Quite simply, this is a magnificent album. Stryper, possibly the most unfairly maligned band ever to have emerged in the eighties, have examined their own legacy, listened to what their fans say about the music they create, and have come up with something quite, quite splendid in response.
The heaviest thing they’ve recorded since 1986’s To Hell With the Devil, No More Hell to Pay is an exhilarating, three quarter of an hour romp through some of the most glorious, unabashed, old-fashioned heavy metal you’ll hear all year.
You heard that right. For with NMHtP Michael Sweet and his cohort of bee-uniformed soldiers have cut out all the saccharine slop, all the gooey Midwestern radio-friendly melodies and replace them with miles and miles of riffing, shredding and screaming. Of course, you should read those terms relatively; this is Stryper, so every song still has big, recognizable hooks, riffs you can hum along to and Sweet’s amazing voice. But everything here is darker, minor-key lead and absolutely thrilling for all that. Sweet is in absolutely blazing form vocally, unleashing a particularly spine-tingling scream at the end of the seventies-tinged Jesus is Just Allright that’ll have you out of your hair and cheering, if that’s the sort of thing you do when listening to albums.
There are ballads, of course, but again these don’t make you shift about uncomfortably as some of this band’s efforts in this field may have done in the past. The One, in particular, is all class, featuring another superb vocal and some nice guitarwork from Sweet and Oz Fox.
Other highlights? Well, the title track is pretty nifty, actually; Listen to it a couple of times and you’ll make the connection with Queensryche’s Take Hold of the Flame, though in much heavier form. And talking about heavy, have a listen to the stomping Marching into Battle, which may well be the most straightforwardly traditional HM song the band has ever released. I can imagine Sweet and Fox cooking up riffs like the main one to this song – a kind of Holy Diver-style stomp – in the past and dismissing it as being too ‘raw’. But here, in 2013, it fits the newfound freedom the band are enjoying and sounds quite, quite superb. Elsewhere Saved by Love is a furious piece of breakneck speedfreak nirvana, whilst the chunky Legacy almost – almost –takes the band into the kind of territory usually claimed by Dave Mustaine, at least until the pre chorus, when Sweet soars into the stratosphere and normality is resumed.
In many ways this track best examples this ‘new’ Stryper; gritty, harder than of yore yet still not ashamed to unfurl catchy chorus after catchy chorus in tandem with the heaviness. It’s perfect old school metal, and I love every cheese-dripping minute of it.
Te Amo is a bit more ‘classic’ in terms of it’s supremely melodic verse and big chorus, but frankly it does come off as being a bit weak compared to what’s gone before. It is, however, a great song that would have been an absolute standout had it appeared on something like 1988’s In God We Trust. And it comes equipped with the best trad metal soloing on the album, so there’s still plenty here to love.
Next track Sticks and Stones takes the playground refrain of the same name and turns it into a stomping singalongasweet anthem; The type of song this band has always written in it’s sleep in fact, the only difference being that there’s real intent here, with guitars pushed high up in the mix and nary a keyboard accompaniment to be heard anywhere, it places this band at the forefront of the old school in terms of pure heavy metal thunder. Did I mention I love this album?
Water Into Wine isn’t quite as strong, but still carries a good, strong chorus that’ll go down a storm live, whilst Sympathy also has the air of the b-side about it, although once again come chorus time any doubts you have about the track will be washed away as you sing along at the top of your voice.
And so, just as the album appears to be running out of steam we come to the closing track, Renewed. Another hard and heavy riff monster that’ll, um, renew your faith in this felicitous new chapter in the life of Styper. No More Hell to Pay is a storming album, and to hell with anyone that says it isn’t…