Stryper – No More Hell To Pay
Reviewed by SpaceKev
Warning: long preamble incoming.
Stryper has always been an anomaly in hard-rock and heavy metal circles. They play the devil’s music but proudly proclaim their Christian faith for all to see. They have been marginalized for being preachy, gimmicky, and undeservedly wimpy. For those of us ancient enough to remember, they burst into the world in the early 80s just as the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles was making a name for itself with other acts such as RATT, Motley Crue, W.A.S.P., and Quiet Riot. Their popularity began to wane as the second wave of bands from the Strip began to emerge in the late 80s.
Stryper’s first two records set the stage for what was to come. I dare defy any hard rocker and headbanger to DISLIKE the song “Soldiers Under Command”. Their third record, To Hell With The Devil, exposed the band to a much much larger audience. The first two singles, “Free” and “Calling On You” where played regularly on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, and on heavy rotation on such radio station’s as Z-Rock. The third single from the record, the piano laden ballad “Honestly”, sent their popularity into the stratosphere. When the song began to saturate wuss radio and my sister knew the words, I knew it was all over for the band. It was only a matter of time before they started to try to write the proverbial hit song. Sure enough, with the next record they did just that and their popularity plummeted.
I was fortunate enough to see the band perform live shortly before they imploded. It was a small place, packed to the gills with sweaty people. If the fire marshall was present, I am positive the place would have closed before the first power chord was struck. It was a stadium rock show in a small club, and one of the best shows I have ever been to.
The reason for my long drawn out introduction is to say that, 25 years later, Stryper is back on track with what I consider to be one of my favorite CDs from 2013 with No More Hell To Pay. Sure, the band reformed 10 years ago and even released some original music. Reborn and Murder By Pride are good records, records that you’d expect the band to make. However, No More Hell To Pay is the record that the fans have been waiting for them to make for years.
Older fans who turned their backs on Stryper back in the day missed out on some incredible vocal harmonies, and to me even more delightfully, some of the best dual harmony guitar work to ever be recorded. Both of these are present in large quantities on No More Hell To Pay.
The first two songs set the stage for the entire CD, and are also the two songs most like the classic Stryper sound. “Revelation” and the title track “No More Hell To Pay” get things going. The catchy hooks of the songs and the instantly recognizable dual guitar work is there, just two of the reasons fans flocked to them in the first place. The next couple of songs are the only weak points on the CD. “Saved By Love” is an energetic and even good song once it gets going, but it begins with a cliché style riff that put girls on the dance floor 30 years ago. While I am sure there are those that would disagree with me, I feel that hard rock shouldn’t be something you get dressed up for and go dancing to. The next song is a cover of the Doobie Brother’s classic “Jesus Is Just Alright”. Once again, not a bad song, and Stryper does a good rendition of it, but in my four and a half decades on terra firma, I can’t begin to calculate how many times I have heard that song. I just know that it’s a boat load. I skip this song because of that.
The rest of the CD falls in line, one great track after another. While the rest of the songs are not exactly in the classic Stryper style, they are so well written and catchy that there is no need or desire for them to be. “Legacy” and “Te Amo” have a healthy dose of adrenaline in them, and “Water Into Wine” is as anthemic as any anthem out there. As a bonus, the ballad “The One” is not at all a syrupy piano tune like their ballads of yore, but a surprising and delightful modern rock song.
Stryper is an unabashedly Christian rock band. There is no getting around it. The lyrics reflect their beliefs, but this time around those lyrics are far more mature and not as simplistic as they used to be. For those who are closed-minded, whether the lyrics are mature or simplistic, it will more than likely turn them away. The songs here, however, will definitely bring older fans back into the fold, and even give those who wrote them off a reason for a second look. As far as the younger crowd goes (those who came of age in this current millennia), it might be a slightly harder sell. If they are inclined to listen to and like hard rock, No More Hell To Pay should meet with a resounding yes. If they are fans of great vocals and incredible guitar work, yes. If they must have a constant double bass drum and a tempo of 180 or higher, then probably not. Other than my two small gripes (and they exist only because of my over-familiarity with Stryper, not because they are bad), No More Hell To Pay is a fantastic CD and worthy of entry to my “Best of 2013” list.
Live Long and Rock Hard,
4.0 // 5