Stryper did not simply begin their nearly four-decade career in metal in 1984 with their EP The Yellow and Black Attack. That album was not "Hey, everybody! Here we are! Another metal band from California!" It was, as the name and original album art suggested, a full frontal assault on the world, and the guys have been waging war ever since. Just consider a few of their album titles and the art that went with them, and that will help you understand why their latest effort, The Final Battle, is what it is.
I have been a fan since the beginning, but I don't think anyone in the '80s would have imagined that Stryper would be the standard bearer two decades into the 21st century for this kind of music, and yet, here we are. This is not a band that puts out a lot of retrospectives. There was the 1991 greatest hits Can't Stop The Rock, 7: The Best of Stryper in 2003, and 2013's Second Coming, which was a re-recording of some of their biggest hits along with a couple of new songs. Beyond that there have only been two live albums, 7 Weeks: Live in America in 2003 and Live At The Whisky in 2013. That's it out of a 19-album discography, nearly half of which has included full albums of new music since the 2000s, so it's safe to say that Stryper is still on the warpath, conquering and claiming ever more of the musical landscape. Now, Michael Sweet gives no indication that their latest release will be their last, but if it were to be Stryper's final battle, what would we have?
The Final Battle opens with a thunderous fourteen-second drum attack from Robert Sweet that then blasts into fourteen more seconds of Michael Sweet holding one of his trademark screams. Folks, let's be honest here. You can restring a guitar and repair just about any other instrument, but the human voice doesn't always hold up over the decades, and when it's gone, it's gone. Michael Sweet has been blessed with pipes that just keep on giving. In fact, many would say they are stronger than ever, and lest you think it is just the music that is doing battle, the lyrics open as boldly as any we've heard from this band. "We were all born of the world yet to be...." Whoa! There's some biblical truth right there, along with lyrics taken straight from Matthew 7:13-14. This monster of an opener has the dueling guitars of Michael Sweet and Oz Fox and nearly subsonic, pounding bass support from Perry Richardson. It's no wonder that the video has over 340K views.
"See No Evil, Hear No Evil" opens with a deep, heavy, sludgy feel, which is an area into which Stryper has not feared to enter with recent albums. Along with a guitar solo with a distinctly Zepplinesque feel, we get lyrics again rooted in Scripture, particularly Galatians 6:7, Ephesians 4:26, and Matthew 26:41. Stryper proves, perhaps better than anyone, why the words of Scripture sound so good when set to metal. These verses are not namby-pamby lines from a greeting card. They contain the full of the power of God, and the fellas do them justice with this musical arrangement.
For many listeners "Same Old Story" may call up thoughts of a certain number by Aerosmith, but this blows that out of the water. Again we have a killer video to accompany this drum-and-guitar-driven melodic rocker, and the lyrics are perhaps the most hopeful this side of "Stairway To Heaven" with its reminder that "there's still time to change the road you're on." On this one the boys are even more in-your-face.
I've been wondering why
You hate your life
Spending all your time
Without a rhyme
Discarding love you find
This song makes two things clear, that life does not have to be the way you find it and that you can do something about it by accepting the love of God, and if that doesn't leave you breathless, the music will. Seriously, I feel as if I need to catch my breath when this number roars through its closing.
A lot has changed since 1938 when Hoagy Carmichael released "Heart and Soul," a standard that would be covered numerous times through the decades. Up next is "Heart & Soul" by Stryper, whose opening guitar licks are reminiscent of their work in the '80s, but the ultra clean production and simply thunderous bass of Perry Richardson announce that this is 2022, baby! Yet for all that thundering, and what will surely be fist pumping in a live concert, this is another bit of melodic metal with a hopeful message, and that is just one more thing people have loved about Stryper for nearly forty years. You can get your metal fix while having your soul uplifted. Oh, and if anyone is looking for Easter eggs in this album, there is a serious nod to "Bleeding From Inside Out," one of the new tracks on their 2013 album Second Coming.
For this headbanger, the obligatory ballads on metal albums were usually my signal to hit fast-forward on the Sony Walkman, yet Stryper have taken the ballad to new places on recent albums, and "Near" is no different. We get soaring vocals, delicious harmonies, and just enough musical spice to make me break out into air guitar. And as a husband who dearly loves his wife of 30+ years, this is one that I will be sharing with her.
With nods to 2013's album No More Hell To Pay and a huge influence from "Walk," my favorite Sweet & Lynch number and the standout track on the 2017 album Unified, "Out, Up & In" even includes some guitar noodling that would not have been out of place on Second Skin by supergroup Iconic, featuring Michael Sweet. With lyrics that discuss nothing other than the rapture and the end of time, yeah, I'd have to say this is a metal song!
"Rise To The Call" is up next and is the song that gave us the first video from the album. Fierce guitar attack? Check. Driving bass and drums? Check. And again, we have a message about our free will. Does the music with a hat tip to Mötley Crüe make you wrench your face into a metal snarl as you belt out the words? Yes, but listen to what you are singing. The choice for life lies completely with each of us.
He's the God of mercy
But we just can't believe
He is everything
And more than we need
We fight & we wrestle
Risk losing it all
When we could win battles
And Rise To The Call
"The Way, The Truth, The Life" gives us a slight...slight...breather as it slows down to that heavier, sludgier rhythm, yet for lyrical content, it doesn't get more filled with the light of Jesus than this. Does your heart feel dirty and defiled? Have you been deceived to the point of utter confusion? This song is for you. I'm willing to state right here that this song will save lives. It is grounded in John 14:6 and has to be one of the most powerful musical statements of the love of Jesus I have ever heard. I have a playlist called "God Speaking Through Stryper," and this will make that list for sure.
Do you like your metal with swagger? "No Rest For The Wicked" swaggers down the aisle with all the attitude you love about this kind of music. It's about the return of Christ and the lyrics make it perfectly clear how we, who are wicked, can have rest. It's by setting aside our own crowns and picking up the cross of Jesus.
"Till Death Do Us Part" is the second ballad...sort of. The opening may evoke images of a darkened gym for a junior high dance, but that gets blown way before we're even one minute into this one. The lyrics call to mind "Not That Kind of Guy" from Stryper's 1991 release Against The Law in their rebellion against the culture of casual sex. Back in 1972, Larry Norman released Only Visiting This Planet, which contained a song with lyrics that very likely would get it banned in the Christian music world today. "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" was quite blunt when it described the situation of far too many people.
Gonorrhea on Valentine's Day
And you're still looking for the perfect lay
Never one to shy away from stating the truth boldly, Michael Sweet has penned a song that is, wait for it, a hard rock anthem to married love. And why not? Now as much as ever, the social norm is the hookup culture, but if that is the norm and rock is about rebellion, then what could be more rock & roll than a song like this? And again, for those who have surrendered their life to Jesus and are no longer on the hunt for the perfect lay as the cure to all their problems, yet who still love great, hard-rockin' music, this one's for you.
"Ashes To Ashes" closes out the album with same kind of fierce drum attack with which "Transgressor opened it and provides the most recent video. This one has it all...ferocious guitar solos, brutal bass and drums, and a couple of Michael Sweet's trademarked glass-shattering screams.
There you have it, your battlefield report on the elite troops that are continuing to fight as the "soldiers under command" that they have been called to be. As that quintessential metal song asked, "Are you a soldier under God's command? Help fight the good fight. Join up while you can." One of the ways you can do that is by getting this album and then sharing it with friends because, contrary to its title, the battle far from over.