This year, Aftermath has seen all strains of metal: From Slipknot and Mastodon's metallic beatdowns at Verizon Wireless Theater, to The Sword's kindly menacing sludge jams at the inaugural Summerfest, to the force of power that is Motorhead at Warehouse Live, and all the way back to Walter's on Washington for a dose of homegrown black metal that he didn't realize he had been missing. It took us nearly a quarter of a century to turn into full-blown metalheads, and it's all of your faults.
So it came as an utter surprise to be sitting in front of a Christian '80s hair metal band and getting the same charge out of a bunch of crunching power chords and windmill-like hair acrobatics that he would out of a secular band. Last night Stryper at the House Of Blues somehow calmed our souls while thoroughly making our head ache from headbanging to lyrics about fighting the Devil.
We are actually used to lyrical fare about praising Old Pitch and wanting to cut Christians' heads off with ten-foot scythes, instead of banding together to take the Prince of Darkness down with scripture and faith. Leave it to a bunch of Bible-quoting oldsters in yellow and black spandex to make us see that it's not so much the words we love about metal -- it's the fellowship and the way the music pounds in our chests.
Opening with "Soldiers Under Command" from 1985's album of the same name, Stryper came at the audience with the kind of brute force one would see from Judas Priest. Hell, Priest can't even bring the ruckus as well as Stryper seems to be able to do even 25 years down the line from 1984's debut The Yellow And Black Attack. The band even briefly covered that very band's own signature "Breaking the Law" halfway through the set before talking about their own sobriety. Little wonder the seven or so drink stations around the HOB were shuttered less than an hour into the gig from disuse.
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The fact that this is a Christian band or some other vague, limiting term goes out the window when you hear lead singer Michael Sweet scream and watch guitarist Oz Fox wrench out wreckage from his instrument. To dismiss Stryper is doing it a gross disservice, especially if you have not seen the band live before. Sure, some of the guitar lines may scream straight cheese and the lyrics get overwrought, but what the hell was Dio doing fighting dragons and riding tigers anyway? At least Stryper has a defined who and what it stands for instead of some mythical comic book jazz.
The power ballad "Honestly" found a good section of the crowd with their tattooed and leathered arms aloft like they were at a praise service on a Sunday morning in the suburbs. If you can make people alternately grasp for your yellow guitar picks and lift up His name, then you obviously are not just a withering nostalgia act. For a lot of metal fans, Stryper was their first taste of the darker sounds out there, and we saw more than a few parents in vintage-era tour tees with teens at their sides.
Just as quickly as we had all been rocking out to "To Hell with the Devil" and the band's amped-up Christmas songs "Reason for the Season" and "Winter Wonderland," we were all united in silence. The band closed out the set with Sweet letting the amps briefly breathe so he could lead the crowd in prayer. We had never heard the venue that quiet and that at pure rest. He prayed for us all to have great health, inner peace, a safe ride home and a happy holiday.
All of our mental ills may not have been cured after that prayer and we sure didn't have cash exploding out of our pockets, but we left a concert for once with a weird twinge of sober clarity that invariably felt better than any gadget or gift card we may have coming our way on Friday. Rock and roll ain't noise pollution, it's God's honest truth.