It seems April  has been quite a roller coaster when it comes to the “struggle” between metal music and conservative forces. At first, BEHEMOTH have been dropped all charges they were facing for mockery of Poland’s national coat of arms. Then, black metal band ROTTING CHRIST was detained at the Tbilisi airport (Georgia, EU) after authorities branded them as satanists and suspected them of terrorism. And now, there’s a bit of drama going on at the christian metal camp between STRYPER and a few distributors and retail stores – including Walmart – that refuse to carry “God Damn Evil” due to its “blasphemous” title.
Some argue STRYPER went too far with this, others say it’s all about media attention, while the band’s frontman, Michael Sweet, said he was taken by surprise by Walmart’s decision. So, what is it all about then? Hell, I don’t know and to be honest, I don’t really care! Truth be told though, after all the fuss surrounding this release, I was more than curious to find out if the album was good or not.
After replacing their long-time bassist and fellow christian Timothy Gaines with Perry Richardson (ex-FIREHOUSE) last year, STRYPER managed to put together a record that does justice to their legacy. And… that’s how far this album gets. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad album, but it’s not a great one either. It has its moments, but most of them got “depleted” through videos posted by the band before it hits the shelves.
Speaking from a musical standpoint, I believe “God Damn Evil”, along with “Fallen”, is the heaviest album they ever made. Low-tuned guitars (well, compared to older works that is), mid-tempo drum beats and solid bass lines could be solely held “accountable” for this, but the edgy guitar riffs and overall song composition definitely play a role in the overall album “heaviness”. As everyone would expect, Michael Sweet sounds pretty good (while staying safe in his vocal range) and I really enjoyed the multilayered vocal parts throughout the album. Finally, and strangely enough, the guitar solos reminded me of the works of Doug Blair (W.A.S.P.), so I guess it’s a good thing. That said, don’t expect to be blown away.
When it comes to style/variety the album doesn’t deviate from its predecessors, so expect songs within the hard ‘n’ heavy spectrum: some more heavy on melody, some more heavy on aggression, a couple of ballad-like themes here and there, and that’s it. Lyrically we all know what this band stands for, so I’m not going to get into that.
As I said earlier, it’s an overall “OK” album with nothing outstanding about it, either in a good or bad way. Well, maybe except for one thing. The only thing I cannot tolerate has to do with how the album sounds. The guitars are pretty “dry”, something that becomes even more obvious when a chorus kicks in, as vocals outweigh the guitars when it comes to their ambience and presence in the mix. It feels as if they’ve spent all of their budget for recording Sweet’s vocals. I don’t really get it. At the same time, the drums sound a bit plastic-y, reminding me of a bunch of europower bands in their youth. I’d expect something more solid on this front, given today’s technology would allow even a 15-year old to sound like METALLICA in their prime.
Finally, regarding the artwork, it seems the band remained consistent with the red & blue combo they’ve been using on the past three albums. I assume they were after portaiting God (?), but the bearded fellow on the front cover looks more like Zeus with Poseidon’s trident to me. Pretty generic and computerized as well. Maybe they should rollback to those hand-painted artworks of the past as I’m sure it’d look great, especially on vinyl.
Picks: “Sorry”, “Lost”, “Sea of Thieves”, “Can’t Live Without Your Love” & “The Valley”. Grab it if you’re really into STRYPER, otherwise you won’t be missing much IMHO.