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Semi-Divine - 66%

Xyston, February 28th, 2014

Since their inception in the early ‘80s, Stryper have presented quite an enigmatic musical identity in the realm of traditional heavy metal. Aside from demonstrating one of the earliest aberrations within the genre in being the preeminently successful Christian metal band (with lyrical themes that are perhaps not quite as inauspiciously composed as some usually suggest), Stryper are noteworthy for having albums defined by a blatant polarity between remarkably well-composed metal classics, and severely commercially-oriented, sugary ballads. With their debut full-length “Soldiers Under Command”, this conscious attempt at gaining a wider appeal is manifest in a track list that is undeniably inconsistent, defined by an uncomfortable mixture of excellent, half-decent, and simply cringe-worthy tunes. Thus, for the traditional metal devotee, the listening experience is bound to result in disappointment, particularly since the gleaming moments of sheer musical talent found herein lead one to have faith in a level of potential that is, unfortunately, left unrealized for the pursuit of accessibility.

I feel obligated to point out that I am by no means a Stryper detractor; I have, in fact, long enjoyed their first official release, “The Yellow and Black Attack” EP, owning two copies of it on vintage vinyl (both the original and re-release). Furthermore, the fact that they are obviously a Christian band has done little over the years to negatively affect my appreciation of their music. I can’t say I’m exactly on board with their message – nor do I necessarily believe it's reasonable to suggest that going against the metal norm by writing Christian lyrics is inherently “metal” in itself – but I give them due credit for willingly and proudly encountering a good share of flak over the decades. Besides, on “The Yellow and Black Attack”, Stryper proved that they could effectively provide a sonic accommodation for their religious message with a classic heavy metal sound that was both intently defined and comparable to other groups at the time. It could have been a smoother EP, and hints of colourful melody are detectable, but “The Yellow and Black Attack” generally left me with the impression that Stryper were on a path towards a relatively solid heavy metal formula; one far from glam, certainly, despite occasionally referencing the fluffier moments from Dokken's debut alongside a more notable, rudimentary Judas Priest influence.

Of course, it was upsetting to discover that “Soldiers Under Command” offers a notable, premature departure from the consistent traditional metal songwriting found on the aforementioned EP. It seems unavoidable to think that, in the short time separating the two releases, Stryper were overcome with an overt desire to eat from the branch of the mainstream – all the more pitiful and perplexing, since each band member also displays high musicianship behind a select few of the most exceptionally crafted tracks of their careers. The title track, opening the record, is THE case in point. Indeed, this is undoubtedly a piece of triumphant metal glory, surely one of Stryper’s greatest songs which clearly showcases their immense talent and potential. Chock-full of riff work sure to impress fans of the finest NWOBHM, a solo section that would make Tipton and Downing themselves envious, and a powerful, memorable vocal performance from Michael Sweet (who tears it up expertly on the six-string alongside Oz Fox), this truly is the definition of pristine heavy metal. Additionally, the elegant aggression of this track finely works in tandem with the Christian-themed lyrics, which have no aura of pretentiousness but are instead communicated sensibly within a heavy metal format, actually attaining a tough character through proudly defensive, rather than ultra-preachy, conviction.

Sadly, the subsequent tracks do not all carry such profound quality. “Makes Me Wanna Sing”, next after the title track, opens with its main riff that is instantly very closely reminiscent of the one from Priest’s “Running Wild”, although it quickly takes on a much more upbeat tone. It’s a tight, straightforward classic metal song, but nowhere near the level of the opener; likewise, “Together Forever” offers another decline in momentum early on in the album, a more forgettable track with riffs that are just sub-par and noticeably poppy. Aside from featuring some commendable drum work by Robert Sweet (like the double-kick action near the ending), and a few nice bass lines from Timothy Gaines, there’s little to comment on highly with this bland, if inoffensive, song. But things DO start to get offensive – or at least vigorously annoying – with the first ballad of the album, “First Love”. Indeed, this does no good after the pretty unimpressive preceding couple of tracks, and unless you’re a fan of Winger or Shania Twain, you won’t enjoy this…at all. I suppose it still offers a glimpse of Michael Sweet’s talents as a vocalist, but if “Soldiers Under Command” is to be treated properly as a heavy metal album, it deserves some ridicule for including such a sugary-coated, Haagen-Dazs-craving emotional ballad.

Thankfully, some heavy redemption is provided by “The Rock That Makes Me Roll”, what I think is the best song on the entire record after the title track. It’s honestly comedic how this one follows the fluorescent softness of “First Love”, with its driving double bass and epic Priestly riffage that seems as if it’s coming from a whole other band. More excellent lead guitar work shines on this track, and the closing section with the harmonized guitar parts, soaring above the pounding double kick, is a moment I wouldn’t hesitate to rank alongside some of the best from practically any household name in '80s traditional metal. Meanwhile, “Reach Out” substantiates the ass-kicking of the previous track, an infectiously catchy number loaded with more great riffs and solos, albeit with more focus on melody than outright heaviness. Regrettably, though, the descent into mediocrity is once again apparent on the next couple songs, as “(Waiting For) A Love That’s Real” is more un-engaging, poppy-flavoured material similar to “Together Forever”, while “Together As One” is the second ballad of the record, and just as wimpy (if not more so) than “First Love”. However, “Soldiers Under Command” does conclude on a note almost equally powerful as that on which it opened, as “Surrender” pummels away with some of the hardest-hitting riff work on the record and more technically precise drum work, creating a truly magnificent atmosphere of undeniable power and glory. Killer solos abound, especially the ones rounding out the end of the piece, sure to make the traditional metalhead tingle. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” works well as an outro, and even if the album would have probably done better just ending with “Surrender” I’m not enough of a tool to pretend that this little shout-out to the big man upstairs is seriously detrimental to the overall quality of the record.

Indeed, “Soldiers Under Command” is an interesting record, but not for the best reasons. While it contains a handful of songs which clearly demonstrate the exceptional musical prowess of the band – real heavy metal that is a far cry from the hair bands of the time – the emphasis on ballads, and inclusion of filler tracks, makes it impossible to place this on the same level as other traditional metal works. To be frank, I just don’t see how this album could weigh in with much more consistently aggressive compositions from ’85, like Lizzy Borden’s “Love You to Pieces” or Accept’s “Metal Heart”. And that’s saying nothing of releases from only a year prior, like “Powerslave” or “Defenders of the Faith”; don’t even start with what was happening in the thrash scene at the time. Nevertheless, while Stryper’s sophomore album “To Hell With the Devil” is a bit more well-rounded, it certainly never has any moments of excellence comparable to those found on “Soldiers Under Command”, and it’s fundamental to stress that this debut is still worth having in one’s possession by virtue of it containing some of the band’s most high-quality tracks. The title-track, “The Rock That Makes Me Roll”, “Reach Out”, and “Surrender” may very well be the only songs here that’ll get persistent spins, and disheartening as it may be that Stryper didn’t release an album fully containing such expert craftsmanship, it’s a matter of fact, not faith, that these gentlemen do possess the ability to create some genuine heavy metal.

long-haied missionaries win the heavy metal battle - 80%

greenberger, October 23rd, 2013

The most ridiculed band in heavy metal continues their battle against the devil with Soldiers Under Command, quite possibly the most lauded album in christian metal history. Personally, bands screaming "hail Satan!" or "praise Jesus!" while wearing spandex are both equally ridiculous, so for those Stryper skeptics, the marriage of God and Metal makes as much sense to me as anything else in this genre (especially in the D&D-drenched 80's.) That goes double in this case, when the music is so damn good.

Overall, the production is a few steps up from their debut, but not quite as lush as their next couple of big-budget commercial hits. Purists will probably agree this is a good thing, as the focus is on doing what they did best: making hard-edged music with strong melodic structures. Even the poppy Makes Me Wanna Sing is still a pretty driving number (compare it to the similar Sing Along Song on their platinum-selling To Hell With the Devil, which is much more layered, but compositionally weaker.)

The opening cheer of Together Forever is almost funny, but the song itself is pretty catchy ("catchy" being something few metal bands manage) and also showcases Michael Sweet's soon-to-be-parodied high-pitched screeching (check out Terry S. Taylor's Sprinklerhead as a dead-on parody of Mr.Sweet's performance here.) From one song to another, the arrangements are tight, and the hooks, harmonies and melodies manage to stay planted on solid metal terrain despite their potential radio accessibility. While glam metal was about to take over the world (and Stryper along with it,) this album kept its heavy metal respectability.

The two ballads on the album, First Love and Together As One are decent as far as ballads go (good melodies, dramatic rises that refrain from entering corn-syrup-90's-Aerosmith territory,) though they do establish one of Stryper's more annoying trends, that of the "vague love song that can either be for God or a girl" variety. It was definitely a clever way to gain mainstream appeal while pleasing their christian base, but boy, did it get old quickly. Here, thankfully, the songs remain charmingly naive.

As the album closes with a convincing cover of the christian-soldier-classic Battle Hymn of the Republic, the discerning metal fan might reflect on the fact that s/he's just heard ten solid tracks, not one dud among them. As the controverisal-among-the-bible-belt cover shows, Stryper was declaring war on heavy metal and winning. It would be a quick descent, but in 1985, they were definitely on their way to conquer the world.

Stryper’s defining album - 90%

Metalwontdie, July 22nd, 2009

Stryper’s sophomore full-length is heavier, faster and is higher quality than their debut. In the 80’s Stryper played a brand of Christian hair metal also combined with traditional metal and even some speed metal. Soldiers Under Command was were everything came together for Stryper’s sound, which would finely pay off and earn them a gold status and a platinum status on their third full-length To Hell With The Devil.

The songs themselves are mainly up-tempo with a few mid-tempo songs and power ballads. Speed metal is represented in songs like the title track, The Rock That Makes Me Roll, and Surrender. The rest of the songs are a hybrid between the rocking hair metal and the more traditional metal of the 70’s. Most of the song choruses are well done, entertaining, and are based around the Christian values/beliefs of Stryper. The production is top notch mixing every instrument in the mix clearly and properly.

Michael Sweet is an excellent vocalist with an incredibly high range especially when he pulls off his very high pitch falsettos. He is also a gifted rhythm guitar player and provides some nice riffs throughout Soldiers Under Command. Oz Fox lead guitar is highly underrated he plays many infectious leads, riffs, and highlights ever song with a fast entertaining solo. Tim Gaine’s bass guitar is audible but like most hair metal bands just provides the back bone to every song. His keyboard work is just for atmosphere and does its job well. Robert Sweet’s drum work is great providing ever song with some entertaining fills, drum rolls, and double kick bass.

Soldiers Under Command does have its flaws fortunately they are few. The ballads and power ballads are cheesy and sometimes even annoying fortunately there are only two present. As said before the bass only provides the back bone for Soldiers under Command but still lacks as much heaviness as To Hell With The Devil and Against The Law. Finally most of the songs on Soldiers Under Command could have used another riff just for the sake of each song being a bit repetitive.

Soldiers Under Command is usually overlooked considering it came right before Stryper’s platinum release To Hell With The Devil. Best songs are the title track, Makes Me Wanna Sing, The Rock That Makes Me Roll, (Waiting For) A Love That’s Real, and Surrender. I highly recommend this release to any fan of Stryper traditional metal and hair metal.

-5 points cheesy and annoying power ballads
-3 points lighter than To Hell With The Devil and Against The Law
-2 points a few more riffs to each song would have taken away from the repetitiveness factor

Soldiers of Metal - 79%

Kalelfromkrypton, May 26th, 2009

Baritone singer Michael Sweet and company got worldwide recognition when Soldiers Under Command was put out. Labeled with Enigma helped them a lot to reach many places that with Christian labels (back then) would’ve been impossible. This being said Christian circles were very rejecting, due to the fact of them hanging out with secular bands, the glamorous look and the heavy metal-vibe.

This album is nothing but a gem of heavy metal. If you are fan a high pitched vocals and lashing screams then this is for you. If you also love killing guitar solos and fun music to party this is definitely worth checking. It opens with the title track, as the band’s signature and it has a cool main riff, the solo is also very cool and the high note in the end is but flawless. ‘Makes me wanna sing’ follows and the party songs begin. This is very pumping and the high notes, which are the song’s focal point is nothing but kicking ass. ‘Together Forever’ has some rock and roll choruses, which sound awful. The song itself is not outstanding but the screams again are quite superior. The problem with most of the songs, taking off the ballads, ‘Surrender’ and the last track, they all seem the same. To me, the same riff is and song writing is very repetitive. Of course, this was 1985 but even so, it makes you think you are listening to the same thing over and over.

First Love is the first super sappy power ballad. Not that it is bad, but is too mellow and although it has heavy drumming it sounds very much in the vein of Cinderella’s, boring and romantic-tragedy to cry over the shoulders of your girlfriend. The high point is that it is guitar driven which gives it some points. ‘The Rock that makes me roll is the typical rock-all-over-and-all-along that most metal bands from the 80-s considered mandatory, it is a little heavier but the drumming is horrible which is very much alike Surrender, being the heaviest tracks on the album. ‘Reach Out’, ’Waiting for a love that is real’ are more melodic and soft, perfect for radio air play. Cool choruses, cool guitar solos and cool guitar melodies are present throughout. ‘Together as one’ is the other (now piano driven) ballad and it is even softer and mellower than the first one. The vocals are very soft and this is what you would get from Motley Crue, Steelheart, Def Leppad, etc. ‘The Battle hymn of the republic is a public domain piece of music which they re-arranged and they did it very good. This is a good way to finish an album.

The production is very good for back then and you can identify all the instruments very well, except the bass sometimes which is almost nonexistent. Since this is a minor flaw this is very good album to enjoy. Amazing vocals, amazing choruses, lots of guitar solos, catchy melodies and a little bit of everything (meaning heavy songs, power ballads, good Christian and positive messages, party songs) is what you need to enjoy an album. You just have to drop the bad drumming, excessive glamour look and sometimes sappiness and you can enjoy the ride. Being that it was put out in 1985 when heavy metal was still emerging to the full arena acts and heavier/faster genres that would develop later; this was still a good effort in all senses. Kudos to Stryper for raising the bar of good produced heavy metal.