I imagine most of you reading this are familiar with Stryper, but for the few that aren't: yes, they are in fact a Christian metal band-quite legitimate and sincere in both respects-really the first truly metal Christian band in my opinion (I'm not the only one that would make such a statement). This year marks the 30th anniversary of Stryper by my reckoning, so they've stood the test of time without a doubt.
As much as I enjoy a wide spectrum of musical genres, metal has always had a special place in my heart-and for many reasons. Apart from things like thundering double-bass drums, cutting guitar riffs, and banshee screams that go on longer than some of the punk songs I also enjoy, I've always liked metal's image-it's spirit, it's vibe (yes, I like huge hair, leather, spandex, and spikes too). For me-growing up as a kid who never really fit in-metal was a true friend that allowed me to not worry too much about what others thought & to feel good about who I was. It was a great feeling to come home after a rough day, play my metal loudly, thrust my fist into the air, and dream of the day I'd be able to tell others "See, you shoulda been nicer to me."
Bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Lizzy Borden, Twisted Sister, Motley Crue were my core when it came to metal, but there was also Stryper. Yes, I had Yellow & Black Attack, Soldiers Under Command-loved them as much as the others and played them just as loudly. I even have to this day a chrome bracelet that I had custom engraved with "777" on it back in high school because of Stryper. I realized something about Stryper many of my more closed-minded friends never considered: that Stryper was the ULTIMATE form of rebellion-they were taking on EVERYone. Metal guys gave them flack for being a Christian band, and Christian groups attacked them for playing legitimate metal-they couldn't win. And yet, somehow they did! Their music videos were constantly among the most requested at a time when Bon Jovi & RATT "owned" mainstream metal-and they even toured with such acts. That they've kept their foot on the gas pedal all these years and never compromised-neither their spiritual beliefs nor their commitment to genuine metal-inspires me to this day. Anyway, on with the songs on Second Coming:
I won't go through a track-by-track listing on this review seeing as it's mostly a greatest hits compilation (there are 2 brand new tracks on it), but I'm quite happy that they opened the album with "Loud N' Clear"-it punches you in the face immediately (in a good way) and is a classic example of what I mean when I say that Stryper plays legitimate metal. All the great metal elements are there: double bass drums, blistering leads (AND sweet double-leads, even).
All my personal favorites I would hope for are on this album, and I think they did a fantastic job of selecting the tracks all around. Those familiar with Stryper know that they did their fair share of ballads, and they did a fantastic job of not putting too many of them on Second Coming-just enough to let you know they did them (the first one appears as track 5, "First Love").
One of the things I always loved about Stryper is that when they did ballads they seemed to come from different influences than most other metal acts-more of a Styx/ELO kind of thing rather than the typical, sappy GMaj-steel-string acoustic thing that was so popular among their peers.
As far as personal highlights go, "The Rock That Makes Me Roll" (track 6) has always stood out for me-one of my favorite guitar riffs ever-not just by Stryper-but by ANYone. If you are a die-hard metal fan and have never listened to Stryper, this is the song I suggest you begin with-you'll realize immediately that Stryper offered everthing Iron Maiden did (and even a little more, in a way). If not convinced yet, check out the opening scream from track 8 "Surrender" (eat your heart out Bruce Dickinson, much as I love you).
Track 10, "Calling On You" is another song that has long fascinated me. One thing Stryper had that many of their metal peers did not is a diverse melodic sensibility, and "Calling On You" is a great example of this. It's clearly a metal song, but intricately structured, and has much in common dynamically with Styx & ELO (as I mentioned earlier).
As to the two new songs, "Bleeding From Inside Out" & "Blackened" (tracks 15 & 16, respectively), they are a great continuation of a long-standing tradition we have come to know as Stryper. I like both songs very much and would have a hard time choosing one over the other-both encompass all the things I've been talking about in this entry. I honestly can't even say that I like them more or less than older songs that I enjoy by them-it's difficult to describe, but it's just sort of like this steady stream that's been flowing for more than 30 years-and these two new songs demonstrate that well. I would say that both songs are a bit more mature than the older songs-more complex in structure, but none of the classic elements that made them Stryper are lacking.
I'd have to reach deep to find something negative to say about Second Coming-something to the effect of "There's a typo in the CD text display," etc-(there is one by the way). If I could make one complaint about this album it would be that there are only two new songs on it-but as I understand it, they're working furiously to bring us lots more new material in the near future, so I'm pretty much okay with it. I'm happy with the songs chosen for this compilation and the way they were ordered-as I keep saying, everything just seems to sort of flow seamlessly. You hear a consistency throughout, never suspecting these songs were recorded over a 30-year span (even though they actually were)-which is a VERY rare thing in my experience. The artwork is fabulous, and it comes with a nice booklet inside (don't worry, no religious cartoon pamphlets) with pictures and lyrics to all the songs. As an added bonus-and in keeping with true metal tradition, they actually credit the guitar solos on the songs-a very nice touch I thought! (very METAL! \m/,)
In summary, I sincerely believe Second Coming will satisfy longtime fans of Stryper, as well as prick up the ears of the newbies (or "noobs" as my 8-yr old son likes to call them). Those who are open-minded will be glad they gave this album the time that it deserves; those metal fans who refuse to acknowledge them because of their Christian faith are missing out on an important part of metal's illustrious history, in my opinion. I know for certain that Stryper doesn't judge you for NOT being Christian, so I think it's only fair they aren't judged for being so. They've lost nothing-the illustrious Michael Sweet nails those banshee screams today even as he did 30 years ago. They retain their edge, energy, intensity, and unwavering commitment both to metal AND to their faith...oh, and they shred. May the metal continue to bring us together!