The other night, after waiting over 30 years, I finally saw Stryper in concert. The show was pretty much all I had hoped for. Stryper did all my favorite songs – including several songs from the album “To Hell with the Devil.” While I say “Against the Law” is my favorite, Stryper album,”To Hell with the Devil” has a greater emotional connection. A funny story about this album (I’ve mentioned this before), one time my mom’s aunt asked me what I had on my headphones, “I blurted out “To Hell with the Devil!” Yeah, little eighth grader me thought that was soooo badass. But I digress.
Let’s see if after 30 years, “To Hell with the Devil” stacks up. Does it hold to today’s standards? Does it sound incredibly dated? Grab my hand, and we’ll explore the album with fresh eyes.
Abyss / To Hell with the Devil
The first song on the album serves as an instrumental opener for the title track. I won’t say much about the song, other than the song holds up quite well, even against today’s standards.
So – let’s get to the title track, “To Hell with the Devil” has the number one spot on Stryper’s spotify page, so if this song fails, the whole band essentially fails. We open up with Oz Fox’s signature guitars leading the way, and then Michael Sweet blurting out, loudly, “Well speak of the devil! He’s no friend of mine.” The listener instantly knows, and finds themselves reminded several times, this song does not worship the devil. Rather this song stands against the devil, and counts the days until the devil burns in hell.
Really – that’s the thesis of this song – telling the devil to go (censored) himself. It’s a simple message for sure, but the simplicity works – given the energy of the song. This song sounds like so many other mid 80s rock anthems. That isn’t a bad thing mind you, “To Hell with the Devil” rocks – and that’s all we ask of the song. Furthermore – while the high energy 80s hair metal style of the song really does give an urgency to the thesis. This is not some simple sunday school hymn saying “I don’t like the devil,” this is a group of grown men screaming and playing as loud as they can. Their message is clear…..the devil REALLY freaking sucks!
Calling on You
“Calling on You” feels like any number of hair metal power ballads; very radio friendly both lyrically and quite catchy. The song gives the positive energy which defined, and continues to define, other radio friendly Stryper songs. It’s a good thing really.
While listening to “Free,” I sense an interconnection with the previous song, “Calling on You.” Both are radio friendly, and both possess a positive energy about them. The thesis of the two songs might differ, but even so – “Free” sounds like an answer to “Calling on You.” Stryper even played these songs back to back at their show last Friday and does so on a regular basis.
So why does “Free” answer “Calling on You?” There’s a couple ways of looking at this. “Free” might be the same speaker of “Calling on You.” “Free” might be letting the “You” being “called” (in “Calling on You”) off the hook. Free might be an attempt at saying “I need you, but I understand you can’t always be there for me.”
I actually prefer a different interpretation though. I see “Free” as coming from the aforementioned “You” being called upon. “Free” serves as a message of support to the speaker of “Calling on You.” “Free” encourages the speaker to move with their life even if the speaker of “Free” cannot be there all the time. Don’t get me, or the speaker of “Free” wrong, they want to be there for the speaker of “Calling on You,” but they can’t always be there.
If “Free” and “Calling on You” shows two sides of a conversation, “Honestly” shows the two friends talking (or rather singing) to each other. They’re both expressing their friendship and trust. Who sings what? It doesn’t matter….they both feel the same way. The both love each other Honestly.
A side note – the electric pianos do not hold up so well after 30 years. Meh – whatever, that was the style back in the late 80s, so it’s forgivable. Frontman Michael Sweet did redo the song, on his 2007 EP “Touched.” So maybe Sweet feels the same way.
To Hell with the Devil is a rock album. We almost forget this with the friendship trilogy, but “The Way” comes in strong and reminds us. The message of the song feels simple enough “Rockin’ for the one who is a rock.” That’s not a bad thing though. After the deep, interpersonal feelings of the last three songs – we just want to rock!
I have to admit – I didn’t like this song back in 1989. “Sing-Along Song” sounded cheesy and like a filler song. Before Friday night’s concert, I hadn’t listened to the song in several years. When I looked up song lists from previous recent concerts, I was surprised to see “Sing-Along Song” on the set list. Heck – it was the last song before the encore! What is going on here?
To my surprise – the song sounds so much better live than on a recording. The song has a natural audience participation component to it – and this makes the song a lot of fun to (ahem) sing-along. I’ll outright say that “Sing-Along Song” is akin to a more famous crowd rally song, Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Who knows – maybe Queen inspired Stryper to write Sing-Along Song.”
“Holding on” feels like another 80s radio gem. The song feels very positive and very upbeat – nothing wrong with that! I still love the song, but ultimately, “Holding On” could be pretty forgettable, compared to the last seven songs on To Hell with the Devil. Eh – whatever – I still enjoy the song.
Rockin’ the World
I feel a comparison of “Rockin’ the World” and “The Way” is in order. Both songs have a similar thesis, and both songs have a hard rock feel to them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having two similar songs on an album- in fact, it happens all the time. Thus – I won’t complain. Besides – “Rockin’ the World” rocks – in my opinion – harder than “The Way.” Let there be rock!
All of Me
With “All of Me,” we reach the last ballad on To Hell with the Devil. I really want to be nice to this song – as there’s obviously a lot of sentimental value to “All of Me.” I’ll assume that the song was written by Micheal Sweet for his wife. Still – the song bores me.
For the record, Michael Sweet “covered” this song on the aforementioned EP, “Touched.” As I listen to the Touched version – I realize the To Hell with the Devil version might just be a victim of it’s time as his 2007 version really sounds beautiful.
More than a Man
The final track on To Hell with the Devil comes out strong and hard. The sound focuses on Michael Sweet’s screaming vocals and Oz Fox’s hard rocking guitars. Their band’s message is clear in this song – they play hard rock and heavy metal music as a form of worship and evangelism.
Just like many of the songs on this album, “More than a Man” has a counterpart song. This song pairs off nicely with the title track, “To Hell with the Devil,” almost as an antithesis. Both songs rock hard, but one focuses on the Devil, and one focuses on God. “More than a Man” serves as a perfect bookend. Not a bad way to open and close an album. Not a bad way at all.
Does To Hell with the Devil still hold up?
If you listen to this album in 2018 and you’re not a fan of Stryper, you might not get the album. I mentioned Michael Sweet re-recorded “All of Me,” as well as”Honestly” giving both tracks an updated sound. I also mentioned there’s a lot of 80s electric piano transcribed into this album. So I won’t say that this album would truly hold up to someone who really didn’t know Stryper. Still – I will say that the seven songs Stryper did live on Friday night certainly sounded amazing better live. So while some of the songs might sound dated, don’t discount this album, because the album still rocks. The songs of To Hell with the Devil are still solid, just a little dated at times.
The album might need a little bit of tweaking here and there, but after 35 years, that’s too be expected. All in all, To Hell with the Devil still holds a well deserved place in 80s hair metal’s hall of fame.