Still heavy, still touring and still professing deep faith, Stryper rolls into Elevation at the Intersection tonight. The Local Spins interview with singer and guitarist Michael Sweet.
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Stryper lead singer-songwriter Michael Sweet loudly proclaims that the band’s new album, “The Final Battle,” does not mean they’re “hanging it up.”
“But sometimes, I wish it did,” admitted Sweet, 59. “I say that in love. But when you’re lugging suitcases through airports at 4 a.m. and you’ve got three more places (to go) in a row, that starts to wear and tear on you.”
The album title actually carries a spiritual reference: the end-of-time battle of Armageddon as depicted in the biblical book of Revelation. It’s consistent with the faith-filled musical messages throughout the heavy metal band’s career.
“This one’s a bit on the heavier side,” noted Sweet of the project’s style. Exhibit one is the strong opening cut “Transgressor.” (Scroll down for video.)
But there is still the milder, tell-tale ballad in the collection: the love song “Near.”
“We grew up on Van Halen and (Judas) Priest as much as we grew up on Journey,” he explained of the mix of their musical influences, something that will be on display at 8 p.m. tonight (May 15) when Stryper’s “Final Battle” tour stops at Elevation inside the Intersection. Day-of-show tickets are $30 at the door and online here. Pretty Kool opens the show.
The Southern California rockers came of age in the 1980s along with many similar “hair” bands. Their initial stage garb of yellow and black spandex underscored their album debut, “The Yellow and Black Attack.” Their follow-ups “Soldiers Under Command” and “To Hell With The Devil” took a similar tack. The members’ Christian faith was strongly evident, yet the band gained solid acceptance among mainstream fans. Even while some conservative Christians cringed.
“We were a rock band that became Christians, not Christians who became a rock band,” he said of their roots which differed from most faith-based artists.
In their pre-Stryper days, the band (formed with Sweet’s brother Robert) was known as Roxx Regime. The players changed the name — and music — to align with their re-discovered faith. “Stryper” borrows from another line in the Bible: “By his (Jesus’) stripes, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
The band was shelved during most of the 1990s and Sweet recorded several solo albums. Stryper reunited for 2005’s “Reborn,” but only two years later encountered another hurdle. Sweet’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2009.
“I was taking it one day at a time. I look back on that and say God’s gotten me from there to here and I’m happy about that,” said Sweet, who has since remarried.
NO COMPROMISING VALUES AND OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
Sweet has long-term friendships and working relationships with fellow rock artists. He is completing his third recording under the “Sweet & Lynch” moniker with George Lynch, original guitarist of the glam metal band Dokken.
And when Boston’s lead singer Brad Delp passed away in 2007, Sweet was tapped to fill in as a guest singer, leading to a tour and an invite to join the band. He finally left four years later to concentrate on Stryper.
Before the tour which brings them to Grand Rapids, Stryper was part of the “Monsters of Rock” Caribbean cruise with the bands Queensryche, Telsa and other rock “giants.” But Stryper continues to hold its platform. In the world of rock ‘n roll, Sweet says, he’s the same guy back stage as out in front.
“I’m a man of deep faith and I don’t compromise what I stand for and who I live for,” he said.
“At the same time I’m an open book – you get Michael Sweet with all his flaws and imperfections, but I just want to be real.”
Sweet survived another challenge, emerging from detached retina surgery in 2021. On Stryper’s
“Transgressor” music video, you can see the patch over his right eye he had to wear for several months.
“I’m not blind but my vision in that eye is very poor,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my left eye from doing that.”
The band lineup has remained remarkably stable: Robert Sweet is still on drums, with Oz Fox on lead guitar. Original bassist Tim Gaines was “in and out” of the band through the years but parted ways for good in 2017. Former FireHouse member Perry Richardson took over on bass.
Sweet said the band’s most requested songs include the hard-edged “To Hell With the Devil” and “Soldiers Under Command.” But near that mark is the 1980s big ballad, “Honestly,” their lone song ever to reach the top 40 on Billboard’s “Hot 100.”
“Everyone seems to want to hear it, but I think the guys in the band hate playing that song,” he mused of the tune that usually doesn’t find it’s way into their sets. “But that’s the one that got us into arenas after being a club band, so that’s a pretty big deal.”
VIDEO: Stryper, “Transgressor”
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