Good music, good message
When Stryper first emerged in 1984 with their debut EP, the unexpected arrival of a Christian band on the metal scene got them more attention than their music. And given the rather primitive state of their music on that release, perhaps that was a good thing. A follow-up 12-inch Christmas single, "Reason for the Season" (with "Winter Wonderland" on the back) showed some imagination and growing musicianship.
But "Soldiers Under Command" shows that the band is ready to be judged on its music as much as the novelty of its approach.
"Reach Out" is a strong head-banging tune, with Oz Fox and Michael Sweet trading guitar riffs with a feel for timing that's surprisingly polished in such a young band. Sweet's vocals are similar to those of Styx's Dennis DeYoung, which is hardly a detriment. "(Waiting for) A Love That's Real" is an energetic little rocker with Robert Sweet setting a tight beat on drums. Fox's guitar attacks are the equal of any metal master, and no head-banger will be disappointed in Michael Sweet's vocals. "Together Forever" is an anthem in the Rush mold, with a nice melody, powerful guitar riffs and insistent drumbeat. Can't ask for more than that in a good metal tune.
Still, make no mistake: Stryper is a Christian band. Besides the upbeat lyrics, the band also throws Bibles into the audience during concerts. Michael Sweet, the band's leader as well as vocalist, has consistently maintained that the band's commitment to Christianity is personal and sincere, and not a marketing gimmick.
Decide for yourself, though: Here is a stanza of lyrics taken from "The Rock That Makes Me Roll":
You say that rock 'n' roll is strong
Frankly, whatever the reason for the Christian message, and ignoring the issue of religious preference, it is refreshing to see a band doing something beyond the stereotypical "I love Satan, fuck women they're bitches" crap that most of the new metal bands put out. Christian or not, Stryper is unafraid to try something new on the metal scene, and that alone merits them a listen.
And it's not just Christian kids turning on to Stryper's positive messages. Over the summer (1985), San Diego's metal mag, Loud 'n' Clear, held a survey to determine whether San Diego's metalheads preferred Stryper or Slayer, a clone from the L.A. satanic metal mold.
Stryper blew Slayer away.
However, with all the public outcry for labeling record albums to help parents guide their children's purchases, and with the ACLU's eternal vigilance for any hint of religion in public life, perhaps Stryper's albums should carry this label: "WARNING: This album contains religious lyrics that may instill decent morals and a sense of self-worth in your child. Purchase at your own risk."
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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