30 Years Ago: Stryper Become Metal Stars With ‘To Hell With the Devil’
With 1986's To Hell With the Devil, Los Angeles' Stryper crossed over into the mainstream to become one of the first widely recognized and openly Christian heavy metal bands.
Formed by siblings Michael (vocals and guitar) and Robert Sweet (drums), with bassist Tim Gaines, the band became a quartet after it recruited second guitarist Oz Fox. Their name, as they explained, was derived from from a scriptures passage in the King James version of the Bible: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
Their first two albums, 1984's The Yellow and Black Attack and 1985's Soldiers Under Command, showcased Stryper's Christian faith, to the chagrin of many dark-side loving metal fans, but To Hell With the Devil bypassed the non-believers to convert more fans with its more accessible sound.
Though they still rocked out with some vengeance (against the devil, of course), guitar-strangling offerings like the title track, "Free" and "The Way" turned around metal's usually pessimistic narratives with positive and empowering messages, all of them lifted heavenward by Sweet and Fox's soaring twin guitar harmonies.
And instead of celebrating love for the secular (let alone the carnal), songs like "Calling on You" and "Holding On" were directed at not some Sunset Strip babe but to God himself --leaving little doubt about Stryper's intentions.
Nevertheless, for many traditional head-bangers, the problem with some of the songs wasn't their lyrics, but their lack of heaviness: "Sing-Along Song" was silly as far as metal standards go, and the ballad "Honestly" was essentially easy-listening pop. But to mainstream music fans coming to grips with bands like Poison and Bon Jovi, Stryper's music was, by and large, aggressive enough.
With the support of less judgmental listeners, To Hell With the Devil would eventually spend three months on the Billboard charts and go double platinum. But Stryper's popularity faded just as quickly, with 1988's In God We Trust going gold, and 1990's conceptual Against the Law failing to do even that. But To Hell With the Devil, as it turned out, represented the peak of Stryper's career, and they never stopped performing its songs during its off-again, on-again reunions.
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