Stryper are one of the pioneers in Christian metal music.
Rising in popularity during the ’80s hard rock era, the band have managed to maintain a relatively stable lineup. With a long résumé of hits and some new music released at the end of last year, the band heads to Eagles Theatre in Wabash on May 16 to continue their 40-year crusade of using guitars and drums to bring the Word of God to the masses.
Stryper released their 14th studio album, The Final Battle, in October.
In an interview with Whatzup at that time, frontman Michael Sweet said many people had already asked whether the album title may indicate it to be their last.
“It’s saying a lot of things,” he said.
He was non-committal for the most part, but did offer some explanation as some members of the band have had health concerns.
“I don’t take any day for granted,” Sweet said. “I hope it’s not. I don’t want it to be. But, it was a small little thing I was thinking about. The large part of what was in play in my mind with the title and the artwork was Armageddon and the biblical stories that surround it.”
Stryper were one of the first outwardly Christian metal bands to gain commercial success. Throughout their career, they’ve encountered naysayers and people who won’t listen because of that outward message. Sweet said that does not deter them from their mission.
“We just let the music do the talking,” he said. “If someone doesn’t like us because of that, then fine, but we just say, ‘Listen to this song,’ or ‘Listen to this album,’ and once they actually listen to a song like ‘Yahweh,’ it does more talking than we could ever do.”
The only major change in Stryper’s lineup has been at bass when Tim Gaines was replaced by former Firehouse bassist Perry Richardson in 2017.
Sweet said their secret to solidarity is simple. They’ve been able to continue touring and creating music to keep their interest while going about their business as a family.
“I think we still enjoy what we do,” he said. “We’re all believers and we still enjoy each other, so that has kept us together. My brother (Robert Sweet) is the drummer and we went to school with (guitarist) Oz (Fox). So we’re almost like family. We haven’t known Perry that long, but it feels like we’ve known him our entire lives. He’s such a sweet guy and an amazing talent and we’re very blessed to have him.”
This year brings the band’s 40th anniversary to the forefront. When asked if he could have dreamed he would still be doing this Sweet was blunt.
“I didn’t,” he said. “I’m grateful and really happy that we are still going, and we’ll take every opportunity to continue doing it as long as we can. We’re blessed. We are very blessed.”
Only getting better
With so many years and albums behind them, one might wonder why Stryper continue to make new music, especially when so many of their peers are content to tour and play the same songs over and over.
“I feel sad for people that don’t make new music,” he said. “What that tells me is that the passion is gone. I started making music as a kid because I was passionate about it and excited about it. It was never money driven. If I ever lose that, I’m going to be very depressed because it’s such a part of my DNA and who I am. I still have that drive and that desire to create new music, just as I did when I was 15 years old.”
But fans still clamor to hear those old songs.
Early material like “To Hell with the Devil,” “Honestly,” and “Soldiers Under Command” are still crowd favorites.
However, Sweet thinks Stryper are a much better band today than they were early in their career when they enjoyed their peak popularity. And he makes a point considering their lone No. 1 album on Billboard’s Christian chart was 2020’s Even the Devil Believes. The Final Battle peaked at No. 3, which is as high as 1986’s To Hell with the Devil reached. They’ve also had four albums peak at No. 2, including God Damn Evil (2018), Fallen (2015), No More Hell To Pay (2013), and Murder By Pride (2009).
“I think we are more focused now,” he said. “And I think we’re more mature. Not just as people, but as a band, musically speaking.”
During the early days, Sweet said, Stryper were a little looser and had a much rawer sound. They have adjusted their approach to become a better band.
“We used to be all over the place,” he said. “When you listen to an album like (the 1984 debut) Yellow and Black Attack, you’ll hear what I mean. It sounds like a garage recording. There’s something cool about that, but listen to us now and its more refined, locked in, tighter and bigger. It’s just a different machine.”
In recent years, Sweet and his bandmates have found time for other projects to fuel their passion for music.
Robert Sweet and Richardson released an album from a band called Cleanbreak last year.
Michael Sweet has taken part in quite a few projects, including a starting the band Sweet & Lynch with guitar legend George Lynch and Sunbomb with guitarist Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns. He has also formed Iconic, where he concentrates on guitar and lets Inglorious vocalist Nathan James do most of the singing.
Stryper, though, is still the No. 1 priority, Sweet said. These other projects provide an outlet for music that may not fit into the Stryper mold.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I’m a workaholic, I’m an overachiever and I love to do as much as I possibly can do. I drive everyone around me, including my wife, crazy. She wants me to take a vacation and it’s just not in me to do.”
When Stryper hit the stage at the Eagles Theatre, Sweet says you won’t see them on stools and preaching for an hour. No, that’s not the kind of crusade this band has been on all these years.
He said it will be a true “rock and roll show. It’s gonna be powerful and loud and bombastic. You’re going to hear a rock band putting on a rock show, but with a different message. You’re not going to hear f-bombs in between f-bombs though. It’s just a different experience, a much more positive experience. I think we need more of that in the world.”
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