Song Spotlight: I Am, By Michael Sweet

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I can not say enough about the very talented Michael Sweet. The man can seemingly do it all. Over the last few years he has successfully lead Stryper while simultaneously working on his solo career. At 53 years old he seems to have found a new gear. He is a singer extraordinaire, a criminally underrated guitarist, a gifted songwriter and a solid record producer.

Michael Sweet has been a very vocal Christian for a long time. He would be the first to tell you that he is far from perfect and is no saint. But his beliefs have helped him to avoid many of pitfalls of the rock and roll lifestyle that have tripped up and even killed some in the metal scene. His lifestyle choices have helped to not just maintain his vocal abilities , but to refine them. In his early fifties he possesses a voice that would make singers half of age envious.

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The song I Am, from his most recent solo album One Sided War (2016), is a vocal tour de force. I have been a Stryper fan for over twenty years. What he has done vocally over the last several years with Stryper and as a solo artist continues to surprise and amaze me. The man is singing with so much passion and power. Currently far too many veteran hard rock and metal singers are struggling vocally. Michael Sweet is laying down some of the best vocals of his career. And he is still delivering the goods live.

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I Am features a stellar vocal from Michael Sweet. The song begins instrumentally with an 80’s metal style guitar riff. At the 0:29 mark when Sweet bellows “Oooohhhhhhhh!!!!!!”, as a listener you know that you are in for a treat. Musically the song shifts to a heavy, mid tempo guitar riff. Michael Sweet begins to deliver an absolute powerhouse vocal. As the chorus begins he triumphantly sings “I Ammmmmm!!!!!!! The beginning and the end!!!!!!” What an absolutely amazing vocal performance .

The backing band is phenomenal on this track. Playing along with Michael Sweet are Ethan Brosh on guitar, Will Hunt on drums and John O’Bolye on bass. During the guitar solo the tempo picks up and Ethan Brosh lays down a blistering guitar solo. He burns up the fretboard playing a melodic and bluesy shred filled solo. Prior to hearing this album I was unfamiliar with Ethan Brosh. He sure got my attention after hearing his fantastic playing on several songs on One Sided War.

As a big fan of Stryper it is exciting to see Michael Sweet explore heavy metal outside of the band. On his early solo albums he explored guitar driven pop, rock and hard rock. This may have disappointed some Stryper fans, but I feel that all of his solo albums are worth seeking out. Each album showcases different aspects of Michael Sweet’s abilities as a singer, songwriter and guitar player. My personal favorite is his album Truth, released in 2000. This diverse collection includes classic rock, hard rock, heavy metal and one of the best ballads of his career. It’s an album that I highly recommend.

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With One Sided War Michael Sweet, the solo artist, fully embraces heavy metal. I love the music that he has created with Stryper. As the band’s singer, co-guitarist and main songwriter his imprint is all over the band. Hearing him write metal in a different vein and record with different musicians is refreshing. Overall there is a distinction between these songs and his work with Stryper. Of the twelve songs on One Sided War, I Am is definitely my favorite and arguably the best song on the album.

Troy T.

Song Spotlight: Stryper’s Pride

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For the last month the song Pride, by Stryper, has been at the forefront of my mind. I can not get enough of this song. The song is featured on Stryper’s most recent album Fallen, which was released in late 2015. One could strongly argue that Fallen  is Stryper’s best album. It is by far the band’s heaviest album.

Pride showcases Stryper’s brand of melodic riff based metal. The track has a bit of an 80’s vibe, but the sound is throughly modern. On display is the nimble dual guitar work of Michael Sweet and Ox Fox, solid drumming from Robert Sweet and bassist Tim Gaines holding down the bottom end. Michael Sweet really shines here singing with so much passion and power.

Michael Sweet will turn 54 this year. He may not be able to hit all of the extreme high notes with ease anymore, but he can still sing his head off. His vocals on the song Pride, especially the chorus, are out of this world.

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Currently there are quite a few singers from the 1980’s metal scene struggling vocally, especially in concert settings. This is far from the case with Michael Sweet, as a song like Pride can attest. Somewhere in his mid forties Sweet found a new gear vocally. Over the last twelve years, starting with the Reborn album in 2005, he has recorded some of his absolute best vocals. It is amazing how powerful and aggressive his vocals have been, especially on the last two Stryper albums.

Pride is a song that features a band that is locked in. All four band members are playing for the song, leaving room for little licks, tricks and drum fills throughout. That solid foundation creates a launching pad for Michael Sweet to reach the stratosphere during the chorus when he screams “Priiiiiiiiiiiide!!!!”  Just when you think it can’t get any better he takes it to the next level vocally after the guitar solos. He really delivers some soaring vocals as he sustains the screams even longer during the final choruses.

As I said I really can not get enough of the song Pride at this time. I have had the Fallen album in constant rotation. But for now Pride is the track that I am really locked on to. Crank it up and play it loud!

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Troy T.

Five Great Albums Influenced by Queen

Those who follow this blog can probably guess that I am a HUGE fan of the band Queen. Over the years Queen has influenced countless bands, directly and indirectly. As a fan it is great when I hear other bands mention that they listen to and are influenced by Queen. It’s even better when I listen to a band and hear in their music that they are influenced by Queen. That being said, here are my five favorite albums influenced by the music of Queen. Please keep in mind that none of these bands/artists are copycats or ripoffs of Queen. They, like so many of us, are extremely passionate Queen fans. These artists have taken that passion and love for Queen’s music and used it as a springboard to create new and exciting music. I would invite Queen fans to listen and explore some fantastic music heavily influenced by one of my favorite bands.

Valensia – The Blue Album (2002)

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It was wildly apparent from his first album Gaia (1993) that Queen was a huge influence on the music of Valensia. He even recorded a fantastic Queen tribute album called Queen Tribute (2003). For my money it is the best tribute album that I have ever heard. He does not just re-record Queen songs he rearranged many of them to great effect. His bombastic take on My Fairy King is out of this world. Not only does Valensia cover Queen songs, he also covers three Queen related songs. The three songs include one by Smile (Brian May and Roger Taylor’s pre Queen band), Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes, as if it was covered by Queen, and Eddie Howell’s mesmerizing and very Queen like track Man From Manhattan.

But, as great as the Queen Tribute album is The Blue Album is light years better. It is truly Valensia’s love letter to Queen. What does The Blue Album sound like? Vocally Valensia sounds like the offspring of Freddie Mercury and Kate Bush. Musically Valensia draws from Queen, Kate Bush, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Steve Vai, The Police and 80’s bands akin to Culture Club, Duran Duran, etc. However, the overwhelming influence is 1970’s Queen. There are instances where he sounds so much like Freddie Mercury that it is chilling.

Valensia is a mad music genius, he wrote, produced and played the bulk of the instruments on the album. Queen’s music is a part of his musical DNA and this wonderfully over the top homage to Queen is the result. I think Valensia is absolutely amazing, I am a huge fan. All of his albums are worth seeking out, especially Gaia, K.O.S.M.O.S (1996) and Aglaea (2014). He is first and foremost an extreme Queen fan. Who else would record a cover of Smile’s Polar Bear but a Queen fanatic? It is Valensia’s great love of Queen that makes The Blue Album so amazing.

Jetliner – Space Station ( 2005)

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On their second album Space Station the band Jetliner used the sound of Queen from 1973 to 1978 as their template. In Adam Paskowitz the band had a vocalist who sounded quite similar to Freddie Mercury circa 1977 with a bit of edge and rasp to his voice.

The overall sound is focused a bit more on the guitar driven side of Queen. But there is plenty of fantastic piano throughout. This album from start to finish is so chock full of Queen like goodness, it is such a pleasure to listen too. They even recorded a very Queen like cover of David Bowie’s Life On Mars. And they saved the best for last with the title track sounding like one of the best Queen songs that Queen never recorded.

These guys were so good, it’s a shame that they just disappeared. I have not been able to find out much information as too why the band broke up.

Jono – Requiem (2013)

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Jono are a fantastic rock band out of Sweden. On their first album Requiem their overall sound is a mix of Queen and Styx. The band’s singer is the perfect amalgam of Freddie Mercury and Styx’s Dennis DeYoung. These guys are great, a modern sounding, upbeat rock band channeling the sounds of the 1970’s and very early 1980’s. Like Queen they have energetic and upbeat rock songs as well as equally impressive ballads. The album is full of fantastic vocals, tasty guitar work and, at times, very Freddie Mercury inspired piano playing. They are currently working on their third album.

Symphonika – Symphonika (2012)

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Once again Queen is the main influence. Great pop/rock songs, vocal harmonies and big choruses abound here. The overall sound leans more towards Queen of the mid to late 80’s, i.e. A Kind of Magic and The Miracle. In Robin Myles the band has a very good vocalist who sounds like a mix of Freddie Mercury, original Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung and Stryper’s Michael Sweet. The band’s guitarist Jason Ball is clearly influenced by Brian May. Ball’s guitar tones are similar to those used by Brian May on Queen’s Innuendo and Brian May’s first solo album Back To The Light.

So far Symphonika have only released one cd. As far as I can tell the band is still together. Their Facebook page is still available, however there have not been any recent updates. I would love to hear more music from this band.

Extreme – III Sides To Every Story – (1992)

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I must confess that I was not a fan of Extreme until this release back in 1992. It is clear from the first two Extreme albums that Queen, along with other 1970’s bands, was a huge influence on Extreme. Thier huge single More Than Words is essentially Extreme’s take on Queen’s live version of Love Of My Life.

Unfortunately Extreme were tagged with silly genre labels like funk metal and hair metal when they were so much more than that. Similar to Queen, Extreme brought so many different music styles to their albums. They drew on the sounds of rock, metal, funk, jazz, rap, prog.

In 1992 in the midst of The Freddie Mercury Tribute concert Brian May introduced Extreme. He basically stated that Extreme was the only band who truly understood what it was like to be a musically diverse band like Queen.

As an aside, was Extreme the only band that really understand what The Tribute concert was about? Metallica, Def Leppard, Gun And Roses, more or less got up there and played their own songs. Extreme’s Queen medley was phenomenal!!! In the same way that Queen stole Live Aid, I would say that Extreme stole The Tribute concert.

With Extreme III the Queen influence really came to the forefront and the band released their best album to date. The influence of Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and The Beatles was still there, but the sound and spirit of Queen is so dominant. Subsequent Extreme albums have been great as well, but the Queen influence has been a bit muted.

This blog post, more than any other that I have written, has been a true labor of love.  I do hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed preparing and writing it.  I also hope that you explore the fantastic  music of the five mentioned bands/artists.  Let them entertain you.

Troy T.

Michael Sweet’s One Sided War

Stryper’s lead singer Michael Sweet will soon have a new solo album out called One Sided War.  A music video featuring a new song called Bizarre was released today.

Stryper is one of my favorite bands and I am a huge fan of Michael Sweet’s solo career.  Anyone following Michael Sweet’s musical activity over the last few years know how incredibly prolific he has been. Utilizing all of his God given talent he has recently appeared on several albums with Stryper, released a solo record and recorded an album with guitarist George Lynch.   It is a great time to be a Stryper and Michael Sweet fan!

Unlike many of his contemporaries from the 80’s metal scene Michael Sweet still looks incredibly healthy and he sounds great.  The man continues to be an incredibly gifted singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer.  Stryper’s last two records, No More Hell To Pay and Fallen, are arguably their best to date.   Michael Sweet’s One Sided War is slated for release on August 26 and I am greatly looking forward to it.

Phil Collins: A Survivor

The release date for Phil Collins’ new autobiography, Not Dead Yet, was recently announced. The book will be released later this year on October 25. The title is a tad morbid, especially considering all of the great musicians that we have lost over the last year. The title aside, I am greatly looking forward to reading this book.

I am not a big reader of biographies and autobiographies. In the last year I have read two. The first was Stryper lead singer Michael Sweet’s incredibly candid Honestly. The second was Genesis bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford’s engaging and at times enlightening The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir. In both bios the authors discussed their fellow band mates, not always in a positive light.  But both really used the bulk of their books to expose personal things about themselves; good, bad and sometimes ugly.

With Phil Collins’ Not Dead Yet I am not looking for a juicy tell all full of dirt and scandal. However, I am very curious to peer behind the curtain of the Genesis machine. More than anything I want to read about the band’s creative process. I want to read about their songwriting approaches, their recording sessions and tour preparation. I do believe that Phil Collins is the Genesis member objective enough to deliver the most grounded view of the band. I am also very curious to read about his highly successful solo career, as well as his personal life. He has promised a tell all, so my interest is piqued. I have been a huge fan of Genesis and Phil Collins since 1981.  I do hope for a great read from a man whose music has been such a large part of my life for so many years.

 

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Rock And Roll Rebels

Stone-Wall-smallThe essense of rock and roll is rooted in rebellion and nonconformity.  Heavy metal takes this to even higher heights. In a genre that many believe to be filled with suicidal mother killing satanists one would think that nonconformity would in fact be the norm.  However, so many bands fall in line with the sterotypical conventions of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

But if there is one band that stands apart from so many of the others it has to be Stryper.   Stryper has primary spent their career singing about God, His love for mankind and salvation through His son Jesus Christ.  During their concerts it is not uncommon for the band to toss Bibles out into the audience.

The band’s lead singer, Michael Sweet, recently gave an interview and made the following statement, “I feel like we’re bigger rebels than most bands out there because of what we stand for.”   That comment was met with lots of dismissive replies on the internet.  Stryper’s a Christian band, how rebellious can they be?

Far to many bands are content to regurgitate the same old dark cliches in order to fit into the metal scene.  Stryper on the other hand, by their lyrical content, set themselves so far from the norms of the genre. A great example of a typical Styper lyric can be heard in the band’s song More Than A Man.  The song contains the following chorus, “God I will follow you because you died for me. Gave to me your life to set me free. Anyone who asks shall receive, Jesus in your heart, It’s time for you to start giving God all the glory.”  Not at all what one would expect from a heavy metal song.  I have to agree with Michael Sweet, Stryper are indeed rock and roll rebels.