From the very first notes of the very first track of Stryper’s latest album, “The Covering”, you know you are in for something special. The first full length studio release to feature the original four members of the band – Michael, Robert, Oz, and Timothy – since 1990’s “Against the Law”; “The Covering” erupts from your speakers, grabs you by the neck, and takes you on a no-holds-barred exploration of ‘70s and early 80’s rock. But this isn’t just a random collection of cover tunes. If you listen closely, you can hear the threads in these songs that run through Stryper’s own music. It’s a roadmap of how Stryper became who they are musically. It’s also an exceedingly good album.
Let me get one thing out of the way up front – I am a HUGE Stryper fan. Their rise to prominence in popular American metal music occurred just as I was taking the first steps out of the musical shadow of my parents, and into a world where I could call the bands my own. I grew up listening to Stryper – in many ways, they were the soundtrack to my adolescence. Still today, theirs is the music I turn to when I’m at my lowest and need to find a reason to smile.
Stryper was the first band I ever saw in concert without chaperones – just my friends and I. (For the record, it was at the Atlanta Civic Center on February 21, 1987). “To Hell With The Devil” was the first CD I ever purchased, after finally convincing my parents to let me buy a CD player from Service Merchandise. I decided to grow my hair out in high school because I wanted to look like Michael Sweet (and Bobby Dahl from Poison – but that’s another story). I had a denim jacket sporting a “To Hell With The Devil” patch on the back. I sang “Honestly” at my high school talent show. When I got married, I wrote and recorded a song for my wife and I to have our first dance to. Listening to it years later, I realized it perfectly mirrors the structure of “Honestly”. I was in the audience when Stryper recorded “7 Weeks: Live In America” at EarthLink Live in Atlanta. And, in a world where I was a rock star putting together my own version of “The Covering” – “Calling On You” would be cut number one on the album. As I said – I’m a big fan.
When word began to surface that Stryper was working on a new album, and Timothy was back in the band, I was anxious to see what the final product would sound like. When further word came that the album would be comprised of cover tunes – the music that influenced Stryper when they were starting out – I was intrigued. When the track listing started to trickle out, I began to get genuinely excited. I would finally get answers to the questions my friends and I had argued about constantly in high school – “Dude, what do you think would happen if Stryper did a Kiss song? Do you think they know any Ozzy?”
I can’t say it’s not strange at first to hear Stryper tackle songs by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Kiss, etc. But here’s the thing – it really, REALLY works. It’s clear the guys grew up listening to this music and they treat it with respect. The real genius of the album is in the balance they strike between remaining faithful to the original recordings, while still leaving room to stamp each track with their distinctive Stryper sound. Every song is instantly recognizable (no experimental jazz/fusion takes on Iron Maiden to be found here), but also instantly recognizable as Stryper.
This is the best the band has sounded since “To Hell With The Devil”. Both Michael and Oz’s guitars sizzle with a gritty resonance that sounds born straight from the “Soldiers Under Command” sessions. Their twin lead lines are so crisp and so much in the pocket together, it’s hard to believe it’s really two guitarists and not some crafty producer with a knack for Pro Tools. Timothy and Robert still blend seamlessly together to deliver one of the best metal rhythm foundations around. Michael’s voice is as powerful and pure as ever, with the band’s trademark lush backing vocals in evidence throughout the album.
Stryper rips through “The Covering” like a band 25 years younger. I challenge you to go back and listen to “To Hell With The Devil” or “Soldiers Under Command” and find a step the band is missing today. There is seemingly no note that Michael still can’t hit. Oz doesn’t miss a single riff, and both Timothy and Robert push the band along at the same driving pace they always have. If anything, the band sounds like they have a new energy with this album. And more importantly – they sound like they are having fun.
I really wanted to get this review published last week when the album first came out, but the more I listened to “The Covering”, the more I wanted to take my time and marinate in it for a while. I wanted to savor it, to learn it, to really let it settle in. It’s rare these days to find a complete album I can take my time with and enjoy (the skip button on my iPod is always close at hand and ready to weed out the filler that makes up so much of music today.) There’s no filler on this album. It’s strong front to back, and I find myself listening to it that way – front to back, over and over. (My thoughts on each track can be found below.)
Whether you are a long time fan like me or new to Stryper; whether you are a Christian Metal enthusiast or a secular rock aficionado; whether you still cherish the mini Stryper bible you caught during a concert 25 years ago or you have never heard the name Stryper in your life – there is something for you on this record. Superb musicianship and an enthusiastic spirit permeate every note. To put it as plainly as a can – this record rocks, and it rocks hard. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.
P.S. – Michael, Robert, Oz, and Timothy, if you are reading this – thanks for all the great music over the years. If you ever feel like doing a quick interview with a true fan, drop me a line. I would love to chat sometime!
Set Me Free
Originally recorded by Sweet and released on their 1974 album “Sweet Fanny Adams”. The album grabs you right out of the box and starts with a frenetic pace. This song takes me back to “Against the Law”. It’s a strong opening number, and portends of greater things to come.
Originally recorded by Scorpions and released on their 1982 album “Blackout”. The more I listen to this song, the more I like it. I was never a huge Scorpions fan, so I find myself appreciating it more for what Stryper brings to it than anything. If you go back and listen to the original you’ll find that Michael actually does a quite passable Klaus Meine scream.
Heaven and Hell
Originally recorded by Black Sabbath and released on their 1980 album “Heaven and Hell”. Ronny James Dio called this one of the songs he was most proud of over his career. Of all the songs on the album it is, thematically, the closest to something Stryper would write. It’s message that everyone has the capacity for both good and evil in them, mirrors many of the thoughts found in “Free”.
Originally recorded by UFO and released on their 1977 album “Lights Out”. There is no better example on the album of a song with echoes in Stryper’s later music than “Lights Out”. Listen to the opening riff (here) as it pushes its way through the first verse – then go listen to the first verse of “More Than A Man” (here). The influence is unmistakable – and so very cool to hear.
Carry On My Wayward Son
Originally recorded by Kansas and released on their 1976 album “Leftoverture”. This song was tailor made for the lush backing vocals of Oz, Tim, and Michael. Not only does it provide one of the albums few softer moments, it also showcases Timothy’s bass playing as he carves his way through its signature riffs.
Originally recorded by Deep Purple and released on their 1972 album “Machine Head”. With its driving guitar lines and high, piercing vocals – it’s easy to hear Stryper playing this song on the LA strip in 1984. The end of the guitar solo shows Oz and Michael at their best – sounding like something out of Dragonforce / Guitar Hero clinic. My advice is to put this song on and hold on for the ride.
Shout It Out Loud
Originally recorded by Kiss and released on their 1976 album “Destroyer”. This is one of my all time favorite Kiss songs, and by far my favorite song on “The Covering”. It plays to the band’s strengths and sounds very much like it could have been a Stryper song. I know they will be out on the road this year. Please, please, please – PLAY THIS SONG LIVE! Songs like this were meant to be performed live, with an arena full of fans, arms in the air, singing along.
Over the Mountain
Originally recorded by Ozzy Osbourne and released on his 1981 album “Diary of a Madman”. I really like the subtle production done on Michael’s voice to give him just a bit of an “Ozzy quality”. It ties the entire song together and provides the perfect counterpoint to the aggressive guitar lines.
Originally recorded by Iron Maiden and released on their 1983 album “Piece of Mind”. It’s great to hear Stryper take on this epic, finger breaking, metal masterpiece from the early 80’s. They are cut loose to play in the riff heavy sandbox built by Iron Maiden – and they crush it. It’s another of my favorite tracks on the album.
Breaking the Law
Originally recorded by Judas Priest and released on their 1980 album “British Steel”. I’ve seen Stryper perform this song live in the past and, to be honest, it’s never really been one of my favorites. They put their stamp on it here, and do it well; it’s just not a song I really enjoy – no matter who’s performing it.
Originally recorded by Van Halen and released on their 1978 album “Van Halen”. I saw Stryper cover this song on the “Against the Law” tour in 1990 in Miami. It was incendiary live, and is every bit as powerful here. Much like the production of Michael’s vocals on “Over the Mountain”, there is just the right amount of Eddie Van Halen in Oz’s guitar here to pay homage to the original without becoming a carbon copy.
Originally recorded by Led Zeppelin and released on their 1970 album “Led Zeppelin III”. What can you say about covering Zeppelin? There is no denying the appeal of this song. It was a classic from the moment Zeppelin released it – and it is still a classic in Stryper’s hands.
“God” is the only original song here by Stryper – and a perfect way to end the album. Follow the progression of musical influences found on “The Covering” and filter them through the body of work produced by the original Stryper line-up of Michael, Robert, Oz, and Timothy – and the only logical place you can end up is at “God”. It’s tomorrow’s vintage Stryper – today. I love “The Covering”, but I want a full album of originals from the Stryper that recorded “God”. It’s a record that needs to be made.
© 2011, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.