Coming off two of their strongest records, our Christian friends are courting some controversy with this one, their twelfth full-length — the title alone was enough to get the record banned from Wal-Mart. They partially alienated their fanbase once before, by going secular for 1990’s Against The Law, but now they’re keeping the Christian themes intact, while risking a little edgy language and a slight foray into heavier waters. It’s ridiculous, yes, but people will get upset about anything, won’t they?
The silliness of the title aside, however, God Damn Evil is largely a furthering of the rejuvenated yellow and black attacks of 2013’s No More Hell To Pay and 2015’s Fallen. It’s rife with hard rock riff, hugely harmonized choruses, dueling shred solos from Michael Sweet and Oz Fox, and plenty of Jesus-osity.
The lead-off track “Take It To The Cross” starts out as a fine Stryper rocker, with Sweet’s powerful vocals still in fine form, but it’s marred by a thrashy chorus that comes out of nowhere, complete with growled background vocals from Shadows Fall guitarist Matt Bachand. That section is arguably the heaviest Stryper’s ever been, but it’s also a simplistic chugga-chug take on thrashing, with a rapid-fire melody that achieves very little except to point out that Sweet can still hit those piercing high notes. That latter fact is better proven by later track “Lost,” which is one of the album’s finest and a more accomplished blend of the melodic hard rock and metal elements that comprise the modern Stryper sound.
Whereas “Take It To The Cross” feels more than a little try-hard, “Lost” and later rocker “The Valley” achieve a much better balance of riff, melody, and that classic Stryper feel. Closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here” (but guess who does!) sports a Van Halen bounce beneath its classic Sunset Strip-style riffage, while the title track is a pretty straight-ahead hard rocker with a huge chorus, even if you can’t sing it in Sunday school. The lyrical twist on that one, of course, is that the band is asking God to damn evil, to save the people but break down the walls — it’s two words, see? Clever. It’s a strong song, far better than the controversy-baiting title will likely allow a certain subset of the fans to think, but time will tell on that…
Of course, God Damn Evil wouldn’t be a Stryper album without a cheesy love song — it’s another of their calling cards, after all. This one’s far better than usual — although almost anything short of a cattle-prod catheter would honestly be better than “Honestly” — largely because instead of a keyboard-soaked ballad, today’s love song comes in the form of the midtempo AOR number “Can’t Live Without Your Love.” It’s still cornball, and it’s by far the least interesting song on the album, but it’s markedly better than a dozen of “All Of Me” or “I Believe In You” or “First Love.”
Thirty years after their commercial heyday, Stryper is three albums deep into a career renaissance, and now with new blood in the form of bassist Perry Richardson (ex-Firehouse). No More Hell To Pay was the spark that started it; Fallen was the fire in full form, and still the strongest of the three; but God Damn Evil burns hot and bright, maybe just a little lesser because some of its experimentation doesn’t quite hold up. Still, it’s a goshdarn good time, with more than enough good tunes to satiate anyone still looking for more riffy rockin’ in their religion.