Album of the Week 45-2013: Stryper – No More Hell To Pay

Neither praise nor rejection for Stryper based solely on their religious beliefs would not be fair to the Californians. Yes, they’ve laid pretty heavily on the religious lyrics – although some of it is the exact same imagery many secular bands in the genre use – but the band also is responsible for a couple of awesome melodic Hardrock and Metal tunes and Michael Sweet is one of the best singers in the business, even today at age 50. Atheists like myself may need to give ‘No More Hell To Pay’ a shot; the good word is much more subtle and the band’s sound is surprisingly dark this time.

In the early nineties, Stryper took a lot of beating from their core audience for ‘Against The Law’, while the less overtly religious lyrics of the album open the doors to other audiences at the time. For the latter audience, ‘No More Hell To Pay’ may be a similar sort of album. This is, however, an album that is notably more Metal than the eighties Hardrock approach of ‘Against The Law’. Despite the band’s usual sense of strong melodies, all of the songs are proudly riff-based. Also, those who gave up on the band after ‘Reborn’ will probably be surprised by the number of guitar solos heard on the album.

The song material on ‘No More Hell To Pay’ is extremely well-written. My main gripe with Stryper was never their lyrical subject matter, but their incredibly syrupy-sweet, vomit inducing ballads, but even the sole ballad on the album (‘The One’) is quite good. It does help that it’s a guitar ballad and not the piano pastiche of the past.

But it’s quite obvious that Stryper came to rock this time. ‘Saved By Love’ is a Speed Metal tune that fits perfectly fine with their uptempo eighties material, ‘Legacy’ has a pounding riff and some of Michael Sweet’s most aggressive vocal work to date, the cover of ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ rocks hard – much moreso than the Doobie Brothers’ rendition even – and ‘Water Into Wine’ has sort of a sleazy eighties Hardrock vibe.

Personal favorites, however, would be the incredibly heavy stomper ‘Marching Into Battle’, which according to Michael Sweet was one of the first songs he ever wrote and has an awesome, haunting chorus, the perfect melodic Hardrock tune that is ‘Sympathy’, a worthy contender for Frontiers Records’ ultimate single of 2013 with its flawless harmonies in the chorus, and the uptempo rocker ‘Te Amo’, which is quite remniscent of Iron Maiden’s most poppy moments, not in the last place because of a well-written section under the fantastic solos of Mike Sweet and Oz Fox.

My only minor complaint with ‘No More Hell To Pay’ is that a little more variation in the tempos would have been beneficial for the album. There is quite a lot of midtempo material on the album and that isn’t necessarily a problem, but with the album opening with two midtempo tracks – one of which, opener ‘Revelation’, is nothing short of amazing – swapping tracks 2 and 3 may not have been a bad idea. Also, for the same reason, I would have put the uptempo closer ‘Renewed’ earlier on the album, maybe between ‘Sticks & Stones’ and ‘Water Into Wine’.

Apart from that, Stryper made a quality product here. Many people have called the album the best album they’ve done since ‘To Hell With The Devil’. For me personally, the darker tone makes this one even better. This may be Stryper’s best record so far, although time has to tell if it has the lasting value ‘Soldiers Under Command’ has. I think it will. It has the songs and performances to back it up. And one of the perfect melodic Rock singles of the year. Isn’t that combination exactly what made Stryper so popular in the eighties?

Recommended tracks: ‘Marching Into Battle’, ‘Sympathy’, ‘Te Amo’, ‘Saved By Love’

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