Rising in the Midst of ’80s Satanic Panic, Christian Metallers Stryper Have Persevered Through Ups and Downs

More than three decades after making their splash in the Heavy Metal world, the holy rock and rollers continue to tour and release new music like last year’s ‘God Damn Evil.' Catch them May 24 at Bogart's.

click to enlarge Stryper - PHOTO: ALEX SOLCA
Photo: Alex Solca
Thirty-five years ago, a proudly Christian band that filled its albums with songs of faith getting any kind of foothold in the Heavy Metal world seemed an impossible feat. Metal was at the center of the ’80s “Satanic panic,” a time where urban legends about roaming devil worshipers looking for their next sacrifice were commonplace and those heathens were almost always tied back to Hard Rock music. Parents were terrified as they watched television programs about hidden (and sometimes overt) Satanic messages from the artists, all designed to indoctrinate little Johnny and Suzy into a murderous cult.

But amid the Satanists and Hair Metal groups of the era, one band did triumphantly climb the ranks to notch several MTV hits with an earnest message and — most importantly — an authentic sound, which is most often the biggest obstacle for Christian acts trying to puncture the mainstream bubble.

Led by enigmatic frontman Michael Sweet, Stryper, despite their multi-platinum success, faced a backlash and resistance not only from their peers in the Metal world, but also within the Christian music community, which was equally baffled by the concept of true believers performing in a style most associated with an opposite deity. “Stryper” became an enduring punchline for many.

“The secular side, the mainstream, they’ve never accepted us to this day,” Sweet said in an interview last year with CityBeat contributor Alan Sculley. “We’re probably that band that everyone’s going to go to whenever there’s a time to mock. We’ve never really had the full support of the Christian side because we don’t fit into their little club. We’re not wearing suits and ties and going to every church and preaching.”

Still, Stryper found enough support on both sides of the aisle to maintain a career that has outlasted most of the acts from that era. One trait Metal and Christian music fans undeniably share is an unwavering loyalty.

The band took a hiatus that essentially last the entire ’90s but returned in 2003 (with the bulk of the original lineup intact) and has maintained a fairly consistent run of releases and tours. Their most recent album is 2018’s God Damn Evil, which has ruffled some feathers. Just as some were aghast at the title of their seminal 1986 album To Hell with the Devil (seriously), the new album has similarly caused waves, with Walmart refusing to stock the album due to a (perhaps not entirely unintended) misreading of God Damn Evil.

It’s more than three and a half decades since their formation and Stryper is still messing with people of all faiths’ preconceived notions.

Stryper plays Bogart’s this Friday (May 24) with Cincinnati’s Lift the Medium (which is also teaming up with Stryper in Louisville Saturday night). Click here for more show info.

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