Released by: Frontiers Records
Release Date: April 20th, 2018
Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals, Lead and Rhythm Guitars, BGVs
Oz Fox – Rhythm Guitars, BGVs
Perry Richardson – Bass Guitar, BGVs
Robert Sweet – The Visual Timekeeper
1.Take It To The Cross
4. God Damn Evil
5. You Don’t Even Know
6. The Valley
7. Sea Of Thieves
9. Can’t Live Without Your Love
10. Own Up
11. The Devil Doesn’t Live Here
The body of work from Stryper over the last 30+ years is matched by few bands. God Damn Evil, their latest release, is yet another testament to the enduring legacy and talent of a band determined to improve upon that body of work with each subsequent release. Lyrically, I would describe this latest album as fearless. Stryper have never really conceded to the pressures of conforming to what others might prefer them to be and say. It is with that level of courage that enables them to write, record, and release such an audacious declaration…God Damn Evil.
The album opens with “Take It To The Cross.” It is one of the more interesting tracks I’ve heard from Stryper in some time. Full disclosure, the first 2 or 3 times listening to the chorus, my thought was, “what in the world?” (Warning: Obscure Christian metal reference in 3…2…1, it actually reminded me of the opening laugh on Barren Cross’, “Cultic Regimes.” But I’ve since realized the two are not that similar except for maybe the pitch.) The opening minute of the song is reminiscent of “Abyss” on To Hell With The Devil which is intriguing because before the release of this latest album, it was rumored to have a controversial or at least “shocking” title, much like THWTD did back in the 80’s. The song occasionally has an almost identical groove to “Yahweh” from Fallen. And then there’s the chorus. It was an adjustment in the beginning but it’s nice to see Stryper trying something new. Speaking of new, Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall, Act of Defiance) provides death growls on this track which is definitely a first for Stryper.
The second track, “Sorry”, was also the second song released via video from Frontiers Music (“Take It To The Cross” being the first). As we’ve come to expect from Stryper, it has a catchy chorus and could easily be selected as a fan favorite. The band is solid on this tune providing a crunchy backdrop to Sweet’s vocals. Michael and Oz treat us to a nice twin guitar solo and another repeat of the memorable chorus closes out the song.
As if defying age, Michael Sweet seems to be getting better in his vocal ability. “Lost” is a prime example of this. I’ve heard Michael mention in interviews that he is singing in a lower key now compared to the early days and that is completely understandable. But it’s the sheer power and control he exudes after all these years that impresses me the most. As for the music on “Lost”, it’s just a straight-ahead hard rock tune with brazen lyrics that ask the question, “Are we lost? At what cost?” It’s as if Michael, the prime lyricist, sees the days ahead as bumpy at best and terrifying at worst. Very apropos questions for our world today.
The title track is as bold as it is addictive. Stryper obviously was intent on making a statement which they absolutely do. Sweet has stated this track is simply his way of asking God to condemn evil. Nothing more, nothing less. Musically, the song has what I would call a party groove. The BGV’s are at full volume during the chorus and why not? It’s one of the distinct aspects of Stryper that fans have come to love and expect. There’s also a very nice twin guitar solo. Oz took over the rhythm guitar duties a few years ago but thankfully has not given up soloing. I have no doubt “God Damn Evil” will become a fan favorite given its sing-along chorus.
“You Don’t Even Know” seems like it might have been written with a certain outspoken singer in mind but regardless, it basically deals with forming opinions of others and judging those you couldn’t possibly know. Admittedly, it made me think of all the sewage that gets spewed on social media but it very well could and should be taken as a reprimand against society as a whole to simply treat others with kindness. The song itself is a bare-bones hard rock song. Stylistically, it reminds me of the Murder By Pride album or something similar to one of Michael’s solo projects but with a harder edge.
“The Valley” is a tip of the hat to Psalm 23 which states, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The band is altogether rocking on this song. I can’t get enough of it. I’ve had it on repeat multiple times. Michael sings with so much passion you can feel it. He and Oz share solo duties once again and they do not disappoint.
“Sea Of Thieves” speeds things up and has a bit of a Van Halen vibe to me. It’s just a fun song in which to listen. The band is firing on all cylinders here.
“Beautiful” seems to have been written from God’s perspective towards humanity. This is yet another catchy tune and has quickly become one of my favorites. “You’re more than a million to one. So shine with the moon and the sun. ‘Cause you are beautiful. You are wonderful. Your life is meaningful. And you will always be to me…Beautiful!!”
“Can’t Live Without Your Love” is the lone power ballad on this album. Michael pours his heart out as he proclaims his love for the lady in his life and confesses that he could not survive without hers.
“Own Up” is a solid song with crunchy guitars and plenty of solos. This tune is basically about confessing the truth and admitting when you’re wrong…surrounded by a massive groove. “You’re gonna have to own up. You’re gonna have to take the heat.”
And last but definitely not least is my favorite song on the album, “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here.” It is a fast-paced rocker that reminds me of Saved By Love (NMHTP) and The Reign (IGWT) from previous albums. I can’t get enough of this track. There’s just so much energy, crunch, screams, and riffing. I have yet to mention Robert and that is somewhat on purpose because he ROCKS on this song. He shines on the whole album but especially on this final song. And what an incredible one to close out the album! For those that are familiar with Stryper‘s body of work, you already know the talent that Michael, Oz, and Robert bring to the table and God Damn Evil is another solid effort. Everything that you’d expect is represented yet again; high-pitched vocals, layered guitars, a plethora of solos, a solid rhythm section, background harmonies, and great production.
My only real complaint with this album is the cover. And it’s probably not for the reason you are thinking. I’ve read many complaints about the cover of God Damn Evil and whether God should be depicted the way that He is. But my issue is with the cover art itself; or the color scheme/theme, if you will. The last 3 albums, including this one, have VERY similar covers as far as color scheme, theme, etc. Fire at the bottom, sky at the top with the viewer looking upward. The original To Hell With The Devil cover also resembles this theme. It’s not a huge deal. Obviously, it has nothing to do with the music itself. It’s just something I noticed and if the Stryper guys were asking, I’d suggest maybe coming up with a different idea for the next album cover.
Stryper found themselves in the unenviable position last year of parting ways with long-time bassist, Tim Gaines. Perry Richardson, formerly of FireHouse, was hired as his replacement but because of scheduling conflicts and deadlines, he was unable to record the bass tracks on GDE. John O’Boyle, who played bass on Sweet’s last 2 solo albums, recorded the bass tracks. I believe he performed superbly.
It seems to me that Stryper is at the top of their game and show no signs of slowing down. The cohesiveness of the band along with the production of God Damn Evil, not to mention the writing (both lyrically and musically), make this one of their best releases to date. I can’t wait to catch them on the upcoming tour and hear these songs played “live.”
Written by: Steve Howell