Heavy metal certainly has no shortage of rebels. It seems like everybody's rebelling against something, and that's part of the genre's allure. However, the most rebellious thing anybody can do is hold steadfast to personal beliefs and never waver. Stryper indisputably do both.
They're not shy about their Christian beliefs, but they're also consistently as heavy as any of the genre's pillars. Following up 2013's seminal opus No More Hell To Pay, which debuted at #6 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums Chart and #2 on the Christian Albums Chart, their eleventh full-length original album, Fallen [Frontiers Music SRL], is their heaviest offering to date.
"In the past 30 years, we've evolved into what we are now," says vocalist and guitarist Michael Sweet. "This is what we always really wanted to be. I love the progression. The story of Stryper is that of an underdog. We go against the grain with everything we do. This album is another chance to show the world what we can do."
In early 2015, Michael and his band mates Robert Sweet [drums], Oz Fox [guitar], and Tim Gaines [bass] retreated to Spirithouse Recording Studio in Northampton, MA. The four musicians collectively immersed themselves in the recording process for Fallen with Michael handling production yet again.
"There's something to be said for the chemistry of a whole band in the studio together," he continues. "We were there living and breathing this record, and I feel like the results speak for themselves."
Album opener "Yahweh" certainly does. Penned with Clint Lowery of Sevendust and Call Me No One, the six-minute plus anthem fuses tight thrash guitars with soaring vocals and a galloping beat. Airtight solos nearly collide with an orchestral refrain bolstered by a muscular groove.
"It's an epic unlike anything we've ever recorded," smiles Michael. "I was so moved by The Passion of the Christ. Even though it was bloody and disturbing, it represented what actually happened. I wanted the lyrics to be the same way."
At the same time, the first single "Pride" weaves together intricate fretwork with a slamming refrain that seesaws between swooning and searing. "Sometimes, pride gets in the way of what we want to accomplish or what we want to do," he sighs. "Everybody goes through that. It's my reminder saying, 'Let's not allow pride to tear us apart.' Nine times out of ten, that is what separates us. Beat our pride down, and we will survive."
"All Over Again" stands out as the album's centerpiece. With an orchestral elegance and an ever so slightly countrified swing, the track sits proudly in the Stryper canon alongside the likes of "Honestly." "It isn't a hair ballad or a piano ballad," he laughs. "It's different, and that's important to us. I have a funny feeling this might be a standout track for everyone."
Following a tradition of some bombastic and bruising covers, Stryper also tackled Black Sabbath's classic "After Forever." The foursome infused a new kind of fire into this timeless gem. "We grew up on Black Sabbath," he says. "It says something. Stryper covering a Sabbath tune causes much controversy. The lyrics are very interesting because it questions if Sabbath was a Christian band or not. They could have been the first Christian group if you take a closer look at those lyrics."
Stryper continue to remain metal stalwarts, leaving an indelible mark on the genre with every subsequent album. With hits in their arsenal such as "Calling On You", "Free", "I Believe In You" and "Always There For Your," album sales exceed over 10 million worldwide with their discography including one of the most successful Christian rock albums ever, 1986's multi-platinum, Grammy Award-nominate To Hell With The Devil. They also have the distinction of being the first band in history to notch two songs in MTV's Top 10 with "Free" and "Honestly."
Ultimately, for all the heaviness, Fallen possesses the power to uplift. What's more rebellious than that?
Michael leaves off, "I want everybody to walk away with excitement, encouragement, and joy. It's all positive. It's not about being heavy or dark. It's about sharing this energy. I hope they press the 'repeat' button and feel blown away."
That's exactly what all the best heavy metal does.