HEAVY METAL MISSIONARIES?
"The hair is long and the screams are loud n clear. The clothes are tight, earrings dangling from their ears. No matter how we look, we'll always praise his name. And if you believe, you've got to do the same" - Stryper from LOUD N CLEAR"
The most controversial band in contemporary Christians music - without question - is Stryper, whose unorthodox appearance and music have come to symbolize much of what is wrong with religious rock.
Even religious rock's bible, Contemporary Christian Magazine, offered this startling comment about the California foursome in its December 1986 issue:
""To be completely honest, our criticism of Stryper has had more to do with doctrine than method...We think Strypers lyrics have at times reflected a view of God that is...shallow, overly simplistic, and (arguably) unscriptural...""
Strypers lead vocalist and guitarist, Michael Sweet, even seems to distance the group from other religious rockers in WHAT ABOUT CHRISTIAN ROCK? He said Stryper performs:
"...more of a mianstream-type music with a Christian message. We try to stay away from a title like "contemporary Christian music", because we really dont seem to be that...But we find that when people classify us as contemporary Christian artists, it actually takes away from what we're trying to achieve.""
James Chute of the Milwaukee Journal - in an article entitled, "What hath pop wrought in Jesus' name?" - said:
""Stryper offers the most extreme example. Clad in black and yellow leather and spandex costumes complete with the mandatory chains, leather bracelets, spiked hair, and makeup, Stryper claims to play its ear-shattering, mind-numbing heavy metal rock for Jesus""
In a TIME magazine profile of religious rock entitled, "New Lyrics for the Devil's Music," the article (March 11 1985, edition) opened with a verbal picture of Stryper:
""The group is actually called Stryper, a name inspired by the biblical assurance that "with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)..."We are rock n roll evangelists," says drummer Robert Sweet, 24. "Stryper is a modern-day John the Baptist crying in the world of rock for those who dont have the life of Christ to turn on the light switch. Our message is J-E-S-U-S.""
THE ROXX REGIME
According to published reports, Robert and Michael Sweet, along with the rest of their family, accepted Christ in 1975 because of a Jimmy Swaggart telecast. The brothers apparently had a strong interest in music. Thus, they placed the Lord on the back burner and concentrated on rock and roll.
They had put together a secular rock and roll band from Los Angeles known as the Roxx Regime, trying to make it to the top among several hundred bands in the expanse known as Southern California.
Then a musician friend, Ken Metcalf, suggested, "If you cnagne your group around and glorify Jesus, you'll go straight to the top."
As the story goes, the band redidicated their lives to the Lord, changed their name to Stryper, and took a demo tape to Los Angeles-based Enigma Records, the same company that launched two other heavy metal bands, Ratt and Motley Crue.
The groups first album, THE YELLOW AND BLACK ATTACK, was named for the bands colors. That was followed by SOLDIERS UNDER COMMAND, released in 1985, which reportedly sold 350,000 units internationally, stayed over 40 weeks on BILLBOARDS Top 200 album chart and over a year on the magazines inspirational chart.
Strypers third album, TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL, according to published reports (CCM, December 1986), was released in the fall of 1986 with the advance orders of 350,000 units.
THE STRYPER SOUND
James Chute characterizes Strypers heavy metal sound as an "orchestra of jackhammers." Rock historian Lester Bangs, in considering the roots and context of heavy metal rock says:
""Of all contemporary rock, it is the genre most closely identified with violence and aggression, rapine and carnage. Heaval metal orchestrates technological nihilism...its a fast train to nowhere, which may be one reason it seems to feel so good and make so much sense to its fans. Its noise is created by electric guitars, filtered through an array of warping devices from fuzztone to wah-wah, cranked several decibels past the pain threshold, loud enough to rebound off the walls of the biggest arenas anywhere. Add the aural image of a battering ram, and you've got a pretty good picture of what heavy metal sounds like.""
The Heart of Rock and Roll generously looks at Strypers music in a totally different perspective:
""...Theres more than raw, untrained power. Theres finesse. The members of Stryper are arguably better musicians than members of Ratt, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, and other bands who confuse volume with musical power, screaming with singing, and bombast with truth. Vocalist Michael Sweet wraps his vocal chords around a handful of octaves and styles...Sweet takes command of the stage, giving an energetic performance that is masculine but not erotic. And he plays a mean guitar, too. Brother Robert...sitting in a drum chair with "Jesus Christ Rocks" printed on the back...makes his drum set talk, punctuating the bands songs with a pounding bass drum, crashing cymbals, and fluid solos. Oz Fox leads the guitar assault, tossing his head and curly long black hair as he stabs the air with stratospheric lead guitar breaks. And bassist Tim Gaines gives the music a bottom, adding background vocals to the mix.""
As with all the religious rockers, the standard of comparison with Stryper is with secular rock artists. Thats the constant connection. Robert Sweet has said his goal has been to play drums like Eddie Van Halen plays guitar.
Michael Sweet says his music influences were Lionel Ritchie and Boz Scaggs. He also likes the group, Survivor. "Their songs are put together so well," he says.
The secular musical influence - obviously the dominate heavy metal touch - conditions the sound and stage performance Stryper gives.
PAT BOONE'S COMMENTS
Pat Boone, who was first drawn into the spotlight in the 1950's pop music scene, is now hosting a so-called religious music video show. The singer, known for his "white buck" shoes and glass of milk, offers this comment about bands like Stryper:
""...are speaking the kids' language, but they are getting a different message than they are hearing from W.A.S.P...or Motley Crue, or all these other groups that sing about sadomasochism and bestiality and drugs and suicide and actual satanism...Kids understand that message.""
Michael Sweet seems to echo Pat Boone's comment when he says:
""We're trying to attract non-Christian audiences. We want kids who are into AC/DC or Motley Crue to be able to proudly say, "Look, maybe Im not a Christian yet, but Im going to see Stryper." Christians have to understand, there are a lot of kids out there who need to be reached who arent going to be reached the way they do it...""
The big question is, are they being reached?
The answer is a resounding NO according to Andy Secher in an article, "Stryper, Angels with Dirty Faces," in the January 1987 issue of HIT PARADER magazine. (Hit Parader is one of the most vile teen rock magazines in the country, little more than rock and roll pornography.) The article stated:
""While Sweet and the rest of Stryper are not about to admit it, apparently a majority of the bands fans have little or no idea about the groups spiritual message. A survey held at a recent Stryper show indicated that, while 90 percent of the crowd was extremely pleased by the groups onstage performance, less than half were even remotely aware of the groups religious stance...""
WHAT OVERPOWERS THE MESSAGE?
If Secher's survey is correct and I have no reason to dispute it, what could possible be hindering Strypers audience from understanding their message?
Could it be the decibal level of their sound? Could thier costumes and stange antics be a factor?
I believe both are prime candidates.
The groups (typical) sound is loud almost beyind belief. One reviewer suggested during a Texas concert that the band could probably be heard "at least two miles away."
James Chute suggests:
""Go to a concert by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or any other metal band and you might be able to understand a word here or there, but not many. Maybe some of the metal aficionados have all the words memorized, but dont bet on it. The words dont really matter because the message is in the music.""
Hit Parader quotes Robert Sweet as saying:
""We know there are plenty of people who question what we're doing because of the way we look and the way we act onstage...we are a rock and roll band. We grew up on KISS, Van Halen, and Deep Purple. So we see nothing wrong with looking good onstage and playing with power. After all, God is entitled only to the best - so why no celebrate his name with the best type of music in the world?""
This statement, "looking good onstage and playing with power," needs to be qualified. Looking good to whom? And playing with what kind of power?
Does Stryper look good to God? If the group looks good to HIT PARADER, it is very doubtful they could look good to God. If the group was playing with Holy Ghost power, its obvious Hit Parader would not feature them. If they did, it would no doubt be a caustic review if they got one at all.
So the answer to why Stryper plays so loud is: We grew up with this kind of music and we dont see anything wrong with it. In other words, we set the standards.
What about the justification for the garish yellow and black spandex leather clothes? Michael Sweet is quoted in the book, WHAT ABOUT GOSPEL ROCK?
""In no way do I want to be sexually explicit, but all you've got to do is compare us with those [secular]rock bands of today. Does Stryper have the seat of their pants cut out [as David Lee Roth has done]? Is Stryper sticking something in their pants to draw attention [as nearly every metal band has done at one time or another]?
The book then pontificates:
""Sweet does have a point: compared to other secular heavy metal groups, Stryper is very mild in appearance. Their stage presentation - when we viewed it - didnt employ the crowd-enticing, sexually-suggestive posturing of most secular heavy metal concerts. And their LP covers and videos, though brash, have no sexual connotations""
It seems the sole basis for justifying a group like Stryper - and countless others - is the "comparison test". The comparison is always with secular rock.
Thats the problem.
The Lord tells us the world is our enemy. For them to set the standard based on what the world does lets a person know these groups dont even know what the standard is.
The standard is not set by secular rock artists. The correct standard is set by the Word of God. This standard is molded into our lives by the Holy Spirit, Gods special instrument. Evidently none of the religious rockers desire to have this standard established for them by the Holy Spirit.
Its always a comparison test with the world - "ours is not as bad as theirs." It reminds me of the two drunks arguing. "Im not as drunk as you are" was the heart of the fight.
CHRISTIANITY TODAYS ARTICLE.
When Christianity Today printed a profile of Stryper, the evangelical magazine received a number of letters from readers. The letters asked questions which cry out to be answered:
>Is not the mixing of Christian and heavy metal a contradiction in ideologies? If we were to evangelize prostitutes, would we be expected to dress like them also?
>Our missionaries bringing the Gospel to the world do not dress as witch doctors to convert the natives.
>An article about a Christian heavy metal band is the same as writing about a 'Christian' physician who performs abortions and says he makes an impact on the murderers of America who also perform abortions.
A MONEY-MAKING GIMMICK?
Is the entire idea of a heavy metal band like Stryper - with spandex and leather outfits and long spikey hair - nothing more than a money-making scheme?
Thats the question the HIT PARADER pondered:
""Listening to Sweets thoughtfully presented dialogue, one cant help but be impressed with Strypers dedication and creativity. Still, the idea that the bands unique presentation is little more than a money-making gimmick - much like the celebrated exploits of the Crue or Ozzy - cant be easily dismissed...""
That question about money-making gimmicks also can be raised from Robert Sweets comments to Hit Parader:
""...We wannted to combine our two great passions - Jesus and rock and roll - and so far we've been quite successful. The message is always there, but we're good enough musically for even non-religious people to get into what we're playing. Thats the big advantage we have over a band like Motley Crue. We can appeal to their audience, but we also have the spiritual people behind us - at least most of 'em. There are 100 million Christians in the United States. If even a small segment of those people get into what we're doing, we'll be very successful.""
It seems the question which should be raised is, "What constitutes success in the religious rock realm?"
That answer seems obvious. Money is the core of all efforts. You can add to that the recognition factor or "ego" and the acceptance by the world. Then its regarded as a success. If Stryper and other religious rock groups can get Motley Crue's audience to like them, then they can label themselves successful.
Its obvious what these groups are doing. They really have no concern for God or His ways. Everything they do could be labeled little more than blasphemy - absolute, utter blasphemy. What they are attempting is to capture that place in the market created by the excesses of the secular rock groups.
The secular rock groups have become so dirty, so satanic, so degrading, that they have "turned off" an entire segment of the population.
So along comes other rock and roll bands who call themselves "Christian". The very word itself calms the fears of concerned parents. Its "Christian" so it has to be all right. Its something the kids can follow without being destroyed through drug addiction, illicet sex, or Satan worship.
And the religious rock bands capitalize on that parental fear. Their outlandish clothes will be similar to the world's. The strobe lights, the smoke bombs, and the sound itself will be like the secular groups. The only difference will be in the words and the toned-down gestures onstage. The religious rockers have now justified their actions - and, besides, they're making good money at it as well. They are now successful.
Only in God's eyes they are anything but successful!