Stryper Bridge the Past and Present on ‘God Damn Evil’
Stryper recently released their 10th album, God Damn Evil. And while it has many of the band hallmarks fans can expect, there are also some songs where the group ventures into unfamiliar waters. As frontman Michael Sweet tells us, his intent for the record, which has been blackballed by Walmart, and its title track was to bridge the band's past and the present.
“Take It to the Cross,” the lead single and the LP's opening track, features Shadows Fall guitarist Matt Bachand adding death-growl vocals, underlining the intense heaviness of the track. If you’re beginning to wonder where this ride is heading, the next two songs on the album, “Sorry” and “Lost,” quickly pull things back into classic Stryper anthem territory
Rob Halford-esque vocals kick in as Sweet hits the chorus on “Lost,” which was one of the first songs he worked on for the album, triggering a productive period that found him completing the bulk of the writing in less than two weeks.
“Sorry” and in particular, “God Damn Evil,” prove that the band hasn't lost its knack for creating memorable grooves and choruses. While "God Damn Evil" boasts an arena rock-worthy chorus, it also features modern touches with a mid-song breakdown that steers into industrial territory.
“I wanted it to be kind of a modern-day “To Hell With the Devil” and have, on purpose, a classic ‘80s sound to it,” Sweet says. “But I wanted to incorporate a little bit of the modern influence, as well, in the production sense. That song, believe it or not, when we tracked it, we weren’t 100 percent happy with it. It was the one we were most excited about and then we tracked the basic tracks and we all thought, ‘It still needs something.’ So that’s when I came up with that middle breakdown section. We added some extra guitar parts. I did the vocal and then once it came together, now it’s one of our favorite songs.”
As the band hits the road in support of the new album, it's added some new blood with former Firehouse bassist Perry Richardson stepping in for original member Tim Gaines, who left the group last year.
Richardson came in to jam on a selection of classic Stryper songs with the band, including “Soldiers Under Command” and the title track from their 2013 album, No More Hell to Pay.
“We jammed and heard him play, and he’s a really killer player,” Sweet says. “He has a unique style where he will switch back and forth within a song with his fingers and then switch to a pick and then back to his fingers. I even asked him, I said, ‘Dude, how are you doing that?’ It was interesting to me. Then we heard him sing and it just sealed the deal."
Watch Stryper's 'Take It to the Cross' Video
At the core of it all, what Sweet says was the most important element is that Richardson is a good person.
“When you’re on a tour bus with people and you’re living with people for three and four months at a time out of a suitcase, you’ve got to get along. You’ve got to not only get along, but you’ve got to love each other,” he says. “It’s important. So that was the first thing that we were thinking of was, ‘Man, we want to make sure we get the right person.’ And then, obviously, it was important to us to find someone that could play all of the different styles of songs. Because Stryper’s not a one-trick pony. We do a song like ‘Yahweh’ and then we do a song like ‘Honestly.’ Everything is so different.”
Fans will have the chance to see for themselves on the upcoming tour for God Damn Evil, which will launch officially with appearances at the Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan, Italy, followed by the M3 Festival in Baltimore, which will mark the beginning of a month of U.S. tour dates.
“We’re just going to go out and give them a great set, try to mix in a good four or five new songs with all of the classic songs," Sweet says. "It might mean a little longer set, but I don’t think that people will mind that too much. We’re just going to go out, try to rock and give them an energetic show.”
A Stryper documentary is now in the beginning stages. Sweet promises it will be packed with an exciting mix of material. “I’ve got a ton of stuff, and Oz [Fox] has a ton of stuff too. Oz has lots of videos. Oz was the guy who always had a video camera back in the day,” he says. “We’ve got lots of photos and stories. We’re going to interview people whose lives were changed in dramatic ways. It’s going to be really a unique documentary. It’s going to take us a while to do.”
Sweet says that it will be a couple of years before the documentary is completed, but promises it will be worth the wait. ”There’s going to be a lot of video footage that people have never seen of us, back in the days when we were playing high schools and we weren’t even Stryper yet,” he says. “There’s going to be interviews of people who you would never expect are Stryper fans. It’s going to really be a well-rounded documentary, and when it’s done, I think people are going to be blown away by it.”
Also in the works: an album of Stryper classics, re-recorded acoustically, which will be finished sometime this year. “It’s acoustic versions of older stuff, Stryper live in the studio, acoustic,” he says. “We’ve just got to go in and finish it up. We’re going to record Perry’s bass tracks on it. We’re going to get him on it vocally and we’re going to mix it. Once that’s done, that will probably be a four- or five-day process and we’ll figure out what to do with it. Right now, we don’t know what we’re going to do with it, if we’re going to release it on our own or through another company or just a distribution company. We’re not sure.”
Sweet is also hoping to finally flesh out plans to record a full album with Whitesnake and Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Joel Hoekstra, who played on three songs from Sweet’s solo album. “I’ve been talking about it for like three or four years. We finally set aside time to co-write that together, and we’re going to start doing that later in the year. I can’t wait to do that,” he says. “I think Joel’s my favorite guitar player alive right now. I love him as a person and I enjoy playing with him.”
Plus, there may be a third album with George Lynch on the horizon. The former Dokken guitarist has been talking about a concept album that would address the spiritual divide between the pair -- Sweet is a Christian while Lynch is an atheist.
“You know what, it’s a good thought in theory. He and I have spoken about that. But I also made it really clear to him that I’ve got to believe and be convicted by what I’m singing,” Sweet says. “I can’t sing stuff that I don’t believe and I’ve already told him that. So apparently George thinks that we’re doing it and it’s a done deal, so maybe George will sing those songs and I’ll play guitar on those songs -- the ones that he writes the lyrics for."