|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Michael Wagener|
|Record Label: Enigma||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1985||Artist Website: Stryper|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 45:13|
In follow up to its groundbreaking 1984 debut EP The Yellow And Black Attack, Stryper returned a year later with a full length sophomore effort in Soldiers Under Command that continued in the energetic melodic metal direction of its predecessor. Stryper, if anything, exhibited further growth and maturity in its songwriting skills in that tracks such as "Soldiers Under Command", "First Love", "The Rock That Makes Me Roll", "Reach Out" and "Surrender" rank among the best of its career. Nevertheless, it is the incredible distorted lead guitar work of Oz Fox that helps put the project over the top- he was without a doubt in his prime during this period of the bands history. (If in doubt, check out his work on tracks such as “Soldiers Under Command, “The Rock That Makes Me Roll” and “Surrender”.) Robert Sweet, at the same time, is literally all over the place on drums, contributing just the right amount of double bass whenever needed. Lead vocalist Michael Sweet maintains the same high level of performance as found on the bands debut with his abundant and vibrant voice. The underrated Tim Gaines rounds out the line up on bass.
Soldiers Under Command showcases a clean and crisp sounding production job reflecting demonstrated improvement over The Yellow And Black Attack. The rhythm guitar projects the needed upfront edge and crispness, while the lead guitar and drums both evenly rise above the instrumentation. Only the bass guitar fails to stand out in the mix as it should.
I have always been of the opinion that Stryper sounds best on its heaviest and most guitar driven material and such is the case with the albums hard hitting title track. Set in motion by an edgy metal flavored guitar riff, "Soldiers Under Command" advances at a driving mid-tempo pace until it attains a deep sounding chorus backed by a prevailing rhythm guitar sound. Michael and Oz dual on lead guitar throughout a minute long instrumental passage. As its title implies, "Soldiers Under Command" touches upon the issue of spiritual warfare:
Are you a soldier under God's command?
Help fight the good fight, join up while you can
The battle that's waging is fought so easily
Through Him, without sin there is victory
I find "Makes Me Wanna Sing" to be nothing less than three minute adrenalin rush. After an up-tempo guitar riff provides the backbone to the song during its first verse, an abundance of polished vocal harmonies bolster a simple but non-stop hook filled chorus that comes across worshipful in feel:
Jesus, King, King of Kings
Jesus, makes me wanna sing
Following a blistering solo from Oz, the rhythm guitar drops from the mix leaving the band to repeat its chorus acappella. I wonder if Michael can still hit the high note during the scream he cuts loose with at the end of the song?
"Together Forever" keeps the album moving in an energetic melodic metal direction. The vocal harmonies at the start of the song give way to a groove flavored riff that pushes it at an upbeat tempo to a chorus coming across every bit as catchy as it is energetic. I like how the song ends as more of the bands vocal harmonies are carried over pounding double bass.
While "Honestly" or "Lady" are often the first songs that come to mind when discussing Stryper's best ballads, it is this reviewer’s opinion that "First Love" deserves equal consideration. A piano propels the song through its first and second verse before an acoustic guitar enters the mix in time to reinforce a sweeping chorus with a compelling commercial flavored hook. Once "First Love" picks up in pace at the start of its third verse, the rhythm guitar takes over hard and heavy and underscores an instrumental passage in which Oz and Michael once again trade off. "First Love" is about exactly that:
There is no love like the love of your first love
It's so true
It's for you as you are
Tears in the night
Filled with pain
You're running from the love
That you had once before - your first love
"The Rock That Makes Me Roll" ranks among the albums heaviest tracks. An upfront mix of metallic rhythm guitar drives the song forward before a plethora of deep sounding vocal harmonies dominate the double bass driven bridge that follows. Maintaining its energetic momentum, "The Rock That Makes Me Roll" moves on to a powerfully delivered chorus in which Michael displays the abundant range to his voice. Michael and Oz top things off with thirty seconds of the albums best dual lead guitar work. "The Rock That Makes Me Roll" is simple but straightforward in its lyrical approach:
He's the rock that makes me roll
Rockin' all the world
Giving me the courage to be bold
Giving me just what I need
After the bands trademark vocal harmonies open the melodic hard rocker "Reach Out", they return in the middle of a verse driven by a choppy rhythm guitar in addition to propelling a strong smooth sounding chorus. A nice lengthy instrumental passage showcases more dual lead guitar work, while a combination of tight sounding rhythm guitar harmony and vocal harmonies carries the song over its last minute. Robert puts on an absolute clinic in power drumming.
The uninspired "(Waiting For) A Love That's Real" fails to rank among the albums better material. Introduced by an organ, the song maintains an even mid-tempo pace during its first verse and bridge prior to flowing to an ordinary sounding chorus that borders on the pedestrian. Michael does nail a very fine guitar solo, however.
"Together As One", the albums second ballad, also struggles to hold up under repeated play. A piano carries "Together As One" through its first verse until the rhythm section steps forward at the start of the second, just a touch of vocal harmonies accentuating the song as it attains a chorus that does not quite make the grade due to its lackluster feel.
The superb "Surrender" takes off to a heavy guitar riff and a scream from Michael. Picking up further in pace for its first verse, the song storms ahead to a resounding chorus in which the rhythm guitar moves to the front of the mix in a hard hitting manner. Oz follows with an incredible pull-out-all-the-stops distorted guitar solo ranking among his very best. "Surrender" talks about the need for salvation, period:
Jesus Christ is the lover of your soul
And He wants to give you all you need
so freely surrender
To the King
Oz takes another opportunity to cut loose over the songs last minute before it fades out as Michael exclaims "Freely surrender - open up unto His majesty" over pounding double bass.
Soldiers Under Command closes to a hard rocking rendition of "Battle Hymn Of The Republic", done Stryper-style.
In the end, Soldiers Under Command - which went on to sell over a half a million copies - adds up to a very impressive though somewhat uneven full length effort from Stryper. For example, I do not hesitate to skip over "(Waiting For) A Love That's Real" and "Together As One". And while "Battle Hymn Of The Republic" is not bad, I cannot help but think it was added to fill space. A couple of more hard rockers along the lines "Soldiers Under Command", "The Rock That Makes Me Roll" and "Surrender" would have helped out here.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Soldiers Under Command" (5:03), "Makes Me Wanna Sing" (2:51), "Together Forever" (4:03), "First Love" (5:43), "The Rock That Makes Me Roll" (4:56), "Reach Out" (5:21), "(Waiting For) A Love That’s Real" (4:36), "Together As One" (5:01), "Surrender" (4:28), "Battle Hymn Of The Republic" (2:36)
Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Oz Fox – Guitars
Tim Gaines – Bass & Keyboards
Robert Sweet – Drums