Sunday, November 1, 2015

Self-Indulgent Rock 'n' Roll Post

October just got away from me.  Speaking engagements and teaching and podcasting and parenting and just got away from me, so there were no posts in October.

And how do I usher in the month of November?  A sizzling piece on edu policy or theory?  Nope.  This rock 'n' roller at heart needs a bit of a fun break.  I promise, though, that education posts will return.

In October the metal band Stryper released their eleventh studio album since blasting onto the scene in 1984.  I have been a fan the whole time and am writing this review just so I can be part of the historical moment that is the re-birth of classic metal.  Stryper’s album Fallen proves what talented musicians can do who stay true to their roots, care about their fans, and have enough creativity not to live on the glory days but to create new ones in keeping with the times.

The opening track, “Yahweh,” begins like no other Stryper song.  It starts with an acapella choir sound that turns into a thundering, sonic guitar attack as Michael Sweet begins the story of Christ’s crucifixion.  It is an epic story, and the music stands up to it.  The entire album has a ten-foot deep, concrete foundation made out of Robert Sweet’s pounding drums and Tim Gaines’s aggressive bass.  On this track they combine to lend the perfect tone to this tale.  And let’s be serious.  If you are going to open your album with this story and a sound this big, the audience knows it is going to be a killer album in whole.

From there we get the title track, and one cannot help thinking of the epic poem Paradise Lost as we get the story of Satan’s fall from glory told in traditional Stryper guitar attack style.  Michael’s high scream opens the tale and resurfaces in the chorus, which always has me reaching for the volume to turn it up.

“Pride,” for which the band released their first official video, picks up the dark, heavy sound from “Yahweh” for the third track, and again we have the pounding rhythm section to open.  We are treated to a beautiful melody that morphs into a gritty scream during the chorus, and those who have never heard Michael Sweet simply accept his powerful vocals, but those of us who have heard him for three decades stand in awe at how he has continued to grow.

“Big Screen Lies” is a fun tune with another aggressive, rhythmic opening.  It talks of how Christianity is portrayed in popular media, something the boys in Stryper know a little about.  It has that in-your-face, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” it feel of “Loud ‘n’ Clear” off their debut album.  The chorus features thundering guitars, and the song ends with a gritty, greasy, snarling vocal.

The next track, “Heaven,” would have been at home on the Sweet & Lynch album Only To Rise.   This is another song of rebellion against what others think is the way to go.  Michael has strong, soaring vocals without going into the stratosphere.  It is again an in-your-face lyric.

“Love You Like I Do” almost has a Whitesnake feel in the very opening.  It is a call-and-response song that could be seen as a lyric between a man and a woman, but is more likely, and more reasonably, a lyric between God and His creation.  I could not help thinking of Oz Fox’s wife, Annie Lobert, in this one, as she leads the fight against sexual exploitation of women.  No one will ever see us as God sees us, certainly not those who see us only as means to an end.  And speaking of Oz, his guitar work has been killer on ever track, and the guitar solo on this song begs to be seen live in concert.

“All Over Again,” for which the band and their wives have released the album's second official video, is a country-rock ballad and may be the best of their career.  Let’s face it.  A fair portion of their fan base is of a maturing age.  This lyric hits home.  It is not a rose-colored glass view of the past, but one that can honestly say that with the good and the bad, we would not change a thing, but would do it all over again.  It is a big sound, worthy of the cowboy rocker of the ‘80s and perfectly suited for today.

“After Forever” was the track a lot of people were eager to hear.  It is a cover of Black Sabbath and, despite that this may get me negative comments, I will go on record as saying the cover is better.  It is sharp, clean, and aggressive.  It is a perfect fit for Stryper, and the boys carry it off perfectly.

The next song, “Till I Get What I Need,” is a fast, blistering number that seems directly born from Michael’s autobiography Honestly.  It has the classic Stryper guitar sound that would have been at home in the ‘80s, yet sounds in no way dated.

I’m not sure what it is, but I often like the last two or three tracks of an album the best.  Time and again for a variety of artists, these seem the heaviest.  "Let There Be Light" would have gone well on their last album, No More Hell To Pay, and is musically in that vein.  Again we have a strong, epic sound to the epic story of Genesis.

"The Calling" may be my favorite.  It is a chest-beating, bold, head-thrown-back anthem, with a fast and aggressive rhythm.  It has almost a classic rock sound at points.  Matthew Arnold, the famous scholar of Homer, said the Greek poet had a fast-moving, forward-driving feel to his poetry.  The same is true in this song.  It grabs you and drags you along at Mach I.

The final track, “King of Kings,” is another that would have gone well on the last album.  Stryper has always given us anthems, and this is one that calls to mind the expansive chorus of “Passion” from the Reborn album.  We have a sonic race at the beginning that slows and hits a slower, powerful stride in the chorus, forcing us to listen and, if so inclined, to belt out the lyrics, too.

And speaking of lyrics, I have to say these are some of Stryper’s best.  The stories are epic, yet the lyrics have a way of speaking directly to us.

If you did a word count, you would see I used “epic” and “aggressive” more than any other.  This is how I like my music.  In one of his songs, country singer George Strait sang, “I don’t want you under my roof with your 86 proof watered down ‘til it tastes like tea.  You’re gonna pull my string, make it the real thing for me.”  I couldn’t agree more, and Stryper delivers better than ever.

Some pictures from Michael Sweet's acoustic concert in Bluffton, Indiana, in October.  In the third picture you will see my friend Dr. Brad Oliver...teacher, principal, superintendent, professor of education, former state school board member, current Director of Education at The Summit, and most importantly fellow Stryper fan!

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