Stryper - No More Hell To Pay
Frontiers Records
Christian Heavy Metal
12 songs (51' 7")
Release year: 2013
Frontiers Records
Reviewed by Andy

Earlier this year, when I reviewed Stryper's Second Coming, a rerecording of a set of their 80s tracks, I was surprised to find the band's sound in such good shape. For what essentially was a band revisiting their glory days, it sounded fresh and enthusiastic, like the past twenty years had fallen off the band, now back with their original lineup. The only disturbing part were the new tracks, which did not sound anywhere near as good, so when Michael Sweet announced a new album that was billed as the heaviest they'd done yet, I was waiting with bated breath...and with a lot of worry that the revitalized sound on Second Coming was just going to be momentary nostalgia. I imagine a number of fellow fans of their 80s work felt the same way, but as it is, it's pretty clear that I had nothing to worry about, because this is quite likely the best album they've done since To Hell With The Devil. Really. I'm not completely convinced that this is really the heaviest album they've ever done, but if it isn't, it comes close.

To begin with, they've brought back almost every element they threw away after the 80s, things they haven't done on new tracks in years. What do I mean? Well, this seems like a tiny thing, but it's the first thing I noticed on the slow and deliberate first track, Revelation: The slight reverb in the bass and drums is back. Since Against the Law, Stryper had opted for a more modern mix that didn't have the arena-style mix they'd always used, and that always put their music a lot further into the hard rock camp than it had been earlier. Now, though the production is modern, that sound is back, and it makes Revelation sound a lot more like the old Stryper. Almost immediately it becomes clear that the more prominent aspects of their old sound are back too; the harmonized choruses, the sharply melodic soloing of Oz Fox, and the beautifully melodic songwriting. The title track, still a fairly slow song, is a better melody, and gives us some long-missed screams -- both from Fox's guitar, and Sweet himself, which is continued on Saved by Love, one of the heaviest and most melodic songs on the album. Incidentally, I notice the lyrics are a good deal cleverer and less repetitive than they used to be, though anyone looking for an end to or even a muting of the Christian message in them might as well look elsewhere.

Just as on Second Coming, one doesn't fully realize just how much each member contributed to the band's original sound until now that they're back together; Tim Gaines' and Robert Sweet's skills were always a little bit eclipsed by their more noticable comrades-in-arms, but with their return, it's plain to see why the 80s-era Stryper was so good, especially during the completely gratuitous (and stellar) Sweet/Fox guitar-solo duel (pretty sure it's both of them from the sound of the guitars) on their cover of Arthur Reid Reynolds' Jesus Is Just Alright, when the rhythm guitars cut out for a bit and you can hear the drum kit and bass a little better. In keeping with their return to their previous format, we get a power ballad in The One, but also, thankfully, not as syrupy-sweet as some of their 80s ballads, and a little faster. The band seems to be trying to provide something for all the admirers of various aspects of their music on this album; Legacy, which is more melodic and would easily qualify as an 80s tune, contrasts pretty sharply with Marching Into Battle, a more plodding, brute-force song that reminded me more of something Dio would have done than they or their contemporaries in the late 80s. Te Amo nicely combines speed and melody with a lot of that ethereal chorus, though Sticks and Stones and Water Into Wine seem a bit weaker and more formulaic, more like filler after their fine predecessors. I'll go ahead and call those two a fluke, though, as the final two tracks are fast, heavy, and well-written. Renewed, especially, makes for a fantastic ending, with their two-guitar attack returning and the song ending with Sweet's high-pitched, effortless scream.

Needless to say, this is somewhat of a turnaround for the band. Stryper's work after the band rebooted in 2003 never really interested me much, but No More Hell To Pay is fantastic and makes up for a lot of mediocre past albums. The original members, older, more experienced -- and now, I suspect, having put to rest a lot of the weird baggage that must have come with being MTV stars who had to double as Christian role models -- have put together a genuine-sounding album that returns to their metal roots and brings back the old sound that made them great, and they have a lot to be proud of in this one.

Killing Songs :
No More Hell To Pay, Saved By Love, Legacy, Te Amo, Renewed
Andy quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Stryper that we have reviewed:
Stryper - Second Coming reviewed by Andy and quoted no quote
Stryper - Reborn reviewed by Jeff and quoted 66 / 100
Stryper - Soldiers Under Command reviewed by Jeff and quoted 80 / 100
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