “After Forever” (noting the cool seventies influenced guitar soloing and melodic milieu throughout) while lending its unique spin at the same time (Michael sings in a higher register in comparison to a young Ozzy Osbourne).
Four solid as it gets classic melodic metal cuts close out the album. “Till I Get What I Need” gets things going, a short (two and a half minutes) but spicy groove rocker with an infectious refrain and front to back up-tempo proclivity. Yes, the song is somewhat abbreviated, but also a fun listen - very understated in terms of its engaging qualities - in proving a strong deep cut that makes an already very good album even better.
“Let There Be Light” is my favorite of the final four, paramount from how it combines glistening riff action and prodigious bass with a huge as it gets catchy chorus tinged by more of the bands rousing backing vocals. Another animated lead guitar run rounds things out. “The Calling” proves no less able with its metal anthem feel. The song plays up the more candid momentum, vintage Stryper with its unyielding guitar driven swagger and another engaging at once chorus reeking of full on inspiration. If the two had been recorded back in the day fans would consider them classics- or at the very least they would be concert staples.
Closing track “King Of Kings” traces to the mid-eighties, where it was performed live by Stryper (I recall the song from the Portland, Oregon stop of The Yellow And Black Attack tour with opening act Saint!). I always wondered what happened to “King Of Kings”, particularly in light of how its inclusion would have made Soldiers Under Command and To Hell With The Devil even better. Regardless, credit Stryper for dusting off what amounts an inspired metal piece with a prevailing worshipful refrain and the grand and stately if not majestic attributes to match.
Production reflects the group’s vast experience in melding just the right amount of crisp rawness and understated polish. Stryper’s press material sums things up best: “The highs are crisp and the lows are tight and punchy”. Credit also the cover art (courtesy of Stanis Decker, who also did NMHTP) with its eye-catching portrayal of Lucifer as he is being cast out of heaven.
Whether or not Stryper are a Christian band is problematic- the group insists it is not. That said, you could count on any album it records to reflect the faith if individual members and Fallen proves no exception:
“Yahweh” deals with the crucifixion -
And so, the soldiers took Jesus
Dragging His cross to a place where He knew
They hung a sign that would read “The King Of The Jews”
They nailed His flesh to the wood
He said, “It’s Finished,” and laid down His life
Gave up His spirit for all - He was crucified!
- and “Let There Be Light” creation:
On the first day He made Heaven, then earth and said let there be light
Then He separated the water from the sky
The ground becomes land, and waters became the seas, He was pleased
Trees would take root, and live to bear fruit
Let There Be Light - Day and a Night
Stars shining bright - Let There Be Light!
Subject matter to “Fallen” is self-explanatory
You were filled with pride because you were so beautiful
Your wisdom was corrupted for the sake of your splendor
You were cast down to the ground,
Exposed before the kings
Deceiver of the world,
You know you'll always be the great pretender
Now you're fallen, fallen, fallen
The focus of “Big Screen Lies” is the portrayal by the media of Christianity:
It's the way it's always been
As the wolfs lie in their den
Sharpening their tools
Feasting on the faith of those
Who dare to make it known
As a warning to the foes
You'll reap what you've sown
“King Of Kings” makes a worshipful statement:
He is the King of Kings
And the Lord of Lords
He died at Cavalry
So we could live forevermore
As a long-term Stryper fan, I cannot help but be encouraged with the momentum it carried over from NMHTP to Fallen, both of which (again, my opinion) are of album of the year quality. Stryper separates itself from a packed crowd of eighties metal bands from this standpoint by not only maintaining its original line up but also making (what many consider, including this reviewer) the best music of its career. Hence, how the continuity Michael, Robert, Tim and Oz bring to the table - backed by over 30 years experience - speaks for itself from a performance standpoint. In the end, Fallen proves everything you would want from a Stryper album in that all the necessarily ingredients are at hand: consistent songwriting, top-notch musicianship and vocals, strong production and colorful cover artwork.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Yahweh” (6:21), “Fallen” (3:46), “Pride” (4:32), “Big Screen Lies” (4:29), “Heaven” (4:20), “Love You Like I Do” (3:53), “All Over Again” (3:50), “After Forever” (5:51), “Till I Get What I Need” (2:41), “Let There Be Light” (4:32), “The Calling” (3:54), “King Of Kings” (4:13)
Michael Sweet - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Oz Fox - Guitars
Tim Gaines - Bass
Robert Sweet - Drums
Paul McNamara - Keyboards, Synthesizers & Moog