Rarely can a band have been as unfairly pilloried during its lifetime as Stryper. Unfairly? What about those yellow and black striped costumes, the poodle hairdos and vocals sometimes so high-pitched that you wondered if the band members were permanently wearing trousers two sizes too small? Well, I have two words for you – The Darkness…
The truth is that none of these things were out of context in the “hair-metal” days of the 1980s, the likes of which Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins (he’s a Stryper fan, incidentally) has successfully re-popularised with a slightly ironic wink for the 21st Century.
No, the reason Stryper were, for want of a better word, crucified was because of their unabashedly evangelical Christian lyrics, artwork and stage-show. Frankly, they had guts being so in-your-face at a time when heavy rock and metal were saturated with bands obsessed with sexual titillation or trite images of pentagrams.
And what a strange world it is that scorns a band for singing about something that has made them happy, but in the same breath lauds others for doing the same thing, even if the joy-givers in question are illegal substances, misogyny or violence.
Right, sermon over.
Why are we talking about Stryper anyway? Well, in what is increasingly becoming a trend among ’80s metal groups (Judas Priest, Motley Crüe etc), they have been “Reborn” (albeit with original bassist Tim Gaines replaced by Tracy Ferrie), and are releasing their first studio album for 15 years.
The “good news” (pun intended) for those who aren’t too young to have enjoyed Stryper first time around is that Reborn is a strong offering, full of the trademark Stryper touches but with a modern edge that stops it from being anachronistic.
In contrast to their reputation as a ballad band, Stryper were actually a heaven of a lot heavier than Motley Crüe and their ilk when they wanted to be. Thankfully, this trait has been retained on Reborn with Open Your Eyes, the title track, Live Again, 10,000 Years (a re-interpretation of Amazing Grace) and the reworking of 1988’s In God We Trust boasting huge, no-nonsense riffs, stomping rhythms and, of course, immense, anthemic choruses.
Those sing-along choruses and sections pervade the rest of the album too, with the otherwise rocking When Did I See You Cry? taking a breather for some Queen-style harmonies part-way through, and Make You Mine, Passion and If I Die standing tall as prime examples of catchy, melodic hard rock, much in the vein of old Stryper classics such as Calling On You and Free.
Criticisms? Well, Wait For You and Rain chuck in some background vocal “nah-nah-nahs” and “bah-bah-bah-bahs” that register higher than they should on the cheese-ometer. Oh, and Robert Sweet’s otherwise excellent percussive performance is marred only by a snare drum that “tonks” with no echo whatsoever. I’d say blame the producer but that’s his brother and band mainman Michael…
When Stryper disbanded at the start of 1992 I never thought I’d be sat reviewing another album of theirs 13 years on, let alone recommending it as worthy of purchase. However, Reborn – whilst not quite being in the otherworldly realms of To Hell With The Devil or Against The Law – is certainly a worthy addition to the Stryper canon.