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Murder By Pride
Label: Big 3 Records
Time: 12 tracks / 45:52
It’s been twenty five years since Stryper’s The Yellow and Black Attack introduced the world to Christian glam/pop/metal, and here comes Michael Sweet, Oz Fox, and friends letting us know that they’re not done yet. They might not be squeezing into striped spandex anymore (thank you), but with their new album, Murder By Pride, Stryper proves that they’ve still got what it takes to produce the signature brand of music that they’ve become well-known for. If you’re a Stryper fan already you’ll be very happy with this return to form, and if you never liked the band in the first place, your eyes are already rolling and you’re looking for yellow-and-black ear plugs. Still – read on.
Sweet and Fox haven’t lost a beat over the years, and still have an amazing symbiotic musical relationship, playing fiery dual-guitar licks and trading off bursts of red-hot guitar solos as if they share the same musical brain. Michael Sweet still has the vocal chops to hit the Big Notes (and he hasn’t shied away from giving himself some challenging moments), to scream the screams, and to deliver the ballads with surprising vocal control, well-informed phrasing, and sensitivity. Without question, Murder By Pride gives you full-strength Stryper.
Although the upcoming 25th Anniversary tour will reportedly feature Robert Sweet on drums (and original member, Tim Gaines on bass), the principal drummer on Murder By Pride is Kenny Aronoff and the bass is handled by current band member, Tracy Ferrie. Aronoff’s powerful, thunderous playing compliments Ferrie’s driving, serpentine bass lines, giving Stryper a heavier, more rock-solid bottom-end than on previous outings.
Of the twelve tracks, ten are brand-new. With Michael Sweet having recently toured as Boston’s lead singer, the cover of Tom Scholz’ “Peace of Mind,” with Scholz joining in on guitar, is a natural fit. “My Love (I’ll Always Show)” has ‘new’ Stryper covering ‘old’ Stryper – the song is from Stryper’s 1984 debut project, transformed here into a more musically aggressive, heavy rock and roll number.
The album’s remaining ten tracks are unmistakably Stryper songs, full of catchy riffs, operatic metal vocals, harmony-filled choruses, and plenty of pop-metal thunder. Sweet’s lyrics at first seem to be equal parts hormone and holiness, but repeated listening reveals that the scales tip more heavily toward the Heavenly. The most obvious ‘traditional’ love ballad is “Alive,” which starts out with the words, “Listen – birds don’t sing anymore / Waves don’t crash on the shore / ‘Cause you don’t love me anymore,” sung with some of Sweet’s best vocal phrasing ever. The melodic, sweeping ballad brings us to a clever ending device, allowing the listener to mentally sing the last two ‘missing’ words, as the lyric ends, “Listen – the birds are singing once more / The waves are crashing on shore / ‘Cause you love me…” Somehow, the song avoids being corny – maybe because you’re the one who’ll silently add the ‘once more,’ at the end, and you’re certainly not corny, are you?
Lest you think that the guys have gone soft, rest assured that the album starts off with a bang (“Eclipse For the Son” and “4 Leaf Clover”) and immediately establishes the fact that Stryper still knows how to induce involuntary air-guitar playing and head banging. Without sacrificing their basic format, the band sounds more mature - more musically sure-footed, more introspective - less prone towards ‘us and them’ type lyrics. Self-doubt and weakness, topics not often expressed by posturing metal bands, is confessed in “The Plan,” while total reliance on Christ is sung about on “Everything.” Obviously, the inevitable maturity of simply living 25 more years of life (with its triumphs and tragedies) has brought a good balance to Sweet’s songwriting.
Sounding a lot like a metal version of Edgar Winter by the end of “Mercy Over Blame” (one of the album’s strongest tracks), Sweet sings, “When we all reach Heaven, There will be no shame / ‘Cause when we stand before Him …It’s Mercy Over Blame.” On the other end of the spectrum, “Run In You,” the most CCM-friendly track, is a respectably hooky radio-rock tune that has plenty of appeal.
Murder By Pride just might be Stryper’s most accessible, well-rounded project ever - certainly an album that no Stryper fan should pass up, a convincer for those who would too easily dismiss the band, and an excellent introduction for the uninitiated.