Arguably, this is Stryper’s finest moment, along with ‘Soldiers Under Command’.
Written by: Dave T
ALBUM: To Hell With The Devil
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Michael Sweet – vocals, guitar * Oz Fox – guitar * Timothy Gaines – bass (Brad Cobb played all bass parts, credited as ‘additional bass guitar’) * Robert Sweet – ‘Visual Timekeeper’, drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Abyss (To Hell With The Devil) * 02 To Hell With The Devil * 03 Calling On You * 04 Free * 05 Honestly * 06 The Way * 07 Sing-Along Song * 08 Holding On * 09 Rockin’ The World * 10 All Of Me * 11 More Than A Man
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Encouraged by the musical and commercial success of ‘Soldiers Under Command’, Stryper kept the basic structure of their 1985 album for next year’s ‘To Hell With The Devil’. Noticeably, the sound is more compact and polished, the melodies are more direct and the hooks and layered vocal harmonies of Michael Sweet and Oz Fox are intensified. While, truth has to be told, a certain amount of filler rears its head here as opposed to their previous effort.
What we get here is the American dual-guitar attack with that trademark brown sound of Fox and the youngest of the Sweet brothers, and the drum attack of the eldest Sweet who sounds like a metal Roger Taylor to these ears.
The trump card is clearly Michael Sweet’s high-pitched, muscular vocals. Only Tony Harnell (TNT) or Midnight (Crimson Glory) could match his delivery around 1986 in this style. Through the introductory ‘Abyss’, Stryper make it clear where they want to send the hellion. The title track delivers with such conviction that it puts to shame what acts like W.A.S.P. and Keel were doing at that time.
The screams on the second and fourth verses still send shivers down my spine today, and the Gary Moore-inspired runs of Oz Fox’s piece of the solo are top notch. Singles ‘Calling On You’ and ‘Free’ show the most commercial face of the band, packed with heavenly harmonies.
The former in an AOR format that the band will repeat in their following release with ‘Always There For You’ and ‘Keep The Fire Burning’; and the latter slightly more punctuated. The impassioned sister of 1985’s ‘Together As One’, Styx-like ballad ‘Honestly’, succeeds as another wedding song choice.
And that is despite the (by today’s standards) rather dated electric piano sound. Yes, it is sugary, but go write and perform like this. The last song on side A of the old vinyl takes the Metal route. ‘The Way’ is proud USPM with heavy riffs, enticing odd bass drum patterns and a flashy guitar solo in full 80’s style.
On side B, I notice a small drop in the quality after a brilliant A side. ‘Sing-Along Song’ is a piece of Gospel music translated into rock with a few pulsating synth-bars that recall Van Halen‘s ‘5150’, while ‘Holding On’ operates in Angel circa ‘Sinful’ territory with mixed results. The ballad ‘All Of Me’ unfortunately doesn’t do anything for me, a syrupy moment of plain filler that is sandwiched between two of the best and fiercest songs.
I’m talking about the surprisingly metallic ‘Rockin’ The World’, and the superb ‘More Than A Man’ that closes the album with superlative drumming, a splendid chorus and riffs that at moments bring Riot to mind, especially what they would later do with the song ‘Soldier’ from 1993’s ‘Nightbreaker’.
Arguably, this is Stryper’s finest moment, along with ‘Soldiers Under Command’. There’s a bunch of interesting facts about THWTD, and Wikipedia would be a good starting point for those who want to dig deeper into the subject.
I would like to point out that it was nominated for a 1987 Grammy Award on the ‘Best Gospel Performance By A Duo Or Group, Choir or Chorus – Singles, Albums & Tracks’ category. The winner was Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart‘s ‘Crack The Sky’ (a good CCM Hi-Tech AOR effort that eventually deserves a review here).
Also, the music videos for ‘Honestly’ and ‘Free’ both ranked at #1 as most requested videos on Dial MTV while ‘Calling On You’ made it to #2 during 1987. Finally, the album was a game changer for Christian Rock Music and stood as the top seller in that format for about 15 years. It reached Platinum status and has sold in excess of 2 million physical copies to date.
I have read that over two-third of Stryper’s album sales came from non-Christians. I do not have issues with religious views as long as they are not radical and the music delivers, which is the case here. I truly respect Stryper for being bold enough since their very inception to go against the tide and play Heavy Metal with a Christian message. Often times dismissed and challenged even by members of their own Church, notably Jimmy Swaggart and Fred Nile.
To Hell With The Devil
Calling On You