Stryper takes their name from Isaiah 53:5, a biblical text which reads: “But He was wounded for our transgressions/He was bruised for our iniquities/The chastisement for our peace was upon Him/And by His stripes we are healed.” The text, of course, refers to Christ. Never ones to shy away from controversy, Stryper’s last album THE COVERING (2011) featured their interpretations of mainstream hits by some of their musical heroes such as KISS and Iron Maiden. Stryper is: Michael Sweet (lead vocals/lead guitar), Robert Sweet (drums/visual timekeeping), Timothy Gaines (bass/vocals), and Oz Fox (lead guitar/vocals). The men in yellow and black are back with a new effort SECOND COMING (2013, Frontiers Records). It begins with fourteen re-recordings of early hits, and is topped off with two brand new songs. In the liner notes the band writes: “30 years ago we embarked on a mission. A mission to turn from the temptations of Sunset Strip and turn to the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God the Father...We took a bold stand and looked conformity in the face and said ‘To hell with you!’” SECOND COMING is an impressive 67 minutes and 10 seconds long!
‘Loud N’ Clear’ is one of eleven songs solely written by Michael Sweet. On this song the band defends itself against critics: “Hair is long/And the screams are loud and clear/Clothes are tight/Earrings dangling from the ears/No matter how we look/We’ll always praise His Name/And if you believe/You’ve got to do the same/Loud, clear, let the people hear/Scream, shout, show what He’s all about.” The song is a musical adrenaline rush! ‘Loving You’ speaks of how Christ can totally transform a life: “Anger in my heart/Life was such a drag for me/Then I made a start to serve the living God/Now I’m free/ You’re my whole life, You’re my lasting dream/Always on my mind/What a blessing that was sent to me/Together we will shine/I’m loving You.”
‘Soldiers Under Command’ is one of four songs penned by the Sweet brothers, Michael and Robert. This classic rocker is made even more intense musically here. Lyrically it calls us to action: “Are you a soldier under God’s command?/Help fight the good fight/Join up while you can/The battle that’s waging is fought so easily/Through Him, without sin, there is victory/And we’re fighting all the sin/And the good book, it says we’ll win/Soldiers, soldiers, under command/Soldiers, soldiers, fighting the Lord’s battle plan.” ‘Makes Me Wanna Sing’ is an exuberant song of faith: “He makes me want to jump around/And pick my feet up off the ground/Tonight’s the night it spreads throughout the land/We’re gonna rock for something new/We’re gonna rock for something true/Tonight’s the night, so let’s lift up our hands/Jesus, King, King of King/Jesus, He makes me wanna sing.”
A beautiful hair metal ballad is up next. ‘First Love’ calls us spiritual prodigals back home to the Father: “There is no love like the love of your First Love/It’s so true, true love will never leave you/Tears in the night/Filled with pain/You’re running from the love/That you had before you cried out/For your First Love.” “The Rock that Makes me Roll’ musically sounds like it was written to engage and energize concert audiences. The lyrics make it clear that Stryper is indeed different from many mainstream metal bands: “They say that rock and roll is strong/But God’s the rock that makes us roll/Don’t need no drugs to help us push on/We’ve got His power in our souls/Stand up and fight/For what you believe in.”
‘Reach Out’ showcases the group’s harmonies and is a song of testimony: “I was looking for the answer all the time/Always looking, never finding, I was empty inside/Drowning in the darkness, needing the light to see/Reaching out for shelter, then He set me free.” The old gospel favourites ‘I Surrender All’ and ‘Just as I Am’ share a similar message with the next song, ‘Surrender’. It begins with one of Michael Sweet’s signature screams, and includes these words: “You can have it all tonight/Pick it up and make it right/Oh, you can be free/In the dark you need a light/Do you want to make it right?/Oh, Jesus Christ is the Lover of your soul/And He wants to give you all you need/So freely surrender/Open up unto His majesty.”
Unfortunately ‘To Hell With the Devil’ doesn’t here have the rawness or the memorable vocal delivery of the 1986 original. Nevertheless, the song does make clear Stryper’s intentions both musically and spiritually: “He’s never been the answer/There’s a better way/We are here to rock you/And to say/To hell with the devil.” ‘Calling on You’, one of their more cheery sounding songs, speaks of how each of us has a spiritual vacuum in our lives that only God can fill: “Inside of me there is a lonely place/Sometimes I just don’t know it’s there/But when I’m all alone, that’s when I have to face/The part of me that needs someone/To be by my side, that’s when I call on/You, You make my life complete/You give me all I need/You help me through and through/I’m calling on You.”
‘Free’ is one of my favourite rockers of all time from Stryper. The song points out that each individual God creates chooses whether they will go to heaven or to hell in the end: “Free to turn away-say goodbye/Free to walk away-and deny/The gift waiting for you/Whispers a still, small voice/It’s your choice, you’re/Free, free to do what you want to/Choose your own destiny/Free to do what you want to.” The electric guitar driven ‘The Way’, penned by Oz Fox, is a spiritually vibrant song: “I feel His strength come into me/Reading His Word helps me to see/I feel so new, I want to sing/Feeling His joy in everything/Oh, what can I say?/Oh, Christ is the Way/Rockin’ for the One who is the Rock.”
‘Sing-Along-Song’ includes a nice acapella breakdown and is a song of gratitude: In a land of freedom/God has shed His grace/We’re proud to live in such a place/With the right to sing song after song/This song’s for you to sing along.” ‘More than a Man’ is a particularly strong, heavy metal hymn if you will, serving as a gospel invitation: “God, I will follow You because You died for me/Gave to me Your life to set me free/Anyone who asks shall receive/Jesus in your heart/It’s time for you to start/Giving God all the glory.”
Two new heavy rock tracks close out the album. ‘Bleeding from the Inside Out’ describes the woeful spiritual condition many of us find ourselves in today: “You’re bleeding from inside out/Wounded beyond your own recognition/You’re bandaged in fear and doubt/Brought to your knees by a life and death collision.” The song, which fans of JEKYLL AND HYDE era Petra will like, does offer these words of hope: “There’s rain that washes clean the soil that stains your legacy/That means redemption, it’s your destiny.” ‘Blackened’ is faster paced musically and appropriately ends with Michael screaming. This song is one of spiritual yearning: “I can’t run/I’m not gonna hide/In another bottle of wine/I can see my soul in a different place/I don’t want to go as another case/Of a man whose heart is/Blackened, blackened.”
To be honest, a lot of the classic songs re-recorded here don’t sound like vast improvements on the originals. Sometimes they even seem to be missing something you just can’t put your finger on. At times, the versions here seem a bit flawed, more like live concert versions. I would have liked to hear more artistic creativity and extended guitar solos in their interpretations. That being said, this project has the potential to introduce Stryper to a whole new generation of music lovers to whom the band’s back catalogue is likely largely foreign. There are several strengths to SECOND COMING. The message is explicitly Christian. The songs are straight up hard rock and metal, which is not as easy to find these days as it once was in Christian music. The electric guitar solos that are prevalent are well performed. The CD packaging and photos of the band (and one of Christ) are well done and should be nominated at least, for an award. Finally, the two brand new songs show Stryper to still have a lot of life, energy, and passion. This is extremely good news for longtime fans, as an album of new material is said not to be too far off in the future. I’m rating SECOND COMING 85%. For more info visit www.stryper.com and www.frontiers.it.