Posts Tagged ‘Stryper’

mass-newbirth-cover.jpgOne of my ‘hobbies’, nowadays, whenever time permits, (and sadly, that is not often enough) is to pore over the pages of an old rock magazine from the early to mid-1980s, and re discover albums or bands that I’d either long forgotten, or those whom I missed the first time around. I often flick through an old rock mag at the day’s end. Not sure what that says about me, whether I prefer the year 1986 to 2016 maybe ? Certainly in terms of music, yes. The beauty of YouTube is that you can now search for the 2nd div. bands and check ‘em out. Back in 84 or 85, in Australia, there was NO WAY you could have picked up these albums if they didn’t make it here as an import, or you had to order it via mail order from the States, without having heard it.  30 years ago, you’d read about the band, and that was largely where it ended. So this week, I’ve had my head in old issue of FACES magazine from 1985, and I’ve been re discovering a band from Boston, Massachusetts called MASS. Locally that name may have worked. But internationally ?  Maybe they figured that if it worked for Boston, taking the state name was a sure fire winner as well.  MASS also has a religious connotation as well, and I’m sure that these guys were a Christian rock band as well, so maybe that was a connect they were also pitching for. Either way, as a moniker, MASS was a name that was only ever gonna work Stateside, and if they were a Christian rock band, not being as overt as naming yourself Holy Soldier or Whitecross was a wise move if as a band you were aiming for mainstream low calorie AOR success. So today, I’ve plugged in and am listening to the band’s 1985 debut album called ‘New Birth’, which was a major label debut on RCA Records. Overall, ‘New Birth’ is a strong effort. Sound wise it is characteristic of mid 80s metal. The guitar work is first rate, lots of licks, melodies aplenty, catchy hooks, and a strong, memorable vocalist. Not dissimilar in a number  of ways to say, Dokken. But the difference is, Dokken had great songs, MAS have good songs. ‘Too Far Gone’ is a good solid opener, yet not entirely original, and the singer’s squeal makes me cringe. The solo is way over zealous, which is not called for.  There’s too much going on here, too much overplaying. If they were attempting an anthemic opener, it falls a long way short. The second tune though, ‘Crying Alone’ is  kick ass. Sounds a lot like Stryper, both in terms of music and the harmonies. This is first class melodic AOR with a punch. Incidentally, Michael Sweet would go on to produce MASS’ fourth album in 1988. Great tune.  ‘Time’ is more keyboard heavy but still has a nice riff and is lifted by a great vocal and a memorable chorus. That is heading towards early Journey territory and is melodic, catchy and radio friendly.  Another good one.  ‘Back To Me’ is catchy, good time rock n roll resplendent with a nice breakdown ala Night Ranger. That’s fine with me. Lots of hooks and radio friendly.  This is one of the standout tunes on the album for me and would have been a way better album opener.’ Do You Love Me’ is up next, and no, it not a cover of the Fowley/Stanley classic,  but a sweet and catchy power ballad, before the term became common place a couple of years later. It again, has a great middle eight, and lots of catchy harmonies. Sing a long too. Real tuneful and should have been a bigger hit than what it was. It did go #1 on one of the local Boston radio stations and hit Billboard’s charts and the video for the tune was in rotation on MTV.  The title tune ‘New Birth’ is up next and it’s a more strypermass1.jpguptempo rocker. Good tune though with a high vocal crescendo. ‘Left Behind’ Doesn’t really work for me. Its riff heavy, yet doesn’t really go anywhere, lacking hook and melody. ‘Look For The Edge’ picks up some of the slack, and is more a frantic rocker with a neat break down. ‘Day Without You’ is the second ballad, and it’s indeed likeable. This should have been way up the front of the album.  When they actually forsake the cacophony of guitars and slow down and concentrate on melody, hook, harmonies and singing – they can produce gold like this tune and are on par with your Giuffrias, Night Rangers etc.  The album closes with ‘Watch Her Walk’ , more mid 80’s non-descript metal. It’s good, but lacks originality. Too many squealing guitars, squealing vocals and lacking the hook. Overall, there’s a lot to like about MASS’s ‘New Birth’. There’s certainly more winners than losers, but top to bottom, there’s too much inconsistency. Overall, in 2016, I’d give the album a 7 out of 10, and its worthy of your attention.  History showed that the band was dropped from RCA and was picked up by Enigma in 1987. Their Enigma released album, ‘Take You Home’ apparently sold tens of thousands in the United States as well as England, Japan, and other countries around the world, yet it didn’t make them a household name, which is a shame cos they certainly had all the ingredients to be bigger than what history showed they did. Michael Sweet produced their 1988 album ‘Voices in the Night’. The band reunited in the early 2000s and continued throughout that decade. They continue to this day. Check em out here.   

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Michael Sweet, known prominently as the front man for the most feted of all Christian rock bands, Stryper tells the story of his life with a candid honesty that makes this a compelling read, and not just for rock fans. Rock fans will no doubt relish the tell-all account of Stryper’s rise and fall and rise again – yet it’s the depiction of his frailties, strengths and struggles that makes his a human interest story the reader can not only relate to, but also empathise with.

In the mid-1980s, Michael Sweet was a young man going places. His band Stryper represented the popular glam metal style of that time, characterized by highly visual performances, twin guitar solos, big hair and Sweet’s high-pitched, multi-octave screams. Here was a guy in his early to mid-twenties, a gifted guitar player, vocalist, song writer and front man for a band who were touring the world, selling hundreds of thousands of albums and enjoying worldwide success on MTV. Unlike their peers however, they were rock ‘n’ roll trailblazers – the first Christian heavy metal band to enjoy global commercial success and at the same time, proselytize the word of God through their music to the masses.

Yet behind the façade, Sweet was anything but happy. A series of events over a sustained period (including disputes about song writing, poor financial management and even egos permitting the band to become incorporated) had seen cracks start to appear in the yellow and black veneer, cracks that would ultimately lead to his departure from the band.

Being a highly visible Christian metal band was what separated Stryper from the pack. Yet by 1991, Sweet was being choked by it. He was tired of being lampooned by both Christians and non Christians alike. Sweet ditched the yellow and retained only the black, hit the bottle pretty hard, took up collecting firearms and put God on hold. To the Christian zealots that makes him a sinner. To me, that makes him human. He describes these events in his life with a frankness that you don’t normally find in rock bios, a quality that is consistent throughout the book.

Amongst a slew of topics, he talks about growing up with ADHD, signing bad publishing deals, record labels going bankrupt, the sacking of Tim Gaines, the pros and cons (mainly cons) of having his Mother manage the band, the squandering of millions of dollars, and being asked to join Boston. Yet its only when Sweet describes his struggle to break free from the shackles of Stryper that you begin to understand Stryper has been both a blessing and curse for him, a monkey on his back that at times he has wanted to kill, and at times has been an impediment to his solo career.

If the reader chooses to forever pigeon hole Sweet in striped yellow and black spandex then the point is missed. With each chapter, it becomes clear that Sweet possesses a depth of character (and staunch faith) as he has dealt with life’s trials and tribulations. He comes across as a sensitive, at times emotional figure. These traits we can all relate too. From being a rock star and performing in Stadiums to performing manual labour, to struggling to find his identity and re-establishing himself following Stryper’s split, to being a better Father to his children, and supporting his wife through her terminal battle with cancer. I was stirred by Sweet’s narrative of his wife’s Kyle’s last days, and you’ll be hard pressed not to be moved either.

As expected, he talks a lot about his faith, (a faith that has been tested), and his relationship with God. Throughout life’s roller coaster ride he has maintained his conviction and integrity – again, behaviours not unfamiliar to readers, Christian or not.

This is a thoroughly engaging read, and a book I couldn’t put down. I’ve read hundreds of rock books over the years – and Michael Sweet’s ‘Honestly’ makes my Top 10. That’s a statement I don’t make lightly. 9.5 out of 10.

“Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed, will be released worldwide on May 6th. For more details go to Michaelsweet.com

I must confess to having a penchant for digging up old and obscure rock/metal albums from bands that are long forgotten. Today I’ve been listening to a Canadian band from 1981 called Anthem (not to be confused by the premier Japanese metal band of the same name). Apparently these guys were a great live outfit, yet when they went into the studio to record this, there one and only platter – they were disappointed with it as it failed to capture the energy that they displayed live. Upon first listen, I notice the lyrics are evangelical classic rock songs – with lyrics about the devil and demons and God the saviour. CCR – Christian classic rock. CCCR – Canadian Christian Classic rock. That’s OK – I saw Stryper, White Cross, Rosanna’s Raiders . “Eleven long haired Friends of Jesus In a Chartreuse microbus.” 30 years after its release, it sounds dated. Which is not to say that it’s without merit – for the album does have some strong songs – but they just sound dated. The other thing, is that there is no really strong, ultra catchy, melodic, standout tunes – which meant that the song writing cupboard looked a little empty. The band’s sound is also hard to nail down – which would have made it difficult for the record company to push to radio/media. The sounds is classic rock, with some good 70’s riffs but also heavy on the keyboards at times and has elements of the early 80’s new wave sound. Aside from the Christian lyrics, the obvious standout is the great, Aretha like vocal of Mary Pinkley. Sheesh. You’d swear this girl was black. She belts out the vocals with a stack of soul. The album opens with an instrumental, complete with 2001 A space odyssey style vocal effect and some nice riffing, unoriginal, but points for opening an album with an instrumental. The title track is up next, ‘Cuttin Thru’. It’s a good, melodic rock tune, with lyrics about running in the darkness, break the chains that bind you etc. Bit too funky in the middle for my liking though. Everybody knows – Cowboy Col don’t like reggae – or funk. ‘Word’ is up next, driven by a solid bass back beat and jazz style guitar intro that eventually breaks into some nice riffing. Again, I could have done without the keyboard pomp. ‘Cheap Thrill’ is likeable, but had me thinking of Laura Brannigan or Melissa Manchester. I will pass on the jazz/funk fusion of ‘Free You’, despite its occasional hard rock riff. This is a good example of how eclectic this bands style is. Too many styles in each song. There’s even a horn solo on ‘Free You’. Complete filler. The eclectic styles continue on ‘Winners’ which opens with some Frampton like voice box. With its funk groove and ‘the devil is a liar’ lyric, let’s go to the next tune – and it’s a good one, finally. Someone else penned a tune called ‘On Your Knees’ other than Blackie – but this tune is lyrically pure, though still rocks hard. It’s a got a nice, original riff, and a clever time change. This is the FIRST tune on this album that’s really grabbed me. This is a great classic rock tune, and the vocals are almost Ann Wilson (in her prime like). What a shame the band couldn’t pen an entire album of tunes this strong. Guess that’s the way it goes. ‘Doctor’ starts off nicely, nicely highlighting Mary’s strong vocals, but then is again lost in far too much funk fusion for my liking. I’m not too sure what to make of the preachy ‘Don’t be Deceived’ with its overblown prog rockisms, before ‘Morning Star’ ends proceedings – and the band breaks out a flute! Sheesh – a flute! This tune sounds like a left over from some 1971 LP of self indulgent prog prosthelytizing. Like Fraternity or something. Flutes! What did I say about eclectic? The musicianship is not notch, but the styles are far too many for one album – it’s too confusing for the record reviewer and subsequent buyer. Out of 10 tunes, only one GREAT one. Listen to the tune, ‘On Your Knees’ here. This album was reissued on CD in 1999 though I doubt a remix could have saved it. Even Jesus couldn’t have saved this album from its sales bin fate.

Unisonic and Trivium = Rockbrat bar time !

The great Michael Monroe and his band fired on all cylinders during their recent visit here in early June. Monroe was spotted out and about in Shibuya as well during down time. Night Ranger also toured during the month of June, but Mr Rockbrat could not make that. Woulda been kinda interesting. Have the spandex and sock ready cos Biff and Saxon have gigs lined up in Tokyo for August. Just let me rock. Summer means rock festivals around the planet, and in Japan as well. Sure Mr Rockbrat is getting on in years but the line-up for the always-popular  Fuji Rock Festival in August looks mighty piss-weak. Wilco are on one night who’d be good but that’s about it and if I had to pick one day out of the three, it’s a tough choice – as most line-up suck the big one. I nearly fell over when I noted that the legendary (albeit Rod-less) Faces are headlining day two ! Most of the youngsters in attendance will be clueless as to who this bunch of legendary London boozers are, although they should be familiar with the frontman – that fat idiot from Simply Red (to quote Our Kid Liam) – sacrilege – it should re Rockin Rod up front or no-one. Japan is a wonderful, but at times truly bizarre place. For instance the other day I walk into a suburban supermarket at lunchtime which was frequented only by stay-at-home moms and back-broken ba chans. Imagine my utter dismay when over the PA I hear (at quite a loud volume mind you) an instrumental version of Rainbow’s Kill The King. Things don’t get any stranger than that, not that Mr Rockbrat is complaining – just very strange that’s all. The Loud 11 festival line-up in October has been announced and with names like Whitesnake, Stryper and Krokus on the bill, you can bet your bandanna Mr Rockbrat will be in attendance. I swear I wouldn’t rifle through the bins of used wax here again, but there’s some real vinyl treasure to be found. Check out some of the great 7″s I collected recently – and yes that early Bjorn and Benny single will be eBay bound ! That’s it folks – thanks for being followers of the Rockbrat Blog !

In 1991, Stryper were lampooned by all and sundry for releasing the ‘Against The Law’ LP – a non yellow/black album. Leather jackets and songs about women too. Shame shame shame said Derryn. Clearly the boys had sinned. So what am I to make of this? 20 years later and heavy metal’s favourite Christian crusaders have released an album of their favourite metal anthems. Those same sceptics who tore strips off Stryper (ha – get it?) for being a gimmick band in their heyday, were those same people who ran them down in 1991 when the y released ‘Against The Law’ running round with their ‘Told You So’ smug expressions.  It’s fair to say that there will be those same types who will consider ‘The Covering’ as a sham – but I’m not one of ‘em.  Whether you were a fan of Christian rock or not, many people dug Stryper for the MUSIC, cos they were a GREAT heavy metal band.  For the skeptics, let me give you a brief history lesson. In the early 80’s, Stryper were part of the burgeoning LA hard rock/metal scene and were going by the name of ‘Roxx Regime’. They looked like every other schmuck. How you gonna make it if that’s the case ? Back then, bands that looked a little bit different and went for some theatrics, (WASP, Twisted Sister etc) had a better chance of making it. So they applied the yellow and black concept and went the white metal way – they stood out, they were different from the pack – but they were still a killer metal band who played exciting and original material. I saw a flyer from the Country Club from 84 and they were being supported by Bon Jovi. Interesting to note that in 2010, Bon Jovi were the highest grossing touring performer in the world – and Stryper ? Well it’s the start of 2011 and they have released an album of covers. They have covered bands that they used to listen to and had a big influence on them musically. According to Michael Sweet, “Even though this has been a record to cause controversy and a select few to question our motives and reasons for covering the songs that we recorded, our faith and beliefs have never been more confirmed and our message is the same as it has always been. We’ll go to the grave making a bold stand for Christ and we will never deny that. At the same time, we wanted to show a different side to the band and make everyone aware of the fact that we literally ‘cut our teeth’ on this music. Our history is what it is and there’s no reason to avoid that or to say otherwise. These songs and bands have played a very important role in our own sound and musicianship and quite possibly we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for these bands. At the same time, we can play a cover song yet still remain faithful and present the message we’ve always presented. This record will show a whole new side to the band musically yet an even more powerful side to the band spiritually.” The band tackle a dozen tunes on this album, and all are true to the originals – which is what I liked to see when bands cover a tune made famous by some other. The album opens with a version ‘Set Me Free’ originally a Sweet tune. This is not my favourite Sweet tune, but this is killer version. Klaus Meine he may not be, but Michael Sweet’s take of the Scorps ‘Blackout’ is spot on – matching Klaus’ phrasing note for note. Stryper doing a rendition of Sabbath’s ‘Heaven & Hell’ was always been contentious – but I dunno why. It’s just so logical. Ronnie represented the darkness – Stryper the light. Turn this one up! This simply ROCKS! The band roll through a superb interpretation of UFO’s classic ‘Lights Out’, and their take of Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ sounds awesome with Michael Sweet easily matching Bruce Bruce’s vocals and the guitar parts also up to the mark.  There are good versions of Purple’s ‘Highway Star’, though they could have gone for a better track than this one, maybe Rainbow’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’.  Also unnecessary  is a rendition of KI$$’s ‘Shout It Out Loud’ which when stacked next to all these other great metal tunes – sounds dated, mundane and pedestrian – which is pretty much what it is. (If I don’t hear this song again this lifetime that’s OK with me. Throw in ‘I Love It Loud’ whilst I’m at it).  Stryper could have selected a better Priest tune to cover other than ‘Breaking The Law’ but their rendition is true to the original.  Same goes for “On Fire”, great take, but I would have selected another Van Halen tune than this one. Their cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is fabulous, with Michael Sweet easily handling the Robert Plant high notes. If you heard Michael Sweet singing with Boston, you’d know that there are not many vocal ranges he can’t match.  One of the albums highlights (for me anyway), is the brilliant cover of Ozzy’s ‘Over The Mountain’ with Oz Fox hitting all of Rhoads’s licks note for note.  As you’d expect, the band do a superb and authentic take of Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son”, which along with ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Heaven And Hell’ are my favourite three cuts on the record. Top to Bottom though – all the tracks here are first rate. No Motorhead or Motley cover? Maybe on the next volume. I picked up this album on iTunes – I suggest you do the same. 8.5 out of 10. Buy it here

anyone up for a Fall Guy re-union ?

Further to the post some time back wondering if Stryper’s Robert Sweet and 70’s TV starlet Farrah Fawcett were sisters I unearthed today some great shots of Stryper’s visual timekeeper, which would make most women green with envy. I remember reading through rock mags in the 8o’s and laughing with other HM friends when we saw a musician who looked very feminine. Then I start thinking about all those lame bands in the 80’s (not including Stryper here) who wore so much mascara and hairspray you’d think you were seeing an all-girl band ?! So here is the first contender in the ‘Rockers Who Looked Like Chicks’ category. Step this way Robert Sweet ! Jesus Christ (oops) I do not know what to make of it ? The lord moves in mysterious ways. Thing is Sweet was a great rock drummer and coulda done without the cosmetics entirely – which he and Stryper has abandoned by the early 90’s anyway. Next !

Geeking out here I know, but what the hell. Whilst dusting off parts of the vinyl collection, I noted that both Alice Cooper Band and Stryper both included similar inserts (by way of mock U.S Currency) in their albums. That is where the similarities end I’m afraid as you cannot stack the superb Coop album ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ up against Stryper’s Against The Law’. Apples and Oranges my friends. Any Rockbrat disciples know of other bands who included a U.S note in the album ? Better fly, time to go spot some trains….