80's Rock: Stryper

stryperStryper is a Grammy Award nominated Christian metal band from Orange County, California, USA. Formed in 1983, they are pioneers in the mainstream popularization of Christian metal music. Stryper enjoyed great success during the late 1980s, with one Platinum and two Gold records, before breaking up in 1992 at a time when most metal groups of the 1980s were losing popularity. However, the band reunited in 2003 and are attempting a comeback in the Christian music world.

The name "Stryper" derives from the King James Version of Isaiah 53:5:

"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."

The scriptural reference is also part of Stryper's logo on most of their releases. (They also incorporate stripes into most of their outfits and their logo.) Once the band embraced the name of Stryper, drummer Robert Sweet created a backronym which is: Salvation Through Redemption, Yielding Peace, Encouragement, and Righteousness.

Foundation and mainstream success
stryper_5The Sweet brothers became Christians in 1975, but began to walk away from the Christian faith. Playing in a band called Roxx Regime, which received critical acclaim from the southern California rock community, the Sweet brothers rededicated their lives to Christ after their friend Kenny Metcalf, who later became the original keyboardist for Stryper and is currently keyboardist of Justa Band, witnessed to them about Christ:

"During rehearsals a friend of the Regime kept stopping by to witness about the glory of dedicating their music to God. A year later the rockers dropped to their knees for a prayer session that changed their lives." - People magazine 1986

"I think you already know the story about our buddy, Ken Metcalf, came and told us we needed to change our lives. That's what happened." - Michael Sweet as quoted in Heaven's Metal Magazine 1991.

Inspired by bands such as Van Halen, but distressed by their message, they sought to form a band that would extol their worldview and beliefs. Stryper was originally known as Roxx Regime and comprised brothers Michael Sweet on lead vocals and guitar and Robert Sweet on drums as well as Oz Fox on lead guitar. The name "Stryper" was adopted when bassist Tim Gaines joined the band. The name "Stryper" first came because when they were recording, Robert came up with the name "Stryper" after a passage in Isaiah "with his stripes we are healed" and it also rhymed with hyper. Shortly afterward, they released the EP The Yellow and Black Attack on July 10, 1984. During this period, Stryper opened for bands like Ratt and Bon Jovi, leading some fans and critics to claim that they were not a true Christian band. Stryper's first full-length album, Soldiers Under Command released on May 15, 1985, was the band's first gold record, selling more than half a million copies. Capitalizing on this unexpected success and in an attempt to make up for the EP's extremely limited release (less than 20,000 copies), their record label, Enigma, re-released The Yellow and Black Attack on August 10, 1986 with two new tracks and new cover artwork.

stryper_4Stryper's third album, To Hell with the Devil, was released on October 24, 1986 and went platinum after spending three months on Billboard's album charts, eventually selling more than 2 million copies. In addition to being Stryper's most successful record, it was both the first contemporary Christian music and Christian metal album to achieve this feat. "Calling On You", "Free" and "Honestly" were hugely popular MTV hits in 1987--so much so, that "Free" and "Honestly" both became most-requested songs on MTV. They were also the first Christian band to get any airplay on MTV and "Honestly" is Stryper's best-known song, peaking at #32 on the Top 40 charts. The album achieved a Grammy Award nomination, and the band would add the words "Grammy nominated" before their name for tours and events.

Bassist Tim Gaines did not participate in the recording of this album, and for a period of time prior to the release of the record he was replaced by another bass player, Matt Hurich. Hurich wasn't with the band more than a month, although he was outfitted with a Yellow & Black striped bass and a Racing Costume that was later handed down to Tim Gaines, who didn't wear it often because it was too small. Brad Cobb played bass on the album. However, when the promotional photos for the album were being shot, Gaines decided to return to the band and participated in its successful world tour. In 1987 the band headlined the Dynamo Open Air Festival in the Netherlands. There is one To Hell With The Devil promotional photo of the band with Matt Hurich is that seen on some websites. Prior to his time in Stryper, Matt was in the band Leatherwolf. In 1989 he performed with the group Divine Right who featured Kevin Brandow (Petra) on lead vocals and guitar.

Their next album, In God We Trust, released on June 28, 1988, also went gold, and the song "Always There for You" briefly entered the lower levels of the pop charts. However, the sound of the album was more pop-oriented than previous releases and a number of critics, as well as Stryper fans, criticized the songs as being too commercial and over-produced. In addition, the image of the band was moving closer to the glam metal look of the era, giving fans something else to criticize. These factors led to lower sales, and the album spent only 5 weeks charting on Billboard. As with the previous album, Tim Gaines did not participate in the recording of In God We Trust and Brad Cobb once again played bass, but later Tim Gaines rejoined the group for another world tour. In God We Trust also garnered two GMA Dove Awards, for "Hard Music Album" and "Hard Music Song" for the title track.

Decline
stryper_1On August 21, 1990, Stryper released the controversial album Against the Law, which drastically changed the band's image and lyrical message. While their earlier albums all had yellow and black colors in the covers and the lyrics spoke of God and salvation, Against the Law featured the band with black leather clothes and with no mention of the word "God" in the lyrics at all. The band's musical sound was also heavier, closer to classic metal. Drummer Robert Sweet said that the change of image and sound was in response to the criticism of the previous album and an attempt to leave behind their glam metal image. But the band's original fan base claimed that they were not being true to their roots, and the album sold poorly. Part of that were some rumors in the press (both mainstream and Christian) that Stryper was not only playing music which was becoming more mainstream, but also becoming less committed as Christians and caught up too much into the Rock and Roll lifestyle. Fans would wonder why they covered the 1975 Earth Wind & Fire #1 hit "Shining Star." The video for it would not be a hit on MTV (the first Stryper video that wasn't). However, many critics still considered the album to be Stryper's best musical production to date.

On July 20, 1991, after being signed to Hollywood Records, Stryper released a greatest hits collection called Can't Stop the Rock, which featured two new songs. One of which was the Gulf War inspired "Believe." The band continued to tour until February 1992, when frontman Michael Sweet departed the band citing artistic differences and to pursue a solo career.

Stryper continued as a trio for several European dates, with Oz Fox doing lead vocals. Sometime during this period while touring with the Christian band Bride, Dale Thompson would fill in at vocals. It was during one of the concerts that Robert Sweet unexpectedly announced that Bride's frontman Dale Thompson was going to be their new lead singer. This, however, was later denied by Thompson. Upon returning to the United States, the remaining members decided to go their separate ways.

Oz Fox and Tim Gaines formed their own band, Sindizzy, and released the album He's Not Dead in 1998. During the 1990s, Michael Sweet released four solo albums which performed well in the Christian music market. Drummer Robert Sweet played in several bands, among them Blissed, who released an album in 2002.

Other bands include King James, dbeality, Final Axe, and The Seventh Power.

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Reunion
The former members of Stryper first reunited in 1999, when Michael Sweet and Sindizzy were invited to play at a summer rock festival in Puerto Rico. As an encore, Sweet joined Oz Fox and Tim Gaines on stage and played several Stryper songs. Later, in 2000, the first "Stryper Expo" was held in New Jersey, and for the first time in 8 years the complete line-up of Stryper took the stage. That same year, a concert was held in Costa Rica at which the four members played together. A second "Stryper Expo" took place in Los Angeles in 2001.

Hollywood Records asked the former members of Stryper to record tracks for a new greatest hits compilation in 2003 Seven: the Best of Stryper which also had 2 new songs, "Something" and "For You". A tour followed in support. The band played 36 shows in the United States and finished the tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A live album, titled 7 Weeks: Live in America, 2003, was released the following year, and the concert in Puerto Rico was filmed for a live DVD. However, that show in Puerto Rico proved to be the last for the original line-up of Stryper. Gaines left the band in 2004 before they were slated to play Disney's Night of Joy In Orlando. Michael's bassist on his previous solo tours, Tracy Ferrie, replaced him.

After the Night of Joy show and with new found energy, Stryper decided to go back into the studio to record a new CD. Reborn and another tour followed in the fall of 2004.

During their reunion, controversy continued to follow the band. In December 2004, Stryper was scheduled to play in Mexico City at the Palacio de los Deportes. The band cancelled the show, which led to a major disagreement between the band and the promoter. Stryper and their management claimed the promoter was too inexperienced to stage an event of this magnitude, but a group of well-known Christian rock bands, including Saviour Machine, Narnia and Mortification, sided with the promoter. The promoter demanded that Stryper return all the money they had received related to their appearance, but the band refused. Later, Stryper began selling items on their website in part to refund this promoter.

Stryper's latest album, Reborn, was released on August 16, 2005, and was the band's first recording of original material in 15 years. The new album received a positive response from fans and critics, some of whom labeled Reborn as one of the best albums of that year. With a more modern sound incorporating aspects of alternative and grunge, along with fewer guitar solos, the new record updates their style while keeping the Stryper identity, though a few songs do have a familiar sound to Michael's solo recordings. In fact, he had originally written the album with the intent of releasing it as a solo project. The lyrics also have returned to the band's familiar themes of God and salvation.

In 2006, the band released the DVD Greatest Hits: Live in Puerto Rico after two years in production.

In November 2006, Stryper announced new management. They also announced a follow-up to Reborn tentatively due in Spring/Summer 2007. However, that February saw lead singer Michael Sweet postponing the release of the new album two days before its recording was to begin. Sweet's wife Kyle had been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and the new album was put on hold so that he could care for his family and ailing wife. She underwent surgery and treatment from February 14 to July 14, eventually resulting in her complete, although brief, recovery and restored health. In April 2008, Kyle announced that her cancer had returned as of October 2007. The new album was in the mixing stage as of January 2008, and Sweet said that it should be released in July or August. Now, according to the band's Myspace page, the new album will be titled Murder by Pride and should be released early 2009, with the lead single "Peace of Mind" preceding it.

In addition to still playing in Stryper and giving private guitar lessons at Groovin On Music in Pasadena CA, Oz Fox is also one of the guitarists in the Christian metal band Bloodgood, who was also a frontrunner in the early 80's Christian metal scene.

Style
stryper_3During 1980s, Stryper represented the popular glam metal style for the time which is characterized by highly visual performances, twin guitar solos, Michael Sweet's high-pitched, multi-octave screams and big hair. A trademark of the band's stage act was drummer Robert Sweet's practice of turning his enormous drum kit sideways to the audience so that the crowd could see him playing. This is why Robert was more often called a "visual timekeeper" rather than a drummer. A characteristic element of the band was that all their outfits, sets, and instruments were painted in yellow and black stripes. The number of the stripes represented in various stage props and costumes increased during the show, leading up to In God We Trust, when the drummer Robert Sweet would also have his drums painted in yellow and black. The band would explain the symbolism of the stripes: a direct reference to the whiplash scourges given by Pontius Pilate to Jesus, derived from the King James Version of Isaiah 53:5.

Apart from its ubiquitous yellow and black stripes, Stryper had other distinctive trademarks. During concerts, Stryper threw Bibles to the concert crowd -- specifically editions of the New Testament with the band's logo stickers affixed to them. As a protest against "666" symbols popular among many heavy metal fans of the era, Robert Sweet promoted an alternative numerological symbol; Stryper's trademark use of the "777" symbol subsequently became quite popular among Christian metalheads. Although the number "777" is not actually referenced by the Bible (as opposed to 666, which is famously mentioned in The Book of Revelation as The Number of the Beast) the number "7" is traditionally (in Christian symbolism) associated with divine perfection. Some of the band's stage sets included the crossed out symbols of "devil" and "666".

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Legacy
Stryper is recognized as the first openly Christian heavy metal band to gain recognition in the mainstream music world. Their hit ballad "Honestly" is often ranked among the greatest ballads of the 1980s. Their message of salvation and religion has also made them popular with some elements of the media.

However, Stryper has not been free of controversy. Many Christian critics did not approve of the group's association with the heavy metal subculture, which has often been associated with Satanic imagery. Other Christian detractors viewed the band's flashy costumes as incongruous with the modesty in dress often associated with sincere practitioners of devout Christianity. Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was a particularly prominent critic, likening Stryper's practice of distributing the New Testament at their shows to "casting pearls before swine". In 1990 Rolling Stone Magazine reported that the band had become disillusioned with Christian music. This, combined with a notable shift in tone in the band's lyrics, led to Against the Law being banned from many Christian bookstores. The Benson Company, Stryper's sole tie to the Christian market, dropped this album from distribution. Swaggart's condemnation may not have been a surprise, however, as Stryper was supported by the rival Jim Bakker ministries, who are thanked on several Stryper albums.

Stryper has sold over 10 million recordings worldwide, and it is estimated that two-thirds of their albums were bought by non-Christians.

Courtesy of wikipedia.org and Hair Band Rock - 80's Rock


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