Title: God Damn Evil
Genre: Heavy Metal/Glam Metal/Hard Rock
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Length: 44 min.
Producer: Michael Sweet
Personnel: Michael Sweet (Lead Vocals, Guitars), Robert Sweet (Backing Vocals, Drums), Oz Fox (Backing Vocals, Guitars), John O’Boyle (Backing Vocals, Bass Guitar)
Guest Personnel: Matt Bachand (Death Growls on “Take It to the Cross”)
“No Stranger to Controversy, Part 2” assumes you have read “Part 1.” You may read “Part 2” as a standalone review of Stryper’s GDE, but that isn’t what I intend.
. . . Anyway, after all my discussion in “No Stranger to Controversy, Part 1,” how is God Damn Evil? Any good?
Really good. Best rock and metal album of the year so far? Well, this year has already given us some great rock and metal releases, but it is one of the best. Not only that, but also I find it to be one of the best of Stryper’s career, only, probably – we’ll see how it fares with further repeat spins – behind Fallen (Stryper’s last LP), To Hell with the Devil, and Soldiers Under Command. The riffs are strong; the melodies memorable; the instrumentalism excellent; and Michael Sweet’s voice – and he truly has maintained a great command of his voice – soaring as high as ever, also occasionally flying closer to the ground with a bit of grit, and, as always, often accompanied by three- and four-part harmony. Let’s talk about the tracks!
Right from the start, you know you’re in for something far ahead of run-of-the-mill with “Take It to the Cross.” Not that Stryper never played with speed and thrash influences before in their discography, but “Take It to the Cross” is kind of metal thrashing mad! After a one-minute synth build-up, the guitars and bass produce a hard-grooving riff with Robert Sweet’s fast clicking drums behind, creating a speeding machine that Michael Sweet’s vocals jump upon, biting and gnawing and high. The chorus is faster and heavier, with Sweet screaming, “Take it to the cross!” Behind him, the band shoots out a staccato, machine gun blaze, as if borrowed from Metallica’s “One.” Twin guitars from Michael Sweet and Oz Fox provide a red-hot solo, and the track finishes out with surprise death growls from Matt Bachand of the thrash and metalcore band Shadows Fall. Like DragonForce’s death growls on Reaching into Infinity last year, the idea is interesting but ultimately sounds out-of-place. “Take It to the Cross” is still an effectively shocking intro to the album, done in a fun way.
“Sorry” brings in Stryper’s more usual sound, with a bouncing hard rock riff for a glam-oriented tune. It’s memorable and will probably get stuck in your head, and the message is good: Instead of apologizing all the time, just start being a decent human. The proggy twin guitar solo reminds me of what gave Stryper value outside their glam niche: superior instrumentation.
“Lost” brings in another good riff, this one accentuated by John O’Boyle’s bass work, which continues for the whole song, even during Sweet’s Halford-heights vocal spotlight moments, even taking center stage. The message here is more general for a metal song: Is the world too far gone? But the latter half soloing, maybe the best so far on the album, helps you forget any genericism in this power metal style song.
Next up, that controversial title track. Introducing it is a grimy, hard rock riff, reminiscent of Accept or AC/DC, soon accompanied by Sweet screaming. When the verse kicks in, the band jumps forward for some gang vocals. Then, with the chorus, if you were still wondering about the album and song title, the lyrics lay bare the meaning. It’s a good track, and the title is a play on words that I can appreciate. I didn’t mention it before, but I love plays on words and turns of phrases, and this one, as I mentioned in “Part 1,” has a purpose I can praise. Toward the last seconds, the track gets weirdly funky but then ends out on a David Lee Roth/Axl Rose sort of swagger.
“You Don’t Even Know Me” takes the tempo, but not the might, down a notch to reflect on being misunderstood. Though this is another rock and metal cliché, the pondering is given some weight by a band who truly have been misunderstood their entire career.
“The Valley” lyrically references Psalm 23:4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for though art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The theme is placed into a fitting, traditional, heavy metal tune that rocks. “The Valley” is most certainly a compositional reference to Dio-era Sabbath, specifically the song “Heaven and Hell,” which Stryper covered on 2011’s The Covering.
“Sea of Thieves” takes us back to hard rock territory with a Van Halen-esque piece. “Beautiful” and “Can’t Live without Your Love” move toward the romantic heavenly imagery that Stryper used to dig into, sometimes to their detriment, in their early days. They dive into it here with some restraint, and it’s easy to see they cared about the lyrics, but, unfortunately, they still come across as slightly generic hair metal love songs. “Beautiful” is certainly very Stryper and glam, but “Can’t Live Without Your Love” feels like Bon Jovi with more complicated guitar leads. “Can’t Live Without Your Love” is GDE‘s only true power ballad. “Own Up” sounds like it’s taking sonic cues from alternative rock and metal. The crunchy guitars, Sweet’s vocals, cowbell, and guitar solos make for an admittedly fun mix, but it does sound a little extraneous.
GDE‘s finale, “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here,” delivers again on the drum energy first found on opener “Take It to the Cross,” and the track itself drives forward and rocks hard. As the lyrics proclaim, it’s a great declaration from the band that they are “sold out, with no fear, only to Jesus.”
My favorite tracks are “Take It to the Cross,” “Lost,” “The Valley,” and “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here.”
The band’s performances here and their overall sound are as good as they’ve ever been. I do find something just slightly flat about the production. I like that I can hear all the instruments clearly, and the mixing is decent, but there could have been a touch more richness to truly envelop me in the music instead of my simply wading in it. It also loses a few points in a match with Fallen since GDE doesn’t have a track quite as awe-inspiring as Fallen‘s “Yaweh,” though that’s not necessarily fair, since “Yaweh” is the best song of Stryper’s career. A few lyrics did cross the line for me of how much sappiness I can enjoy, though Fallen definitely got close to that line too in moments.
Despite a few issues, with GDE, Stryper has finished out a trilogy of incredible modern glam and power leaning heavy metal albums: 2013’s No More Hell to Pay, 2015’s Fallen, and 2018’s God Damn Evil.
A few bands have surprised me in the last few years by putting out amazing albums late, late into their career, and Stryper is definitely one of those bands. GDE is Stryper’s twelfth studio LP thirty-five years after their inception, and they’re still playing at the top of their game, better than almost every single one of their contemporaries.
I’m going to give Stryper’s God Damn Evil an 81%.
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