Stryper brings rockin’ sound, message to Rhythm Grille
Three and a half decades ago, Stryper came on the scene and shook up both the Christian music and secular heavy metal scenes with forceful, yet tuneful music and lyrics that openly addressed the faith and belief of the band members.
The band created plenty of controversy in the Christian world, where many fans and industry professionals felt a group playing heavy metal — a genre often associated with the devil and the dark side — had no place within this scene, even if the songs shared Christian messages.
Stryper brings those messages to Jergel’s Rhythm Grille on May 22.
And even though Stryper enjoyed a brief bout of major success in the late 1980s — the band’s third album, the 1986 release “To Hell with the Devil,” made Stryper the first contemporary Christian act to notch a platinum album — the group was never fully embraced within heavy metal/hard rock circles, largely because of the Christian lyrics.
On the road
But 35 years after forming in Orange County, Calif., Stryper is still around and touring behind a new album, “God Damn Evil.” And singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Michael Sweet says not much has changed when it comes to the band’s relationship with the music world.
“We’ve never been accepted by either side. The secular side, the mainstream, they’ve never accepted us, to this day. We’re probably that band that everyone’s going to go to whenever there’s a time to mock. We’ll be the band used for that, in most cases. Now on the Christian side, we’ve never really had the full support of the Christian side because we don’t fit into their little club. We’re not wearing suits and ties and going to every church and preaching,” Sweet said.
Sweet said he knew the album’s title was likely to ruffle feathers in the Christian music scene or be seen in the larger sense as a publicity stunt. And he reported that Walmart and Christian retail chains are refusing to carry the album because of the title. But Sweet and his bandmates — his brother, Robert Sweet (drums), Oz Fox (guitar) and new bassist Perry Richardson (replacing Tim Gaines) — felt the title fit the themes of the new album.
Evil in the world
“Just being reminded of the evil world we live in, and seeing the Las Vegas shooting, for example, and taking it to a whole different level (the title seemed appropriate),” Sweet said. “When you see all this stuff going on, on what feels like on a daily basis, it really implanted in our minds the thought of maybe this is the right time to have such a title.”
Sweet feels the uptick in hatred and violence is a product of one major development since the days of 9/11 — social media. Several songs on “God Damn Evil” directly relate to the internet as a catalyst for shaping and sharing opinions, expressing disapproval or hatred — even suggesting violence and obtaining the weaponry to carry out such actions.
“It really is the core for this album,” Sweet said. “You’ve got songs like ‘You Don’t Even Know Me,’ about people attacking other people on the internet and they’ve never even met them, they don’t know them. You’ve got, I’m trying to think, ‘Own Up.’ You’ve got (the song) ‘Lost.’ You’ve got ‘God Damn Evil,’ (with the line) ‘We power up the empty screen and let the big games begin’; there you go. And it’s really an album that’s based on mostly the misuse of the internet.”
Musically, though, fans may see the album as a bit of a throwback. The album features the kind of classic-sounding melodic ’70s-rooted metal that typified early Stryper albums like “Soldiers Under Command” (1985), “To Hell with the Devil” and “In God We Trust” (1988).
Fans can expect to hear a few of the new songs and older favorites in Stryper’s shows this year, but the show is taking a unique twist. To mark the group’s 35th anniversary, Stryper is playing covers of songs by classic bands that influenced their own music. Sweet thinks fans will also see a revitalized band, thanks to the arrival of Perry after a rather ugly split with longtime bassist Gaines.
“There’s a new energy within the band. That’s brought with it a recharge. So there’s that to start with. Everything is sounding great,” Sweet said. “Perry’s bass playing and his vocals and everything just fit right in and it sounds fantastic.”