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STRYPER – Defenders Of The Faith
Dave Reynolds
Metal Forces, Issue 6 (1984)

Stryper (l-r): Robert Sweet, Michael Sweet (seated), Tim Gaines and Oz Fox

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

There are just a handful of bands I can honestly say that I am a committed fan of. This year I’ve discovered two new names to add to this paltry list. Both are unsurprisingly US acts – the first being the excellent Texan outfit Pantera, the second is Stryper. In the case of the latter, they do offer something different in approach from the metal majority. You see, Stryper are one of the rare breed of Christian metal bands following in the footsteps of US acts like Chicago’s Rez Band, by not only singing about Jesus but also playing Grade A metal. Oh, and don’t forget image. Stryper they are by name and by nature so to speak.

It’s all so very easy to put down Christian metal bands. But tell me, what is so laughable about groups who prefer to sing about good rather than evil? How many of you black metal fans would rather go to Heaven than Hell? I’m not particularly religious myself, and I only step into a church once in a blue moon, but I do find it disturbing that so many bands do glorify the Devil, thus giving the people who despise heavy metal fuel for its slaughter.

So Stryper are here to tell it how it should be. But even then people are prone to criticise the four-piece from California. “An awful lot of people are sceptical about what we’re doing,” says Stryper drummer Robert Sweet. “They say we’ve got hold of the best gimmick in the world, but if Christianity wasn’t real to us then we couldn’t be doing this. It’s not a gimmick, we just do what we feel. We don’t compromise Jesus, but we don’t compromise being heavy metal either. This band has been a life change for all of us.”

All of us being Robert, his brother Michael (lead vocals / guitars), Oz Fox (lead guitar) and Tim Gaines (bass / keyboards). The Sweet brothers met up with Oz whilst they were in a band called Roxx Regime in 1981. They changed the name to Stryper in 1983 when Tim joined from Stormer (an LA band once featured in Sylvie Simmons’ round-up of LA metal in Sounds a couple of years ago).

“We’ve been using stripes since 1980 when we were Roxx Regime,” says Robert. “Some people are accusing us of ripping off Quiet Riot, but that’s not true. In all honesty we were using the stripes before Quiet Riot picked up on it. They might have had a mike stand then, but that was it. We have absolutely everything striped all the way from the guitar picks to the amps, our shoes to the drum riser. I don’t know of any other band who uses stripes the way we do. Out here in the States we kind of, in a sense, have a patent on it. Everyone knows that we’re the band that uses stripes.”

Okay, so why the black and yellow combination? “I don’t know about the UK, but over here yellow and black are caution; colours used on the highway. They’re also two colours that attract people the most. We make all our costumes mostly ourselves – usually we have to dye things that are white and black to yellow and black. We paint our own equipment; my drums, the guitars, amps… everything!”

What about the number you use, 777? “I’m really glad you asked me that. I’m sure you’re familiar with 666 – the numbers of the Anti-Christ? Well, 777 is the number of God and the number of perfection. We have that on everything too.”

So how did you decide to base your concept around Isaiah’s prophecy? “Actually we had the image planned out before we discovered that. We were reading the Bible one day and came across Isaiah 53:5 and that really fitted what we were doing.”

So what your stripes therefore represent are the marks made on Christ’s body from flogging? “That’s right.”

Do you believe in any religions? “No, we don’t place ourselves in religion – it’s just our faith. We tell God’s side of the story without affiliating ourselves with any particular religion. The Bible says: ‘With God, all things are possible’. We believe that to be so.”

Well how do people react to your appearance and lyrics? Have you converted anyone? “No, we don’t convert people. God is the only one who can do that. We have had a lot of people who write us letters or come backstage at our shows and tell us that they like what we’re doing. They say: ‘Please show us how we can accept God?’. But we don’t convert, although you could say that we’ve shown the light to people. I’ll tell you something, we are the only metal band who throw Bibles out into the audience, and not one is left in the hall afterwards. So I guess we must be doing something right.”

Are you, like myself, a person who hates having religion shoved down your throat? “Yes, I’m turned off by people who try to force Jesus on you. We don’t wanna push religion on people. I mean, Jesus never forced himself on anybody. All we’re saying is that Jesus changed our life and we believe that he can do the same for you. We don’t hide it, we don’t sugarcoat it; we take a stand for what we do. Other bands laugh at us because we don’t sing about sex and drugs, but they soon realise that we’re competition for them. We’re just as much of a heavy metal band as they are.”

Too right, as a listen to The Yellow And Black Attack mini-LP on Enigma will prove. Metal Forces’ Legs Diamond expert and glamster Kelv Hellrazer suggested that the image was great but the music was uneventful! Don’t listen to him people!

So Robert, how did you get the deal with Enigma? “I know this may sound funny, but it was an answer to a prayer. We’ve been praying for a long time for a deal. It’s very hard to get signed out here. Big labels aren’t signing many groups now and your best way in is with smaller labels. What happened was that I know a guy in a band called SSQ and he introduced us to some people at Enigma Records. Through a period of time we got to know each other, they liked what we were doing and we liked the company itself. So one day it all came together and they signed us.”

When we spoke, the record had been out for only five weeks but had already got to number 48 in the US independent labels chart and had just been added to Californian rock stations rotation. “The LP is doing great,” says Robert. “ We’ve been getting fan letters from all over the US, the UK and even Mexico. I’ve just heard that some records have even managed to reach Czechoslovakia.

“Major labels are starting to approach us and some things are pending right now. If everything goes okay the next album will be on a major label. At present, we’re lining up a tour of Northern California and will hopefully play some dates in Oregon and also up in Seattle.”

See you there Robert! Stryper definitely are not a joke, they mean business and are here to stay. Now, let’s all do something about that ridiculous “Yngwie is God” phrase huh?! Watch out for the yellow and black attack. By their stripes we shall be rocked (on Earth as it is in Heaven). Amen!

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 6 (1984)

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