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The fall of 1991 brought us Nirvana's Nevermind, an album that seemingly shot and killed heavy metal in a single stroke. But the truth is, pop metal was already in a state of artistic and commercial decline. They'd gone too far with the hairspray and spandex; Nirvana merely dealt the final blow. The minute the 80's became the 90's, it was as if someone had turned on the lights at a house party that had gone on for too long, forcing everyone to take a sober look around. "We look fucking ridiculous!" was pretty much the unanimous observation.
Which brings us to Stryper, who at the time was not only completely caught up in the glam metal craze, but was also composed of a bunch of christians- true misfits among misfits. Despite being on top of the world in 1988, the writing was clearly on the wall for these guys a mere year later. There was no way that yellow and black spandex would carry them into the 90's- that much was clear. So Stryper did what everyone else did. They copied.
If 1990's Against the Law proves anything, it's that the Stryper boys were talented musicians. They had no problem transforming themselves overnight into a christian Van Halen- the Sammy Hagar Van Halen, that is, post-OU812. The songs on Against the Law, specifically with Michael Sweet's lower vocal stylings and Oz Fox's Eddie-influenced guitar licks, are clearly cut from that cloth, but they are cut so well that most of the tracks here outshine Van Halen's own material from that era.
Which makes this album a bit of a contradiction. Stryper trying to act like tough-guy thugs (the album packaging has them hanging out in a jail cell) is actually more ridiculous than seeing them in bumblebee costumes- no one is going to mistake these guys for criminals- but the minute you stop looking and start listening, you have to take them seriously. Despite its obvious derivations, Against the Law is a great album.
The title track is a message to their christian fans- basically, "hey, I know we look like bad guys, but we're still rockin' for G-O-D!" Which the church, understandably, probably wasn't buying. After sticking to their overtly-christian message album after album, the band finally toned down the preaching with songs that are about, well, things Stryper thought regular people wanted to hear about. Chicks they were hung up on, chicks trying to get them to do bad things, and chicks who were cheating behind their back. Come to think of it, most of the songs on here are about chicks- either Michael Sweet had no idea what else to write about, or he's got some deep issues with women. Either way, it's not like anyone listens to Stryper because they have something to say lyrically.
But they do have plenty to say with their music, which grooves here with a freshness found only in the best anthemic hard-rock bands. Ordinary Man is a great example; the Van Halen-style guitar riff is catchy, and the trademark Stryper harmonies (which are used sparingly in this album) accentuate the chorus perfectly. This is a band who had mastered their craft and was showing it off with glee. The same goes for Two Bodies, Not That Kind of Guy, and many others, which are, quite simply, tons of fun.
Even the ballads here are pretty legit; Lady, which FINALLY drops the "is this a love song to a girl or to God?" shtick, would fit perfectly among Aerosmith's best slow rockers (that would be before Aerosmith turned into complete cornball shit, of course.) So, yes, the album is completely, 100% stylistically derivative, but the material is often better than the bands Stryper was ripping off. Which is a weird, but fascinating fact to behold. They even manage to crank out a great cover of Earth Wind & Fire's Shining Star. That's right, a bunch of white, christian metalheads from Southern Cali were able to take a quintessentially black funk/soul hit and give it a legitimate hard-rock makeover. Maybe God was on their side!
The album closes with the oh-so-cleverly-titled Rock the Hell Out of You, the lone metal song on the album and a reminder that Stryper hadn't totally forgotten their metal roots. It was to be the last Stryper track we would hear for a long time, as grunge pretty much sent Stryper (and their ilk) packing until the band returned for the glam-metal-nostalgia revival in the 21st century. It's a pretty great metal track, though, and a perfect way to close the book on one of the most unique by-products of 20th Century American Culture.
Epilogue: I was lucky enough to see Stryper perform during what was to be the last leg of their last 20th Century tour, in a small club packed with a few hundred loyal fans. It was a little sad to see how quickly they had gone from opulent 20,000-seat arenas to this, and everyone knew the end was nigh for Stryper, including the band- who delivered one of the best live hard rock / metal shows I've ever seen in my life. That's right, fucking Styper brought the house down. Who woulda ever guessed?
With In God We Trust Stryper took their most mainstream/commercial approach it didn’t really pay off. Two years later they released what is up to this point Stryper’s least commercial, most metal, and heaviest album to date Against the Law. Losing the yellow and black spandex and donning regular jeans they made a more metal image for themselves. Against the Law lost the hair metal approach and adopted a much more classic/traditional metal style with the semi-speed metal a approach still represented by Caught in the Middle, and Rock the Hell Out of You.
Stryper’s usual mainly mid-tempo songs with the occasional speed metal tempo are still intact. Only one power ballad is represented and it is by far better than any of Stryper’s more popular previous ballads, it’s also faster and heavier with a much better use of acoustic guitars. Guitar leads are less prevalent than the almighty riff on Against the Law but when leads are present they are pretty entertaining. Wider usage of power chords and a heavier usage of the bass gives Against the Law a nice crunchy guitar sound. An unusual cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Shining Star is present and dare I say is much better than the original and one of Against the Law’s highlights.
The bands performance is freaking solid and definitely much stronger than on the swansong In God We Trust. Michael Sweet’s vocal approach is more mid-range based than his 80’s material but he still bellows out his older falsettos especially on Rock the Hell Out of You. His rhythm guitar playing is solid as usual but nothing out of the ordinary. Oz Fox’s lead guitar playing is definitely the highlight of Against the Law providing some crushing riffs and leads that at the time were unusual for Stryper. Tim Gaine’s bass guitar is far more audible than on earlier Stryper releases and adds the heaviness to Against the Law especially on the more mid-tempo crunchy songs. Robert Sweet’s drumming is possibly his best performance of his career using the double kick bass more often, drum rolling, and filling all over the place.
Only a few weaknesses are present on Against the Law and they do hurt the overall entertainment value. First off the standouts aren’t as good as on Stryper’s Soldiers Under Command, and To Hell With The Devil. Some of the songs have a fairly simple structure and could have been more complex. While the power chords are important to Against the Law it is a double standard because of the overuse and the simplifying use of them. Finally the choruses are not as entertaining as on Stryper’s mid 80’s material.
I would say that Stryper’s Against the Law is even better in the overall picture than say To Hell With The Devil and is certainly Stryper’s most underrated album. Best songs are Against the Law, Shining Star, Caught in the Middle, and Rock the Hell Out of You. I highly recommend this release to fans of classic/traditional metal and any fan of Stryper you won’t be disappointed.
-4 points standout songs are weaker
-4 points fairly simple son structure on some of the tracks
-3 points power chords overuse and simplifying effect on the songs
-3 points choruses are weaker than on Stryper’s mid 80’s material
This is by far the best album, musically, for Stryper. The only problem was that it happened just a little too late, and at a time when rock music was beginning to change into something else.
The coming of grunge was only a small reason why this album led to the downfall of Stryper's commercial success. Mostly, it was because Styper decided to go in another direction with their image and with their music.
While the lyrics changed from purely Christian to just a positive message, the Christian music world felt shunned by it's biggest posterboys for Christ. Although Stryper struggled against the hard line conservative Christian talking heads for most of their careers, it was the religious message that helped bring them to the top of their game.
Christians who liked metal music loved Stryper for being in touch with their musical tastes. Metal fans who were not religious were curious as to how four guys dressed in yellow and black and preaching about God could rock the world and a lot of fans stayed on with them, despite the message and not because of it.
With Against the Law, Stryper shed the spandex and yellow and black for clothes more suitable for the coming times. Gone were the makeup and over the top fashions to be replaced with leather, loose, button down shirts, and beards. They also shed their Christian lyrics for more positive, mainstream topics like being cheated on and having some fun.
By far, this record was the one where all four members were able to shine. Oz Fox was finally able to show his fantastic fretwork, and on the very first song the tone of the guitar was no longer Michael and all Oz! The solos were loose, not flashy, but fit the songs like a glove. Finally, Oz was able to show just how good he really is. Is he a virtuoso like Satriani, Vai, and Malmsteen? No. Is he just as good as every other guitarist of the era? Absolutely. Oz has fun on this record, and you can hear it in his playing.
Michael Sweet's voice took on a harder edge to it, also. On songs like Lady, their signature ballad, it does go towards his feminine tone of the previous albums, but with a touch of crunch to it. This is actually a pretty good song, as far as ballads go, with a touch of blues to it. Today, the screams would seem as if he was trying to hard or overdoing it, but back in 1990, it was the thing to do. And there aren't many who can do it as melodically as Michael Sweet.
Tim Gaines played excellant on this album. The backup vocals were stripped down, unlike the other albums with perfect harmonies, and more in your face. For some reason, it seemed to fit Gaines a little better than before. The co-anchor of the rythym section performed beautifully on Shining Star, though it was rumored he had help. He was also excellant on Two Bodies (One Mind, One Soul).
This album rocked more than most of the others, and was not in any way overproduced. The mix was awesome, the songs punched, and it appeared as if the members of Stryper were able to spread their wings a little and have some fun. Songs like All For One and Two Bodies soared vocally and musically. Shining Star, a cover an Earth, Wind, and Fire tune is very good, also. Stryper combines funk with metal on this one and it works, plain and simple.
Because of the image and lyrical change, many people were confused by what Stryper was trying to do with this album and they refused to give it a chance. The hardcore Christians were upset at no longer having biblical anthems and the metal heads of the 80's shunned Stryper as selling out to the label or trying to be commercial. I believe it was neither. I think Stryper just wanted to try something different, and the result was some very kick ass music made by some excellant musicians.
Had it been given the chance, people would have realized that the message was still positive and these guys could rock with the best of them.
Anyone into Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, or Pantera will not like this. People into Motley Crue (Dr. Feelgood album), Queensryche, White Lion, or Dokken will enjoy it.
With the downfall in the 90’s due to a big bunch of losers playing the annoying thing called grunge and alternative rock the bands we were in love with chose two roads: 1. They got separated. 2. They turned heavy metal into heavier music. This happened to Judas Priest with the immortal Painkiller, Iron Maiden with Fear of the Dark, Scorpions with Crazy World, Ozzy with No More Tears and so on and so forth. Well, Stryper was not an exception and with Against The Law we got an album that I would dare to say is perfect.
They followed the same structure for all their career of the title track opening the album: very powerful, fast and totally rebellious against the people who were pointing at them just because they did not like what the band were doing. Two Time Woman is the commercial hit, very cool, good solos and powerful screaming that if I had compare to someone that would be CJ Snare from Firehouse on Hold your Fire. Rock the People is slow and almost doom with vocals that will leave you hyperventilated. Two Bodies is the first ballad and a wonderful improvement since it has acoustic guitars and a glorious mood not to mention the speed which was really fast for a ballad. Not That Kind Of Guy is the fastest track with a complete go-nuts playing and let’s freak out dealing with lust for sex. Ordinary Man has a cool riffing and is deals with the same topic as the previous song. Lady is the second ballad and I must say it is awesome with acoustic guitars, and outstanding guitar solo and high vocals and amazing choruses. All For One is the highlight and it has an excellent riff and pace. This song is what we get from heavy metal masterfully performed. Rock The Hell Out Of You closes and again we get a super powerful track, Michael barely sings but screams fitting perfectly and there is no flaw in his performance. This is a perfect closer to the album because it really rocks the guts out of you.
The album’s themes are more diverse than their previous efforts because they deal with a lot of social things that were troubling the guys at the point of breaking up the following year. Because of touring with regular bands like White Lion, WASP and others the Christian sectors were criticizing them more and more and they turned into a more free lyrical content and they played even heavier which is ok since they managed to create an outstanding album. It is a pity that due to the hard times when it was put out it did not sell well but I can tell you that it stands beside the power and heaviness from some of the albums mentioned above plus if you will, Keep The Faith by Bon Jovi, Pile of Skulls by Running Wild and countless others.