The Yellow and Black Attack & Beyond: By Phillip Mayabb
1984 was a big year in the United States...in politics, president Ronald Reagan was re-elected in a major landslide that saw him win 49 of the 50 states in the country. In sports, the Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and boycotted by the Russians, while the Detroit Tigers swept the San Diego Padres in the World Series. In music, the MTV Video Awards were held for the first time, and Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father. In Christian music, one of the biggest stories of the year was how the emerging Christian rock industry was blindsided by four young men from California, that did not sound nor look like any other band that had ever walked on stage. Brothers Michael and Robert Sweet, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines called themselves Stryper, and took the Christian music world by storm with the release of their debut EP called The Yellow And Black Attack. The opening lines of the album said it all hair is long, and the screams are loud and clear, clothes are tight, earrings dangling from the ears, and they meant every word of it. Dressed in yellow and black striped spandex, while playing music that was as heavy as the popular mainstream metal bands of the day, such as Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister, Stryper meant business, and their business was singing about Jesus. Of course, many churches were quick to denounce them as a fraud, accusing the band of attempting to lead Christian youth astray, but when all was said and done, The Yellow And Black Attack sold well, beyond even the expectations of the band's record label, Enigma Records.
It sold well enough in fact, the label gave the guys the green light for a second album, which is where we land for the third week of our Rock Into Summer month of May on Vinyl Revival. Soldiers Under Command is, in my opinion, a must have classic for Christian rock fans, even if metal is not completely their cup of tea. A ten song, all out assault on your ears and soul, Stryper's sophomore release expanded their reach into not only the growing Christian rock market, but the exploding mainstream metal scene as well. Christian teenagers (like myself) were buying the album to see and hear the band that was causing such a fuss in churches all over the U.S., while metalheads were head-banging to the well crafted and performed riffs and hooks on the album. By the time it was all over, Soldiers sold over a half million copies, earning the boys from the west coast a gold album, and solidifying their position as Christian music's most popular metal band, a distinction they still hold today. Of course, there were other Christian metal bands that emerged onto the scene, mostly from L.A., who tried to duplicate the success that Stryper had acheived, and while some of them were very good, nobody ever matched the sales that these rockers put on the books.
Soldiers has it all...the explosive lead vocals of Michael Sweet, the double bass dynamite of drummer Robert Sweet, the monster bass playing of Tim Gaines (which sadly, was not mixed very well on this album), and the in your face guitar genius of Michael and Oz Fox, made this album a defining moment in the history of Christian metal. Produced by Michael Wagener, who started out as a classical pianist, already had production credits with mainstream metal bands such as Dokken and Great White was hired to produce Stryper's second LP, and the results were outstanding. Starting with the title track, this album is some serious rock and roll, from start to finish, with a couple of ballads inserted into the lineup for variety. Some of the material from this LP is actually still performed by the band today, some 33 years after it was released, which is quite a statement on the album's lasting affection from the fans.
The title song explodes off the turntable with the harmonizing opening guitar riff, and the soaring high range vocals, especially at the end, and if the ending note on Soldiers Under Command isn't high enough for you, wait until Michael Sweet hits the final note of Makes Me Wanna Sing, because it's even higher! Surrounded by the guitars, drums and bass, Together Forever invites listeners to receive the one who died for you, while the first ballad of the album, tells the story of a girl who left her First Love behind. Transition from there to one of the heaviest tracks on the album, The Rock That Makes Me Roll, which simply tells listeners that if you think rock and roll is strong, the Rock (not Dwayne Johnson) Of Ages, is the one who REALLY makes Stryper do their thing. The second side starts with Reach Out, another rocker that backs down from the intensity of the previous song, but keeps the message on point, that if we'll reach out, He'll reach out for us. (Waiting For) A Love That's Real give young listeners something to think about, which is waiting for God to send the right person along, instead of being as the Bible puts it, being unequally yoked with unbelievers. Time for the album's second power ballad, this one called Together As One, which is an excellent song for a wedding, provided of course that the guests are all headbangers. Surrender is in line with the Stryper M.O., inviting listeners to surrender their hearts and life to Jesus, and about the difference He can and will make. This classic LP ends with a wonderful, rocking rendition of The Battle Hymn Of The Republic, which gives you a moment to ready yourself as Michael sings the first verse, and then rocks your socks off with the chorus, loaded with mean, vicious guitars and drums, declaring HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON.
This was the very first Christian metal album I ever purchased, and though I was not used to, nor prepared for music that heavy, I realized that even though their lyrics might have seemed simplistic at times on this record, Stryper was on to something...trying to reach young metal heads with the eternal message that God loved them, and He sent His only son to die for their sins, and isn't that what Jesus instructed us to do in the parable of the wedding? He said go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be full (Luke 14;23 KJV), and that is exactly what these four guys from California, who looked and sounded different from every other Christian band were doing.
Of course, Soldiers Under Command was the setup for Stryper's third, and most successful album ever, 1986's tour de force To Hell With The Devil, which also drew the ire of church leaders all over, but that is another story for another time. In the meantime, please enjoy this Christian metal classic, and join Vinyl Revival next week, as we continue to ROCK INTO SUMMER 2018!!!
1. Soldiers Under Command
2. Makes Me Wanna Sing
3. Together Forever
4. First Love
5. The Rock That Makes Me Roll
6. Reach Out
7. (Waiting For) A Love That's Real
8. Together As One
10. The Battle Hymn Of The Republic
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