"We wanted to take a moment to explain the imagery that you hold in your hands. We have always been a band who makes extremely bold statements spiritually, vocally, musically, and last but certainly not least, visually."
So reads the sticker on the front of Reborn, the ninth record and first studio album in 15 years from Christian arena rockers Stryper, whose graphic cover depicts the four nearly unrecognizable band members struggling to remove "the slime and the sin" from their shirtless bodies. Each member is divided into quadrants depicted by a cross. Stryper's screaming black-and-white color scheme remains the same, and to a certain extent, so does its music. But make no mistake: This is a tougher (and bolder) Stryper, a band that still contains three-quarters of its original members who embrace their past without suffocating it. The album is still packed with the band's signature irresistible melodies, catchy riffs and unmistakable voice of guitarist Michael Sweet (which, in perhaps Reborn's most remarkable revelation, hasn't aged a bit). But they are countered with nü-metal chunks and in-your-face production that may take some of the band's non-believers by surprise. In other words, don't expect to hear anything approaching the piano-laden tenderness of "Honestly," but also don't listen for anything as propulsive and monotonous as "C'mon Rock," an early attempt by the band to be a holy Manowar.
Reborn is an aptly titled comeback album loaded with class. Amid the modern "Open Your Eyes," which kicks off the record with unbridled determination, and the darkly joyous title track are songs like "Wait For You" with its memorable doo-wop "na-na-na" chorus and the mid-tempo ballad "Rain" that could make arenas sway. Michael Sweet hasn't lost his knack for writing accessible choruses and bridges, and guitarist Oz Fox updates his sound almost effortlessly, as does drummer Robert Sweet (who nevertheless indulges in some over-the-top pounding). New bassist Tracy Ferrie admirably replaces Tim Gaines, who played and sung his heart out on the band's 2003 reunion tour and then left amicably the following year.
Just as Stryper did back in the day, it offers up songs with both direct and indirect references to a higher power that address such topics as forgiveness ("If I Die"), enlightenment ("Open Your Eyes") and God's presence ("When Did I See You Cry"). Stryper closes the 11-song album with a fast and crunchy anthem-like rendition of the hymn "Amazing Grace" (titled "10,000 Years" here, for some reason) and a more aggressive version of Stryper's 1988 smash hit "In God We Trust" (now christened wiith the more contemporary title "I.G.W.T.") - giving doubting Thomases fodder to argue that band didn't have enough new material to fill an album. Maybe, though, the inclusion of both selections is meant to be a respectful nod to the band's traditional and more recent pasts. Either way, here's hoping longtime fans and those who missed out on the days when Stryper sold eight million albums and lobbed Bibles to fans packed into arenas find Reborn refreshingly redemptive.
1) Open Your Eyes
3) When Do I See You Cry
4) Make You Mine
6) Live Again
7) Wait For You
9) If I Die
10) 10,000 Years