Fallen is Stryper’s eleventh studio album. It is their fourth album of original material and their sixth studio album since reuniting in 2003. One of those was an album of cover tunes and the other was an album of songs that they re-recorded. 2005’s Reborn was a welcome return but it lacked many of the things that long-time fans wanted. Stryper front man (and primary songwriter) Michael Sweet listened to suggestions and complaints from the fans and each release since has moved closer and closer to the signature Stryper sound. 2013’s No More Hell To Pay was heralded as a return of classic Stryper and many claimed that it was the best thing they had done since 1986’s To Hell With The Devil. Fallen picks up right where Stryper left off in 2013 and in my opinion eclipses that album. I personally believe this is the best that they have sounded in their entire career.
Before I look at the songs I want to briefly discuss the production and performance. The one flaw with Stryper’s early output is the production. The first two albums were low budget and you can really tell. To Hell With The Devil stepped up the game but is a bit overproduced. In God We Trust is even worse. They sound digital and sterile and lack any sort of musical bite. Against The Law remedied that (thanks to Tom Werman) but by that point the band was falling apart at the seams. Michael Sweet handles the production duties now and he is proving himself to be quite capable. The drums thunder and the guitars are raw and up front. Most surprising is the bass guitar. It isn’t buried in the mix. The low end rumbles and gives Stryper the most complete sound that they have ever had. There are riffs and blistering solos. This is one of the best guitar rock albums in years. The backing vocals, which are a Stryper trademark, are present but not over the top. To sum it up, this has everything a Stryper fan could possibly want. I have heard a couple of people lament the fact that they have gone for a heavier sound but that has always been a part of who they are. I think it makes the album more cohesive.
Now for my thoughts on each track.
Yahweh begins on a gothic note with a choir chanting “Yahweh” before the frenetic riff kicks in. Michael’s voice is top notch here and sits perfectly over top of the chugging guitars. Lyrically, this is one of the most up front songs they’ve ever written. There is nothing ambiguous about the meaning. I love the change up at the 3:00 mark. Michael throws in a classic air raid scream before the dueling guitar solos and it feels like 1986 all over again.
Fallen is next and it continues the pace set by the opening track. Once again, the lyrics are unapologetically Christian but at the same, they do not come across as preachy. Michael’s voice is in fine form. He screams when necessary but it isn’t ear piercing or annoying. He actually sings more aggressively than in the past. He doesn’t go quite as high as he once did but there is some grit and some attitude that early albums lack. There is more of the choir backing vocals on this one. I can’t say enough about the guitars. I have always felt that Michael and Oz don’t get enough credit and it almost feels like they are out to prove something. The same can be said about Tim’s bass playing.
Pride is my favorite track at the moment but I have only had the album for a couple of hours. It maintains a retro feel while incorporating a relatively modern vibe. There is more of the “angry” Michael Sweet vocal and it gives the song some punch. Robert’s drumming is right in the pocket and the cymbal and cow bell accents are spot on. I love dual guitar solos where the guys harmonize and play off one another and I think Stryper are one of the best at it.
Big Screen Lies kicks in almost immediately and you barely have time to catch your breath before they are off to the races again. Lyrically, this one tackles the negative stereotypes that many in the media put on Christians. The riff reminds me of another song but I have yet to put my finger on it. I am not sure what amps and effects they are using these days but the guitars are absolutely crushing. The backing vocals are there but subdued so that they aren’t distracting. I remember being disappointed by the lack of guitar solos on 2005’s Reborn. No one can make that accusation here.
Heaven doesn’t charge like the first four songs but it doesn’t lack heaviness. The bass lick carries the verses while the twisting riff fills in the gaps. This one is more of a modern sounding tune but it is still what I consider classic metal. It sounds as metal as the most recent Judas Priest or Iron Maiden albums. I like the musical detour in the middle when the solos come in. The drums drop out at the perfect moment and then build back up at just the right pace. This is Hard Rock Songwriting 101 and a lot of bands would do well to listen.
Love You Like I Do begins with some guitar interplay that recalls The Scorpions’ hit Rock You Like A Hurricane. I like that there are riffs played over top of chords instead of choosing one over the other. It seems like something simple but it makes the song sound fuller. The solo on this one sounds a lot like something George Lynch might do. Perhaps he rubbed off on Michel a bit when they recorded together. The little Scorpions’ bit comes back after the solo and really brings the whole song together. There is so much going on here but it never sounds busy.
All Over Again is a good song but in my opinion it is totally out of place here. It has a country vibe and sounds like it was written for Michael’s last solo album. I don’t mind ballads and I think Stryper have written some really good ones. I think this is a good song. It just throws off the whole vibe that has been building since the opening choir on Yahweh. It does have a really nice guitar solo but the song just comes out of nowhere and blindsides you. Others may disagree but it is the one thing that keeps this from being a PERFECT album.
After Forever is a cover of a Black Sabbath song. I don’t mind the occasional cover but I think some bands rely too much on them. I still haven’t decided how I feel about Stryper doing them. Each of their last three albums have had a cover song and they even did an entire album of covers so it’s not like I should be surprised. I’m not shocked by the inclusion of this one. Stryper isn’t even the first Christian band to do this one. It is probably an anomaly in Black Sabbath’s catalog because it actually suggests that God is the way. I do like this better than the cover on the last album (Jesus Is Just Alright With Me).
Till I Get What I Need comes right of the gate with a snarling guitar riff and pulverizing drums. If I was a drummer this is one I would love to bang along with. I love the tempo. Michael’s vocals retain that aggressive feel. The guitars and bass really lock in together and the solo doesn’t disappoint. Musically, this one is similar to the vibe on Against The Law.
Let There Be Light slows it down slightly but still chugs along at a nice pace. The Stryper choir is back on the chorus and there are all sorts of little guitar goodies sprinkled throughout. Lyrically the song addresses Creation and how God was the one who brought everything into being. This is the most scriptural album that Stryper has ever released. I find that interesting because the ambiguous (and sometimes shallow) lyrics they were historically criticized for would probably go over better than overt biblical statement.
The Calling gives a nod to classic Judas Priest. It sounds so much like Priest that you can almost imagine Rob Halford singing on it. This song sounds like it written to be played live with the crowd fist-pumping along. I have a feeling that it will become one of my favorites before long. I sound like a broken record but I cannot say enough about the guitar work of Michael and Oz on this album. They prove that they are one of the best guitar tandems in rock music.
King Of Kings may be the heaviest song on the album and I think it is the perfect closer. The riff is reminiscent (not identical) to classic tunes like The Way and More Than A Man. This one could have been on To Hell With The Devil. Personally, I think it is better. They have truly listened to what the fans have been asking for and delivered.