When you stop and think about it, 1986 was a really great year for Christian music. Michael W. Smith’s The Big Picture, Amy Grant’s The Collection, plus Whiteheart and Petra both released albums with new lead singers who not only stayed with them for the remainder of their band’s history, but helped mark the high points of their groups’ respective careers. Last week, we looked at D&K’s stellar 1986 release, Streetlight. Today, we take a look at another great album from 1986: Stryper’s To Hell With the Devil.
Not only was it the era of spandex, screaming guitars, screaming vocals and big hair, it was also the era when groups were being hammered by televangelists and others who thought that Christian Rock was antichristian; yet those in the secular world were starting to take notice of Christian music (albeit maybe just a little) with Amy Grant’s start of crossover success. Stryper had certainly become a target for televangelists but had also made their mark in the Christian market as one of, if not the most popular, Christian metal band. And it was time for them to take that leap and cross over too.
The stellar production, songwriting, and performances from THWTD earned the band both Christian and secular chart successes with “Calling on You,” “Free” and “Honestly” on radio and MTV airplay, and helped garner the album to platinum status–the first for a Christian metal band.
Of course, for a metal album, THWTD is quite light. But still, the rhythms, melodies, energy, beautiful ballads and of course, Michael Sweet’s stunning voice, made this a melodic pop-metal album that Christian and secular audiences enjoyed, and many still enjoy to this day (the band marked the album’s 30th-anniversary with a successful tour in 2016).
For me, a young 12-year-old hearing this cassette for the first time at my brother’s youth group campsite at Creation ’87 (being played nearly nonstop) I couldn’t help but become an official Stryper fan that weekend. Even the heavier songs were doable for this young listener’s ears, who not only became a Stryper fan but started to tune into other Christian metal from that point on.
When I got home from the festival, I needed to find To Hell With the Devil. My intent was to find the “Angels” cover–either vinyl or cassette was okay. But to my surprise, I also found a vinyl picture disc. Which one to chose? Well, since it was more unique than the “Angels” cover, the picture disc won out (I think the free poster helped add to the decision) but I kind of wished that I had thought of buying both. To this day, I still plan on someday getting the Angels cover. (Hey, I did manage to find the original Yellow and Black Attack vinyl album.)
As I mentioned, the captivating melodies and sweet (pun intended) vocals have not lost their charm. THWTD is still seen near the top of many Christian all-time-best album/metal album lists. Though I personally don’t consider it the #1 metal album myself (Resurrection Band’s 20 Years holds that spot for me), after 30 years, THWTD still has not lost its ability to keep me spellbound.