When Stryper's first album, The Yellow and Black Attack, hit the streets at the midpoint of Ronald Reagan's term in the Oval Office, most folks who picked up a copy went home and promptly sandwiched it in their music collections between records from artists like KISS, Def Leppard and - even though most of them would deny it to their friends - Journey. All of which arguably goes to prove the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here, roughly three decades removed from those carefree days of the summer of 1984, all four bands are still touring regularly and enjoying surprisingly widespread popularity. Perhaps most tellingly, though, the members of Stryper, like those of the other abovementioned bands, have now taken a step down an increasingly common route of releasing retooled versions of their classic material from yesteryear. While Stryper front man Michael Sweet freely admits that his motivation was largely related to licensing issues and gaining tighter control over the band's back catalog, those who can put their cynicism on hold will find that, despite the less than completely artistic motives for its creation, the Second Coming project actually plays out fairly nicely in actual practice.
Taking two tracks from the debut and six apiece from 1985's Soldiers Under Command and the following year's To Hell with the Devil, the release's production aesthetic lends the reworked compositions a welcome sense of fullness, immediacy and bass presence that were absent on the first two albums. Just as importantly, its chronological sequencing works to place the band's artistic growth and expansion in that much clearer focus; from the slightly by-the-numbers heavy metal of the debut, to the slightly more distinctive second effort, on through to the fully-formed pop-meets-metal textures of cuts like "Calling on You" and "Free" from To Hell with the Devil - long considered by many to be the band's crowning achievement. On the sentimental side of the equation, devotees who have spent the last quarter century lamenting the fact that original member Tim Gaines was all but M.I.A. on the Devil sessions can now hear the prodigal bassist, who has twice departed and returned to the group, holding down the bottom end on fist-pumping chestnuts like "Sing Along Song," "The Way" and, of course, the much-beloved record's rousing title track.
Given that both Second Coming and its direct predecessor, 2011's The Covering, are constructed almost exclusively around cover tunes, skeptics will be relieved to know that Coming's two new cuts, the towering "Blackened" and the funky, Bad Company-inspired "Bleeding from Inside Out," find the SoCal foursome's muse in full flower and stand toe to toe with the quartet's finest work from the '80s. Its various selling points notwithstanding, though, the band's lyrics have always fallen well shy of Shakespearean prose; a deficit that continues unabated this time around. Likewise, despite toning down his helium-induced vocals a bit, Sweet's singing still remains something of an acquired taste. And, truth be told, even "Blackened" and "Bleeding" will probably do little to convert the legions of naysayers who have summarily dismissed the band since the time of its inception.
Dyed in the wool fans and completists will, of course, scoop the album up the day it's released and listen to it non-stop for several months after that. Others, who are only casually acquainted with the band, will probably take a pass given that the better portion of its songs, along with the (inexplicably) missing cuts from 1988's In God We Trust, are already available on the 2003 greatest hits collection. For everyone else, though, Second Coming is probably a 50/50 proposition. On the negative side, with only a pair of new tracks to its credit, the project doesn't quite justify its own purchase. In its favor though, Sweet & Co. have arguably accomplished a feat that none of their counterparts in KISS, Def Leppard or Journey have been able to match. They've managed to remold their most dearly-loved compositions into incarnations that are actually, against all odds, superior to the originals. And, while this may not be enough to sway those 40-something purists who still maintain that the band should have called it a day in 1989, it still earns Sweet & Co. high marks for being able not only to match, but to better, the expertise and enthusiasm they exhibited during their heyday.- Review date: 2/15/13, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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