In a world filled with anger and angst, Stryper’s mantra has always been to shine a light in a dark place with their music and message. It’s something they’ve been doing for more than 30 years.
On Stryper’s new album, Fallen, which will be released October 16, we find Michael Sweet (guitars/vocals), Oz Fox (guitars), Timothy Gaines (bass) and Robert Sweet (drums) continuing that trend with what’s possibly the band’s heaviest album to date.
Songs like “Yahweh” (co-written by Sevendust's Clint Lowery) fuse tight thrash guitars with muscular groove while “Pride” and “Big Screen Lies” weave intricate fretwork with anthemic refrains. Stryper even pays homage to Black Sabbath with a tasty cover of “After Forever.”
I recently spoke to Sweet about Fallen and his new signature Washburn guitar, the MS Priestess.
GUITAR WORLD: You’ve said Fallen is Stryper’s heaviest album to date. Was that the plan for it going in?
It definitely was. We’ve had people for a number of years saying how they wanted to hear heavy music, as did we. This album was an opportunity for us to not only please our fans but also to please ourselves. Stryper has always been a metal band; going back to Yellow And Black Attack, Soldiers Under Command and To Hell with the Devil. We came back to that with a fury with No More Hell to Pay. Now with Fallen, its come full circle. It’s our heaviest album, and I’d even go as far as to say that it’s our best.
Let’s discuss a few songs from the new album. What can you tell me about the title track?
Lyrically, the song is based on the story of Lucifer before he became Satan and was kicked out of heaven. If you believe in the Bible, it talks about what a beautiful creation he was. But then pride entered in an incredibly ugly way and he tried to take over heaven and dethrone God. Obviously, he was then thrown out of heaven and became Satan. Musically, it’s a powerful throwback to the simplistic style of writing. It’s a simple but powerful riff. I come from the old school of thinking that sometimes the most powerful guitar riffs are the most simple of all.
"Big Screen Lies"
That’s a very opinionated song. I feel that many times Christians are portrayed as idiots in films and on television. It’s funny how Hollywood often portrays us Christians as being morons. Whenever you see a Christian character in a movie or TV show, they’re often the ones you’re laughing at or rolling your eyes at. This song is about that. It’s a big arm up to Hollywood, saying, "Look, you’ve got it wrong and we’re on to you. That’s not the way it is." It’s the most modern-sounding track on the album with a cool, heavy riff and an anthemic chorus.
"Let There Be Light"
It’s taken right out of the Book of Genesis. It’s a powerful song lyrically and a bit of a Bible study. Musically, it’s got a little of that swag and groove from the Against the Law period.
My wife has always been a huge Sevendust fan, but I didn’t really know too much about them. I remember I was flying on a plane with LJ [Lajon Witherspoon] and Clint [Lowery], and they introduced themselves. We ended up exchanging information and I later reached out to Clint to see if he wanted to send a few riffs and be a part of the album. He said absolutely and sent me that opening riff. I took the riff and “Stryper-ized” it, and Clint just loved it. The song would have never come to pass if it weren’t for Clint.
That’s one of my favorites. It’s got this really cool riff going on and a catchy chorus. I’m also singing a little bit grittier and stretching the boundaries and trying a few different things. It’s talking about how so many times pride gets in the way and destroys our relationships.
What made you decide to include a Black Sabbath cover?
We’ve played Sabbath songs since we were kids, and this was an opportunity to show people where we come from. We thought, what better song for a band like Stryper to do than “After Forever”? If you read the words to that song, it’s about as Christian as it gets. That song was tailor made for us to cover.
What are your current tour plans?
I’ve been doing acoustic solo gigs throughout the year. Stryper did a few shows but took most of the year off. Next year, though, we’ll be touring a lot from April to November.
You have a new signature Washburn guitar. How did your relationship with Washburn Guitars begin?
I met with a few people at Washburn and got the sense that they really believed in what I was doing. They also happen to make killer guitars! Their Parallaxe guitars are amazing, and this new one, the Priestess MS, is phenomenal. I also have a V that’s coming any day now. It’s a reissue of my old V with a little bit different style and the same paint job people have come to expect from me. They’re killer guitars and I’m proud to play them.
What makes the MS Priestess so special?
Everything. From the wood that’s used to the placement of the knobs and even the use of medium frets. They’re the specs I like on a guitar. I have a 24-fret ebony neck and use Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups. I’ve also reversed the position of the pickups so that the bridge pickup is in the neck position and the neck pickup is in the bridge position. They both have very similar output but I really like the way it sounds. It’s not muddy and gives me a little bit more of my own signature tone. It’s also got a Big Block Brass from Adam Riever over at FU-Tone, which makes a huge difference in the tone. When people pick it up and play it, it sounds great.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
I’m just starting to dive into a new solo album that I’ll start recording in November. Will Hunt from Evanescence will be drumming on it. It’s going to be guitar-oriented, old-school metal, no keyboards or big background vocals. This will be the record where people will say there’s no way that’s Michael playing guitar.
What are you most looking forward to about the next stage of Stryper’s career?
You know what’s most exciting? The fact that we’re still doing this. And not just that we’re doing it but we’re doing it better than we ever have before. We’re at our peak and have a lot left in us. It’s such a blessing to be alive and breathing and still making music 32 years later.
For more about about Stryper, visit stryper.com.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.