Those familiar with the hard rock scene of the Eighties know who Michael Sweet and George Lynch are. I have been a fan of both Stryper and Dokken since I was in junior high and I honestly thought I knew what this album was going to sound like before I ever heard a single track from it. I expected Sweet’s powerful vocals and Lynch’s guitar wizardry. In my head I was anticipating Dokken fronted by Michael Sweet. I should have known better. The last project I heard from Lynch was KXM (featuring Dug Pinick and Ray Luzier) and it sounded nothing like Dokken. Although Sweet has been back with Stryper for over ten years and has deliberately brought back elements of their classic sound, his most recent solo album showed that he is willing to step outside of the box and take some risks. Only To Rise incorporates both sides of each guy and offers a little something for everyone.
Sweet’s powerhouse vocals are present and Lynch delivers some blistering riffs and solos but this isn’t an album that spends all of its time looking back. There are definite elements from both Stryper and Dokken and that is to be expected. I believe the rhythm section of James Lomenzo (White Lion, Pride & Glory, Megadeth) and Brian Tichy (Billy Idol, Pride & Glory, Whitesnake) provide the cement that pulls these songs together. I am currently listening to the album on Spotify (I won’t be able to buy it until next week) so I don’t have any of the liner notes to look at. Without knowing who wrote what, I am able to listen to the songs without expecting them to sound like the guy credited for writing them. After a first listen I can honestly say that it sounds like a real band and not just some guys getting together for kicks and giggles. There are places where you can hear Stryper and Dokken, but for the most part, this album manages to sound modern and relevent without sacrificing the melodic hard rock that the two primary members are known for. Only To Rise is the perfect fusion of everything that is great about their other bands. There are also hints of the Seventies bands that influenced them. Subtle organ and keyboards touches give it a “classic rock” vibe in several places.
Lyrically, it is a step away from both Stryper and Dokken. There aren’t any overtly religious tunes and there aren’t any of the stereotypical “hair metal” cliches either. The songs are introspective and do contain some “spiritual” elements but do not come across as heavy handed or preachy. They do sound like two middle-aged guys who have experienced quite a bit and are looking back on life and asking the same questions we all ask. There is a nice tribute to the events of 9/11 (September) that manages to capture the sentiment most Americans felt without resorting to bumper sticker catchphrases or militant patriotism. At the moment my favorite tracks are Strength In Numbers (which has some cool modern keyboard work) and Me Without You, which is very reminiscent of Dokken’s hit ballad Alone Again.
I know it is only the end of January but this album is already staking a claim for my favorite album of 2015. Given that Stryper is currently working on a new album for release later this year and Jeff Lynne is promising new Electric Light Orchestra songs, that may change. I can safely say that this one will most likely remain in my top three or four regardless of what comes out later this year.
I give it five stars out of five.