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God Damn Evil - Stryper

Stryper has really reinvented themselves with this release. Putting the actual music aside for a moment, let’s first look at the controversy surrounding the band, which is now in its thirty-fifth year. 
The name of the record is one that has ultra-conservative fans of the band puzzled, disappointed, and angry. Stryper has always been about spreading the positive message of their Christian faith. The nifty wordplay of the God Damn Evil title seems to contradict that mission for many fans. When I spoke with frontman Michael Sweet and read off the title he jokingly asked, “Did you just swear?” He went on to say that, lo and behold, it is just creative wordplay and the band continues its God-loving ways as it always has. And the bigger and more important controversy surrounding this album is the firing of original bass player Tim Gaines. The split with Gaines was anything but amicable, and the social media mud-slinging left some Stryper fans stained. So, this band that has stood for faith and positivity for so many years, is now being portrayed in a light that’s less than Heavenly. The music is going to have to do the talking for Stryper at this stage in their history, so let’s see what it has to say....

Let me start by saying that I have been a fan of this band since 1984, when their first record (The Yellow And Black Attack) was released. I always enjoyed and respected their songwriting talent and musicianship, as well as the positive vibe they put forth. With that said, they always sounded a little bit awkward to me when they tried to get heavier. Michael Sweet is a tremendously talented vocalist with a voice cleaner than a hospital operating room, and I was never fully convinced when he tried adding a bit of grit. In more recent years, Stryper has found a way to make Sweet’s voice a perfect fit for some very heavy material. Starting with 2013’s No More Hell To Pay, the band has been writing heavier songs and, arguably, some of the best material in their catalog. God Damn Evil continues with that streak, and it is the definition of heavy.

With only one listen to the lead track, “Take It To The Cross,” no one should argue that this is the heaviest Stryper has ever been. The song features a guest appearance from Matt Bachand of Shadows Fall, who supplies a death metal growl to the outro of the tune. Don’t laugh, this is no joke. The chorus of the song has Sweet barking out the title of the song in a guttural staccato squeal. Have you always wondered what Stryper would sound like doing thrash? Well, here you go.
As the album progresses, I don’t think it ever gets quite to the point of “Take It To The Cross” again, with the possible exception of the album’s closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here,” but that’s not to say that it isn’t unrelenting. It stays intense throughout. Stryper is known and revered by many for their artistic ballads, but even the one track that comes anywhere near being a ballad (“Can’t Live Without Your Love”) still packs some nice punch. 
The great thing about Stryper is their ability to blend metal with great big choruses and full-bodied vocal harmonies. The best examples of this are  “Sea Of Thieves,” “Sorry,” “Own Up,” and the title track. All of these songs are written in a fist-pumping, anthemic style with production that places the punch right in your gut. Another aspect that I love about this record, and especially the two previous records, is the fact that Stryper is no longer afraid to have a darker, more menacing sound. Songs like “The Valley” and “Lost” have a more haunting and sullen cast to them, relaying a positive message with a kind of “minor chord solemnity” rather than the more typical “major chord luminance.” And to further my thoughts on the production of the record, one of the first things I noticed was how high the bass sounded in the mix. When I asked Michael Sweet about this he assured me that it was entirely unintentional. He also made it clear that new Stryper bassist Perry Richardson (ex-Firehouse) did not play on the album, but John O’Boyle from Sweet’s solo band was brought in for the recording of God Damn Evil. Well bravo Mr. O’Boyle, you absolutely electrify this record. I think I could just listen to the isolated bass track for this record and still love it. You’ll find some of the most creative and punishing bass lines from any Stryper record right here on God Damn Evil.

The controversy may be swirling and some fans may have abandoned the Stryper ship with this record, but for me it feels like yet another sail has been hoisted. Stryper just keeps getting stronger and more musically powerful with every release. And as far as their message, it’s still coming across loud ’n’ clear.


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