After a two week layoff while we moved to a new HQ, (and since you guys asked for it!) it’s time once again for Classic Albums. While rocking out in my truck to their new album No More Hell to Pay recently, it suddenly dawned on me that we hadn’t featured STRYPER in this segment yet. What on earth?? So today we fix that by taking a look at the album that started it all for me. Ladies and gentlemen…To Hell With the Devil.
It was a Saturday night in 1986 and I was at my cousin Franc’s, a place where I was pretty much guaranteed to get turned onto some great music every time I went over there. We were eating pizza at the old Tyrconnell Ave house when he popped the tape in. I remember hearing the title track and just being mesmerized. Michael Sweet’s voice was tailor-made for my wee ears, plus their guitar sound was unlike any other band’s at the time, at least to me. Oz Fox and Sweet play very well together, and they really shine on next track “Calling On You” which was one of three MONSTER MTV hits from this record. It’s still one of my all-time favorites from them. Next up we have “Free” which MTV nearly ruined for me by running it into the ground. Still, it’s a great song.
Of course we can’t discuss To Hell With the Devil without “Honestly”, one of two ballads and the song that endeared them to the female audience. I’ve caught a lot of flak for liking STRYPER over the years and people always want to point to this one in particular. Listen, it was 1986, ok? This is the type of ballad just about EVERY rock/glam metal band was shooting for and only a select few wrote any that were actually any good. Well I am an unabashed lover of this one, so detractors can go scratch. Besides, after that comes “The Way”, a balls-out rocker that sounds even better when you’re in a vehicle going waaaay over the speed limit (not that I condone that sort of thing). This is the time when drummer Robert Sweet and bassists Tim Gaines/Brad Cobb (long story, don’t ask) really start to spread their wings and turn up the jets for a few songs, and that’s how we end side one.
Now, “Sing-Along Song” is easily one of the greatest STRYPER songs I ever heard and I damn near wore out my vinyl copy when I bought it because I was obsessed with this number. And of course when I made a taped copy for the Walkman it got rewound incessantly. It became my go-to song while primping my metal ‘do for school in the morning. And yes, there was some hairbrush microphone singing/preening/posturing, I admit it!! They opened with it in 2011 at the Crazy Donkey back in Long Island and sure enough I was there with Franc loving every second of it. Here’s the thing about “Holding On”. 1986 was what, 28 years ago? And yet, out of nowhere, when I’m working or moving things or just into random nonsense, this tune will pop into my head and then plant itself there for at least a day. It’s the craziest thing but it happens.
Once again the band brings back the heavy with “Rockin’ the World”. It may even be tied for heaviest with the album closer but we’ll get there in a minute. The fuzzed-out riffs and scorching solos make this one of the album’s best in a sea of great performances. One more slow song shows up in “All of Me”, a keys only affair that showcases Michael Sweet singing in a much higher, more airy register. And the beauty of it is that it can be just as easily be about a woman as it could be a Higher Power. Only the band knows for sure. Either way I still love it, no matter how 80’s it sounds. Bringing us home is “More Than a Man”. On second thought, THIS is the heaviest STRYPER song, showcasing dueling guitars a la IRON MAIDEN and some pretty hefty riffs and powerful drums.
STRYPER really crafted a masterpiece with To Hell With the Devil. And what’s great about it is that the band can still play and sing like they did back then. I’ve seen them live both in the 80’s and today, and I think they sound even better now. But I think my greatest memory of this era of STRYPER will always be getting up early on a Saturday morning to go to their in-store appearance at Agents of Fortune with my friend Frankie to get my copy with the original “controversial” artwork signed, something I still have and cherish to this very day. P.S. Robert Sweet nearly crushed my hand when he shook it. Should have expected that given how hard he hits those drums. Whether you’re into Christian Metal or not, you had to respect STRYPER both as musicians and people and that new album I mentioned earlier shows that they’re not done by a long shot. Thanks for nearly 30 years of memories, guys. Here’s to 30 more! ~dc