Stryper frontman Michael Sweet could barely contain himself in the weeks prior to announcing the title of the band’s forthcoming new album. He warned anyone who would listen that the oncoming platter of yellow and black was going to contain some surprises, knowing full well that in doing so, he was setting himself up to fail. Attaining any level of shock and awe with the record-buying public is a nearly impossible standard to achieve these days.
To his credit, though, Sweet didn’t waiver.
“This one is going to shock you,” he continued to preach.
Reckoning day arrived, and sure enough, Sweet delivered on his promise: The name of the band’s 12th album? “God Damn Evil.”
His bark was indeed as big as his bite.
And it didn’t stop there.
Soon thereafter came another jolt to the system in the form of the album’s first single, the Black Sabbath-like galloping of “Take It To The Cross.” Not only did the band put listeners on their heels with the album title, they delivered a follow-up cross to the chops when the verse of “Take It To The Cross” suddenly transitioned to an unexpected, machine-gun style, death metal chorus sung by Matt Blanchard (Act of Defiance and Shadows Fall). It’s almost as if Sweet, having grown tired of the multitude of detractors over the years, finally said, “Alright, shine you guys. You want heavy? Eat this.”
It’s no secret that Sweet, for all intents and purposes, is the heart of Stryper. As the primary songwriter both musically and lyrically, as he goes, so does the band. With a solo career, two albums with guitar maestro George Lynch over the course of four years, and, yes, writing Stryper albums (“No More Hell to Pay,” 2013; and “Fallen,” 2015), one has to wonder how much creative juice the man has left in him.
If “God Damn Evil” is the gauge, Sweet’s tank (and by default, Stryper’s) is nowhere near empty.
The 11-song album features some of the band’s best work in decades. Tracks like “Sorry” and “God Damn Evil” are classic Stryper from top to bottom, each giving subtle nods to the band’s glory days of the mid 1980s with their catchy, sing-along choruses amongst that ever-so distinctive guitar tone made famous by Sweet and fellow Stryper guitarist Oz Fox.
The band shines collectively on the soaring “Lost,” which features the weaving bass work of studio musician John O’Boyle, who played on Sweet’s solo albums and stepped up to provide the low end on “God Damn Evil” following the dismissal of longtime bassist Tim Gaines a year ago (former Firehouse bassist Perry Richardson has since been hired as a permanent member). Michael’s brother, Robert “The Visual Timekeeper” Sweet is his usual steady self, adding just enough tasty cymbal and double-bass work to make the track jump.
“You Don’t Even Know,” features an opening riff that could easily be a second, slightly greasier cousin to 1985’s “(Waiting For) A Love That Is Real,” before weaving off in a heavier direction. “Beautiful” delivers a monstrously grooving opening riff, which, despite its thundering guitar work, works well with Sweet’s high octave vocal performance.
While Stryper has pulled the religious overtone back ever so slightly in recent years, their Christian faith is still very much at the forefront of everything they do, as is shown in “The Valley,” which features possibly the most clever vocal rendition of the Bible passage from Psalm 23:4 ever recorded.
Easily the most accessible track on the album is the pseudo-ballad “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” with its bluesy overtones and cascading chorus the band is known for. If there’s such thing as a ballad that doesn’t feel like a ballad, this is it. Just when the song gets dangerously close to the paint-by-numbers, hair band fare that helped precipitate the decline of hard rock in the early 1990s, a Michael Schenker-esque melodic guitar solo saves the day. Double-timed album closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here” veers a bit too close to reverential Van Halen territory at times, and “Sea of Thieves” and “Own Up” do little to move the needle, especially in the face of the quality material presented before both tracks, but don’t let that be a distraction. “God Damn Evil” is an album that deserves to be heard. The songwriting is good; the production is superb; and the accompanying performances are rock solid.
Don’t let your momma know, but there’s good in this here evil.
“God Damn Evil” track listing:
Take It To The Cross
God Damn Evil
You Don’t Even Know Me
Sea Of Thieves
Can’t Live Without Your Love
The Devil Doesn’t Live Here
For more information on Stryper: