Image via Wikipedia OK,let's admit right away,this is a bit of a gimmick to compare these two bands. Having said that,when both these albums came out this week and perfectly illustrated my problems with Christian heavy metal,maybe it's not a gimmick after all. This is,in no way,meant to make fun of anyone beliefs. This blog is about guitars and music,religion and politics are not things I'm interested in writing about.
Stryper - The Covering
I went into this album with a big anti-Stryper bias. As someone who went through the 1980's as both a metal fan and a guitar player in a metal band I witnessed the best (too many to list) and the worst (hair metal) that the 80's had to offer. I wanted to like Stryper very much. People always assumed a heavy metal fan must be a knuckle dragging simpleton and any band that I could point out that disproved that stereotype was a good thing. Stryper,however...always sounded too slick and glossy,too corporate and commercial. Those outfits didn't help anything either. In an era with plenty of awful costumes,the yellow and black stripes were among the worst.
Christianity seems to want to present two images to the rest of the world. In one,they are the moral majority,keeping out the influence of that minority trying to turn you astray. In the other,they're the valiant little guy up against the evil big guys of newspapers,television,movies and mainstream culture. I find it odd that a metal band would take the first route and make music so bland and pandering. Wouldn't it make more musical sense to take the second route to better fit the underdog image of heavy metal? Wouldn't music made straight from the heart be a better representation of your faith? If (assuming that for this argument,metal fans and Christians are entirely separate things) you're truly trying to convert metal fans to Christianity,why wouldn't you make heavy metal that metal fans would like, and not some bland Amy Grant version of metal that Christians would like? You're fishing with the wrong bait.
"The Covering" is Stryper's new cover album. First,the good news. The coating of 80's cheese that covered their early work is gone. The drums sound like drums,the guitars sound like guitars. My gripe with Stryper has never been the musicianship and these guys all perform well throughout. Vocalist Michael Sweet,in particular has never sounded better. The bad news? Recording an album of stone cold hard rock and heavy metal classics that you have absolutely zero chance of bettering is a poor way to point out you've never sounded better. Covering Black Sabbath,Judas Priest and Iron Maiden? You're out of your mind! How about some Van Halen,Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple? Good Luck! Even taken in the context of a "tribute" to their heroes I'm not sure what these guys are thinking. This will probably get Stryper some attention but I'm not sure it's the right kind. Their website says tour plans are underway for 2011 but no dates are listed yet.
Deicide - To Hell with God
Back when I was in high school witnessing the rise of thrash metal, my friends and I all liked the first few albums from Metallica,Anthrax and Megadeth but found the Satanic lyrics of Slayer a bit...dopey. Once again,I don't mean to make fun of any ones beliefs but they just seemed so silly. It wasn't until Slayer laid the masterpiece that is "Reign in Blood" on us that I realized I had to get over any anti-Satan worship feelings and just listen to the music. By the time Deicide rolled around with their ground breaking self titled album in 1990,I didn't really care about the personal beliefs of a band. As with most death metal I couldn't understand a word without a lyric sheet anyway. That's an inherent part of the style and it wouldn't be death metal without it.
After a band has been around for more than 20 years (or 5 or 10 for that matter) a band tends to loose some steam. For every exception (Motorhead anyone?) there are dozens of bands were you can say "They haven't been good since..." That's what makes "To Hell with God" all the more surprising. Glen Benton and the boys sound absolutely invigorated. THIS is what death metal sounds like! These guys play with conviction and passion. Arizona metalheads,Deicide is coming to The Clubhouse in Tempe on 03/10/2011 with Pathology,Belphegor,Blackguard and Neuraxis!
These comments were intended as serious reviews of both these albums. No offence was intended. Thanks for reading. -Phil Clark