As I mentioned in my post about 2013 possibly being the beginning of a heavy metal renaissance, there were quite a few 'return to form' albums released. Stryper's No Hell To Pay is one of them. It is really great to hear something that sounds like what we all loved growing up, but with a touch of modern styling to make it appeal to a younger crowd.
The band has stated in interviews that this album comes right after 'To Hell With The Devil' as far as where it should be placed in the discography. And, they're right. The songs on the album have the piercing twin axe attack that Oz Fox and Michael Sweet were known for not only in THWTD, but also in Soldiers Under Command, and even The Yellow and Black Attack. Arguably their three best albums. Sweet says they were shooting for a heavier sound. Mission accomplished. There was also several hints back to the Reborn album that I caught as I listened to it. Reborn and Against the Law were also great albums.
One thing that you can't help but notice is that Michael Sweet's vocal range is completely intact, but he also has worked aggression into his voice. That is something that fits in their music like a pair of spandex pants. Its tight, and it sounds great. I haven't heard the Second Coming album yet, where the band re recorded a bunch of their classic material, but after hearing NMHTP, I may have to pick it up. The idea of hearing Soldiers Under Command with the raw aggression that Michael Sweet has in his voice now is very tempting.
Before we get into the meat of this review, I wanted to continue talking about this album and THWTD. The NMHTP cover looks similar to the limited edition cover that THWTD has. But, they also recreated the REAR cover of THWTD. In a side by side comparison of the two photos, it is obvious that Stryper did not waste themselves away with drugs like so many other bands did. They still look young, while some others look like extras on The Walking Dead.. (Not that I ever thought they were on drugs. In fact, I know they were not.)
|I'm impressed they can still fit into those outfits..|
Although, I STILL want to know what that contraption
on Oz's chest is.
Track 1, Revelation: Starts off with a blazing harmony guitar intro that brings you into a very solid verse progression. Your head is bobbing back and forth right off the bat, and the chorus kind of reminds me of the vocal work on some of the Reborn songs. The guitar solo sounds like something off SUC and THWTD. I'm not talking about the solo itself. I'm talking about the sound of the guitar. Its like that on the entire album, which for whatever reason went away on the albums following THWTD.
Track 2, No More Hell to Pay: The opening licks of the song are all over the place....in a good way. They make me picture Oz Fox sitting there jamming with Glen Tipton of Judas Priest. Then, a lead over the intro sounding like the guitar in the opening lead licks of Soldiers Under Command. And the vocals? Remember when I said earlier that Michael Sweet's range was still intact? Yeah. I should also mention that they do not tune down to help the singer out like alot of bands do. The vocal harmonies are excellent too.
Track 3, Saved By Light: The aggression in Michael Sweet's voice I mentioned is boldly on display on this song. So is the range. Oz Fox's fingers are running full sprint the entire song, not only with a blistering solo, but with a very Maidenish opening riff. The rhythm section is hitting with force as well. This song will punch you hard, and not apologize for it.
Track 4, Jesus Is Just Alright: Stryper is very good at doing covers. They released a whole album of them, and this Doobie Brothers cover is no exception. The backup vocals are vintage Stryper, while staying true to the original song. The music is also true to the original, although much heavier. Robert Sweet is abusing his drums, as hard as ever. The guitar solo? I'm just going to stop saying how great the solos are. They are great throughout the entire album.
Track 5, The One: This is the slowest song on the album, but it isn't a ballad in the sense of 'Honestly' or 'Together as One.' It has a little more of a beat, and relies more on guitar than those songs. There is keyboard, but it is a background instrument. I'd say that this is their heaviest ballad. The guitar solo with harmony and duel is beautifully done. (Ok, I may not be able to keep my promise about not talking about the guitar.)
Track 6, Legacy: Instant punch in the gut with guitars and a blistering vocal high note, and more of the aggression in Michael's voice. The guitar rhythm is very gritty and heavy, and this song is particularly heavy with the drums and bass. Tim Gaines gets a workout on this song too. This is definitely one of the heaviest songs on the album. This song (and entire album) will do wonders for Stryper's legacy.
Track 7, Marching Into Battle: This song has a Yellow and Black Attack feel to it. From the opening guitar licks to the vocals and solo. The chorus has a marching feel to it. The solo is a classic Sweet/Fox duel (or battle if you will) I could also here this song breaking in concert for a bass/drum solo.
Track 8, Te Amo: Have you heard Soldiers Under Command by Stryper? Of course you have. This song belongs on that album. I was amazed at how much it sounds like the style from the great songs on that album. Vocally and musically from the guitar, bass and drums. And, Soldiers is arguably the band's best album.
Track 9, Sticks and Stones: This one has more of a To Hell With The Devil feel to it, but with a more modern yet mature style. I particularly like the verse progressions. They go from smooth to crunchy, into a chorus that resembles 'Calling On You' in the way it flows. Its really amazing how Stryper is able to just channel these great albums with such ease.
Track 10, Water Into Wine: This song reminds me of the way a classic Van Halen song flows. Solid verse into big chorus with choppy guitar and a blistering solo, with loud drums and bass. It also reminds me of something else that I can't quite put my finger on. Its just a good song!
Track 11, Sympathy: Very gritty opening riff that makes me want to jump into my car, throw this CD into the CD player, and 'Head Out to the Highway.' I'm going to finish this and the last song, but I know I'm getting monotonous. Truth be told, there isn't a bad song on this album. This song's chorus is amazing with the vocal harmonies.
Track 12, Renewed: Another that would fit well on Soldiers. The opening/ verse riff is really tough. And, another great vocal performance from Michael Sweet. The chorus is choppy but still flows smoothly. I can't explain how, it just does. There's a breakdown in the song that slows down a little bit, then punches you with the opening riff, and throws you into into the guitar solo. Another duel, and probably my favorite solo on the album. It concludes with a blistering high note.
Over all, No More Hell To Pay is the best album since To Hell With The Devil, and would have made a great successor to that album. I certainly feel 'Renewed' after listening to it. Stryper's bold Christian message is there just as strong as it was in the early albums. I can see myself listening to this one over and over again, and I will definitely be seeing Stryper in concert for a fourth time when they come to my area. So, if you haven't done it yet, BUY THIS ALBUM!!! Michael Sweet and Oz Fox are one of metal's best guitar duos, and Michael is one of metal's best singers. And not only does the band get back to showing that level of skill, they did it on a simply great album.
Speaking of their concerts, the last time I saw Stryper was on the Reborn tour. There were LOTS of teenagers there. I went up to one, and I asked him why he was there, and how he knows Stryper. He told me that he was learning how to play guitar, and that his big brother talked about them all the time, and that he bought their albums, and he was there because he HAD to see Soldiers Under Command preformed live.
There is hope. If 2013 was a sign of things to come, there are great things coming for us 80's metalheads.