No stranger to stirring up hornet’s nests or releasing solid metal albums, original Christian metal band Stryper released God Damn Evil on April 20th, 2018.
This article does contain a review of GDE, as I will henceforth usually call it, but that review will be part of this article’s discussion of the band, their relationship with the public, and their newest release; and the review portion will be in “Part 2.”
Thanks for reading!
In 1983, three guys from southern California – two of them brothers, drummer Robert Sweet and guitarist/lead vocalist Michael Sweet – from California set out to make their own heavy metal band. They called themselves Roxx Regime and joined the glam and hair metal scene arising at that time. Soon, however, these kids carved out their own unique niche.
Under the preaching of such men as Billy Graham, all the guys in the band had become born-again Christians. Yet they still wanted to rock. So they changed their old love song lyrics to talk about Jesus instead of women, and they wrote all new songs informed by their faith, for which they were burning with newfound passion.
This passion led the band to desire a change in more than their souls, hearts, minds, and lyrics. They took inspiration from Isaiah 53:5 – “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” – and named themselves Stryper, donning yellow and black striped spandex outfits and producing, as fast as humanly possible, an EP to announce themselves to the world: 1984’s The Yellow and Black Attack. They began to tour relentlessly, playing anywhere they could, for Christians and non-Christians alike.
Man, were these guys controversial, from the start! Majorly so, to both Christians and non-Christians. They could have stuck to the more accepted, glam metal guns they started out with, and I am sure they would have succeeded in the scene. The label that originally had them, Enigma, either didn’t know for sure what Stryper was or forgot to tell their original producer, Ron Goudie (producer for such acts as Gwar and Death Angel), because he recalls being shocked and perplexed by Stryper’s unabashed Christianity, and the label didn’t even know what to do with the Yellow and Black Attack EP, unsure of how and where to market it. Stryper had decided to use metal to spread the Gospel, backed up by excellent instrumentation and Michael Sweet’s absolutely soaring lead vocals, even if their lyrics were often Velveeta cheesy.
Many non-Christians hated Stryper because the rock and metal scenes at that time were largely centered around a spirit of rebellion, especially against establishments. Although Stryper themselves were against certain establishments, they weren’t against the right ones, and, as a result, many non-Christians looked at Stryper and said, “Ah, that’s just Christianity. I’m over that!”
Still Stryper stuck to it. They continued to play to anyone who would lend them their ears, or simply on any open stage, and they continued to hone their skills, improving at a rapid pace from an average, aspiring metal group to a band possessing formidable skills. And they knew that to keep up, they had to play any venue. In fact, Scott Ian of Anthrax once recounted, respectfully, a time Stryper opened for Anthrax. Proclaiming Jesus to a crowd of drunken thrashers and throwing Bibles into their midst, as per usual some in the crowd appreciated the good performances but most only bristled at the message, screaming obscenities at Stryper and throwing the Bibles back at the band.
Even still, Stryper persisted. They knew what they were doing. They knew the message they were spreading, and they believed it their Matthew 28, Great Commission duty to do so with the means God had provided them.
Many Christians also hated Stryper. They were rock and metal, “the Devil’s music.” There wasn’t really a Christian rock community yet. There wasn’t even the thriving CCM community we see today, and many of the artists that were there – like Amy Grant – were already “selling out,” trying to get crossover hits. Stryper didn’t sell out to anyone but God.
In one televised message, famous (now infamous) preacher Jimmy Swaggart decried Stryper, calling them “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Of course, Swaggart himself turned out something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As Stryper has mentioned, we see how that turned out. Stryper is spreading Jesus’ message in their music to this day, and Swaggart, well, what happened to him has, if anything, been over-documented.
Then something crazy happened. Stryper found success! Their debut LP, Soldiers Under Command, achieved Gold status.
Not content with any status quo, Stryper threw gasoline on the controversy fire with their third record, naming it To Hell with the Devil. Many Christians were riled up, and many non-Christians were confused. . . until they spun it, that is. Either way, To Hell with the Devil garnered Stryper even more sales than Soldiers had, achieving Platinum status. Stryper had taken a risk, and it paid off in spades.
This whole Stryper journey has gone on for thirty-five years. Tumult has come and gone, both between Stryper and the public and within the Stryper camp. The band even broke up in 1993. Yet they never gave up or surrendered, rejoining in 2003 with a renewed fire in their bellies.
And now we arrive at our current point in history, with Stryper’s most controversial album title yet. GDE hasn’t stirred up quite as much contention as the band saw back in the days of To Hell with the Devil and Against the Law (which I didn’t even get into!), primarily because people know more about Stryper’s brand, and rock and metal aren’t the pop culture force they once were either. What the album’s title has done is force GDE onto the radar of people who weren’t going to give Stryper any attention at all this time around. Publications like Loudwire and Babblemouth had barely, if at all, even acknowledged a new Stryper release, but once Stryper announced the album title, publications like those began to perk up their ears. As far as I’m concerned, the attention is wonderful.
At this moment, I’d like to pause with three messages, two to non-Christians and one to Christians.
First, to non-Christians:
This album is not taking God’s name in vain, and I’ll get into that more below in my message to Christians.
Second, to non-Christians who don’t like Stryper because they’re so outspokenly Christian:
I don’t know what metal is to you. Art is subjective, so it may be a good many things to you. To me, metal is about (1) musical proficiency, ability, and experimentation; and (2) a platform anyone can use to discuss the things they desire to discuss, without conforming to social norms or expected methods. Metal is a place anyone can come to talk about the things they think about, even if those thoughts are socially unacceptable, difficult to confront, impolite, offensive, or otherwise hard to swallow. Anyone, no matter their background, current position, or worldview, can escape to metal for a release. More than any other genre, this is true of metal. If that metal freedom is to be maintained, just as with any freedom, anyone must be allowed a chance to talk. If you don’t like it, as the Anti-Nowhere League song famously covered by Metallica goes, “So what?!”
Hear Stryper out. They have certainly earned the chance.
Third, to Christians:
I don’t mean to address whether rock and metal are acceptable to listen to or perform. That is a debate to which a whole website could be dedicated. It’s also a debate that I don’t necessarily feel is worth getting into, and a debate where I don’t understand all the issues, though I do know the arguments given for those issues. I will leave that alone, except to give you my opinion: I love rock and metal; I think that any exploration of music is an exploration – essentially – of emotion and feelings; and I believe that any emotion or feeling should be explored, as long as it is not explored in a sinful way and, taken further, as long as it is explored in a healthy way. I could expound further, and I can answer any questions you might have for me, but I won’t say anything else for now.
I also don’t want to get into the question of whether a band like Stryper – where they represent Christianity and have Christianity built inherently into their art – has a style that is too ridiculous. Some people may, and do, regard it as such, since Stryper’s style resides comfortably within glam metal, and some feel that sort of music is trivial by nature, so trivial that a topic as serious as Christianity should not be explored in it. I don’t want to dive into that, because, as with the above, it could be a whole other conversation, and because that is a question of artistry, which, of course, is particularly subjective.
What I do want to get into is the merits or lack thereof of the title God Damn Evil. For several Christians, this is the controversy. Why is the title controversial? Because it uses the two words, together, “God” and “damn.” I had heard inklings of the storm to come back in late December 2017, in an interview with Michael Sweet by The Metal Voice where Sweet said this was going to be Stryper’s most controversial album title. He was correct!
For me, as a Christian, “God damn” used inappropriately, as an expletive, is one of the most offensive phrases I can hear. When I first saw the title, when it was announced in early February, I was taken aback for a second but not offended, because I knew instantly Stryper’s intention. I feel that anyone who knows Stryper in any capacity would. They’re trying to be a little shocking to get people’s attention, and then, with that attention gained, draw their audience to the idea that Christians ought to be praying that God damn true evil, that God will conquer, prevail over, true evil, as David prayed in Psalms 69 and 109. Just take a look at the chorus of the title track: “God damn evil/God damn it all/God save the people/But God damn the walls.”
The intent here is similar to the way Christian actor Charlton Heston described his use of “God damn you all to hell!” in the last scene of Planet of the Apes.
My thoughts on Stryper’s intentions were further confirmed in a tweet on February 7th from Michael Sweet:
However, some people who do understand Stryper’s heart have said, “You need a comma between ‘God’ and ‘damn.'” I even thought that at first, tweeting the same to the band.
Yet I realized that isn’t true, because Stryper’s use of the phrase “God damn evil” is not just a play on words. It’s also not just a worthy reclamation of the corruption of “God damn.” It’s a flipping around of the phrase “God bless [insert person, place, or thing here].” It’s not demanding anything of God – we aren’t worthy to demand anything of God. It’s saying, “May God damn evil.” In fact, adding that comma would change the meaning and significance a little.
My assumptions were even further confirmed by this quote from an interview Michael Sweet did with My Global Mind:
“Robert came up with the title idea a few years back, and we didn’t go with it because we felt like it would be a little too bold for that time. Fast forward to 2017 when we started the writing process for this album; I suggested using it and everyone was like, “Wow! It’s a bold statement!” We now live in bold times and need a bold statement. It’s not so much of a statement as a prayer request. It’s us asking God to damn evil. It’s that simple. It has created controversy. People are asking how we can take the Lord’s name in vain, or how can we be so blasphemous or swear? Stryper has been around for 34 years and never backed down on what we stand for. It’s odd that people are going to question what we mean by that statement. It boggles our mind! We have to keep explaining ourselves until we are dead and gone. Most people get it, the album cover hammers it home, and the lyrics seal the deal!”
How about this? When you hear someone use the phrase “God bless you,” or something to that effect, but you know that person doesn’t truly mean what they’re saying, how do you feel? If you wouldn’t get offended at that, why would you get offended by someone saying “God damn evil,” when you know for a fact they truly mean it? We should be ascribing the same weight to both. The Bible teaches us that we ought to take any saying involving God seriously, as you can see in verses like 2 John 10-11.
The principle should involve intent. The intent here is to draw attention to the phrase and then get people thinking about the meaning behind it. As far as I can see, the intent is good, and it achieves its goal.
In the end, though, if your conscience bothers you too much to check out this album, even though you understand Stryper’s intentions, follow your conscience. I will always advocate that you follow your conscience, as taught in Bible verses such as 1 Corinthians 8:7, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Timothy 1:19, and 1 Timothy 4:2. Going against your conscience is a terrible thing. . .
The article “No Stranger to Controversy” continues in “Part 2,” coming out April 26th at 7 PM CDT. If you want to do more research, which I recommend you do, on Stryper and their history, the links I reference in this article will lead you to some fantastic resources.
If you’d like to purchase GDE, follow our link here to buy it from Amazon, and E.D. will get some kickback if you do.