Despite much of the album harking back to the band's 1980s sound, Stryper throw a curveball right away and immediately hit the listener with probably their heaviest song to date: Take it to the Cross. Perhaps unsurprisingly the song has divided opinion, but anyone who likes good old fashioned heavy metal should appreciate what Stryper have done here. The dense, atmospheric intro soon gives way to a driving metal riff that would not have sounded out of place on a classic Judas Priest album, while a dark gothic choir adds some doomy vocals for affect. The Judas Priest comparisons continue throughout, with Michael Sweet's voice breaking into short, high-pitched screams occasionally to add an overall edge. The biggest surprise however comes in the form of the chorus, which takes a thrashy, speed metal approach with Michael Sweet's snarled vocals being mixed with harsh vocals courtesy of Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall; Act of Defiance). Many fans have not liked this move towards a heavier sound, but I think it works really well for the modern Stryper. Drummer Robert Sweet impresses throughout with a varied drumming display that is the icing on the cake of what is already a powerful song. The rest of the album follows more along the lines of what the listener would expect, and Sorry sounds like many of the songs found on the band's other recent albums. The verses are a bit of a chug, with Michael Sweet and fellow guitarist Oz Fox laying down a simple power chord crunch over a punchy drum pattern. The chorus sees the song open up however, with lots of harmony vocals to make it a more memorable moment. The band have done better choruses in their career, but it still hits the spot and it is easy to see the song working well live with the crowd helping Michael Sweet out with the big harmonies. A melodic guitar solo is also included, which focuses more on neo-classical phrasing than shredding. Lost is similar, but picks up the pace a little with a Van Halen-esque main riff that jumps out of the speakers as the subtle pinch harmonics squeal. The verses take their cues from this riff, and steam along at a reasonable pace with O'Boyle's bass driving everything with a fat, melodic tone. The chorus is something else however, and seems to have a bit of a power metal influence with Michael Sweet's screaming falsettos and a dense keyboard backing courtesy of session player Paul McNamara. Stryper have done this sort of thing before, but here it just sounds better than ever. It is amazing to hear Michael Sweet still hitting notes like he does here, especially when so many of his peers are now wheezing their way through their greatest hits live these days.
The album's title track is next and takes on a bit more of a bluesy feel and becomes a real anthemic stomper. The main riff is packed full of 1970s classic rock goodness, and this purveys the rest of the song. Robert Sweet's deliberate drum pattern, which is constantly mid-paced, helps the anthemic feeling of the song - especially during the chorus which features quite a lot of gang vocals to emphasise the vocal melodies. There are better songs throughout this album, but the rather primal groove of God Damn Evil still holds some appeal and it is sure to get heads nodding live. You Don't Even Know Me slows things down a little. While it is not a ballad, it moves along at a pace which is just under the traditional mid-pace and allows a slightly creepy atmosphere to be created. Michael Sweet's sings in a style that is not unlike that of Alice Cooper's throughout the verses, although he returns to his more traditional delivery during the choruses which pack more of a punch - using the band's trademark big vocal arrangements to sit atop the still-lumbering pace. As a result the piece feels heavier than it probably is, but it still works well and adds to the overall variation of the moods found throughout the album. The Valley is one of the album's main singles, and once again follows the standard modern Stryper template with a muscular mid-paced riff and a loud drum beat. Robert Sweet might not be the most technical or impressive drummer in the world, but his playing always packs a punch. He is similar to Vinny Appice in that respect I always think, and contributes more in the way of raw power than finesse. His playing perfectly drives the song, which is based around another strong riff, and culminates in a big chorus which sees Michael Sweet adapting Psalm 23 for the lyrical hook. A lengthy guitar solo, which features turns from both Michael Sweet and Fox, is one of the better instrumental portions of the album and is brimming with melodic phrasing.
Sea of Thieves has a real 1980s metal feel to it, with a riff that sounds like it could have belonged to a mid-paced Testament song stitched onto a more melodic hard rock backing. The combination works well however, and creates a heavy feel while still also ticking all the melodic rock boxes. Despite this it is probably one of the album's less interesting pieces, simply because the vocal melodies just do not have the staying power of others found throughout the album. The chorus for one just lacks the soaring qualities found elsewhere, which ensures that the song comes and goes without fully making an impact. Those who really miss the overblown 1980s melodic sound will love Beautiful and it sounds like something that could have appeared on 1988's In God We Trust, an album which turned the radio-friendly feeling up to 11! The verses are quite a basic chug, not unlike the vast majority of the album, but the chorus includes Def Leppard levels of vocal harmonies to hammer its point home. Those who are suckers for a bit of AOR, like me, will instantly be drawn to this song due to this chorus; while those who exclusively like their music to be heavier will be turned off. It is great to hear the band really turning the clock back here and drawing influence from their back catalogue. While Stryper should be congratulated on largely being able to modernise their sound to ensure that they stay relevant and not sound dated; there is nothing wrong with occasionally letting your hair down.
Following on from this nostalgia trip is another one, with the album's ballad Can't Live Without Your Love feeling like something that would have troubled the charts in the late 1980s. Chiming clean guitars dominate the verses, and this is probably the only time on the album where the tough guitar rhythms that characterise the modern Stryper sound are mixed into the background to allow another vibe to dominate. The chorus is similar to that found in Beautiful, with big harmony vocals and McNamara's keyboard layers creating an emotional wall of noise. While Robert Sweet sometimes seems to forget that this is a ballad and still hits his drums as hard as he can, it is great to hear the band tone it down a little during this one song and provide a little break from the screaming guitar riffing found elsewhere. Own Up gets to album back on a heavier track with a growling groove-based riff and a chorus that seems to take something from punk with faster vocal melodies. The standout performer here though is session man O'Boyle who turns in a great bass line throughout that really contrasts nicely with the main riff. The bass has never been a big part of Stryper's sound, so it is good to see it pushed the fore here - often dominating the guitars in fact. Songs are always more interesting when the bass is doing something memorable rather than simply just following the rhythm guitar. The album's final song The Devil Doesn't Live Here picks up the pace once more and turns in an energetic, riff-heavy piece to see things come to close. Robert Sweet impresses here with a strong performance, which often includes the use of fast double bass pedal patterns to help drive the song along. While many of Stryper's lyrics are spiritual in some form or other, the lyrics of this song are one of their more blatantly religious offerings. I am not religious, so to me these lyrics always sound like those songs you hear played in American gospel churches set to a heavy metal backing - while is always a big jarring. This is something you have to expect with a Stryper album however, and those who want to actively avoid anything overtly religious should probably skip this last song! It is still a fun piece of heavy metal however, and ensure the album ends on a fast, powerful note after two somewhat slower pieces. Overall, God Damn Evil is another really solid effort from Stryper that continues their impressive recent run of new albums. I definitely prefer this album to Fallen, and with time it could even eclipse No More Hell to Pay as my favourite modern Stryper album. It seems the band have focused on the melodies during the writing of this album, and it shows.
The album was released on 20th April 2018 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for The Valley.