It's time for a little theology lesson. Stryper has gotten a bad reputation over the course of their career for their beliefs, but the people who criticize them are either intellectually lazy, or dangerously ignorant. For all the bands that sing about, if not outright praise, Satan and other demons, they miss the bigger picture. The opposite of God is not Satan, it's nothingness. Like yin and yang, light and dark, you can't have one without the other. So congratulations all you heathen black and death metal bands, you may not know it, but you're exactly like Stryper. School is now out of session.
With that being said, we can move on to doing what should have been done from the very start; treating Stryper like any other rock band.
Stryper has been busy since their reformation, with this their third album of original material, to go along with a covers album and an album of rerecorded classics. It's fair to say that Stryper is as busy now as they've ever been, which is refreshing in a time when bands of their age are usually content to endlessly churn out the same songs night after night with nary a thought of the creative spark that led them to be musicians in the first place.
“No More Hell To Pay” continues to see Stryper moving in heavier, more modern directions. The last traces of the glam-era, pop-laden Stryper have been erased from this version of the band, who are almost incompatible with nostalgia. At times, “No More Hell To Pay” comes across sounding like a lost mid-era Dio album with Michael Sweet on vocals. The guitars are thick and heavy, pounding out chunky riffs to go under the melodic noodling, while Sweet rarely digs deep for sticky melodies.
That's not to say the record isn't catchy, but it gets you the way that those Dio records did, by drilling one line into your head through the sheer power of the vocal. In fact, when “Jesus Is Just Alright” tries to dip a toe in pop waters, it feels wrong in the context of the album. This incarnation of Stryper is a killing machine, and anything that distracts from the attack slows down the record.
Michael Sweet is not alone in top form on the record. His vocals are still as crystalline and powerful as ever, but lead guitarist Oz Fox matches him step for step with some excellent harmonies and solos throughout. His playing often evokes the memory of the glory days of Michael Schenker, and there aren't too many higher compliments a guitarist can be paid.
The issue I have with the album is that it's so focused on showing off the heavy side of Stryper's music that many of the best elements are missing. “Sticks And Stones” has a solid hook, and the almost devoid of a chorus “The One” is captivating, but many of the songs lack the strong vocal hooks needed to make them truly stand out. If the heavy foundation could have been combined with a bit more melody from the vocals, I think the record could have really hit on all cylinders.
“No More Hell To Pay” will come across as a surprise to people who haven't been following the direction Stryper has been trending in, but it's a move for the best. Stryper sounds more vital here than the vast majority of bands that made their name in the 80s, and while I can quibble here and there with some details, the fact of the matter is that Stryper has made a rock solid album it's hard not to be impressed by.