Soldier under God’s command: Michael Sweet inspires concert goers to fight the Lord’s battle plan.
By Dr Aaron Tkaczynski
Last week Michael Sweet completed a highly anticipated acoustic tour along the Eastern Coast of Australia. Although he has released 8 solo albums, two Sweet & Lynch albums and performed with Boston, Michael is best known as the front man of 1980s Christian metal pioneers, Stryper. Because of how much Stryper’s lyrical focus on Christ and musical dexterity has encouraged me immensely for many years in my Christian faith and actions, I was keen to be inspired again; albeit this time within an acoustic context at the Woolly Mammoth in Brisbane.
Stryper formed in 1983 as Roxx Regime. The band soon changed their name to Stryper (Salvation Through Redemption, Yielding Peace, Encouragement and Righteousness) to better represent their Christian beliefs. Although having many highlights such as selling approximately 10 million albums, having four #1 videos on MTV and being the first band of Christians to sign to a major label, Stryper has stood out for me by being extremely overt about their Christianity. The band employs Isaiah 53v5 as an insignia and hands out bibles at their concerts. Album titles such as Soldiers Under Command, To Hell With The Devil and In God We Trust clearly identifies that they are followers of Jesus. Whilst many may see them as a 1980s hair metal band, Stryper has released three critically acclaimed albums over the past six years and have performed many successful tours that inspire old and new fans alike.
Despite the highs, Michael and Stryper have also faced challenges which adds to their credibility. The band has been mocked for their glam image and has found Christian metal largely discarded by both Christian and secular markets. Michael’s first wife, Kyle, died of cancer in 2009 (although he is now happily remarried to Lisa). Fellow guitarist Oz Fox has experienced recent tumour difficulties which has prevented the extent of his touring. However, these difficulties have not detracted Michael’s optimism to serve Christ through the best way he knows how- performing to his fans.
The Woolly Mammoth concert, was in one word, amazing. Despite being in his mid-50s, Michael’s pitch and range was perfect- even if the crowd (myself included) were out of tune at times trying to apply the backing vocals! Michael’s guitar playing was also top notch. Often frustrated by being considered as a singer instead of a guitarist, Michael was able to also showcase his guitar playing skills on a Washburn acoustic when singing classics such as Calling On You, Always There For You and Sing-Along Song. My personal favourite, Soldiers under Command, an evangelical anthem largely referencing Ephesians 6v12, had the whole crowd singing along at the top of their voices. Covers such as Livin’ on a Prayer resulted in loud crowd participation and solo material such as Save Me was warmly received.
At the end of the night, I walked away thinking this man still has so much to give. Michael Sweet is as relevant today as he was in 1983. Although the hair is not as big and streaming has replaced the purchase of records, I feel that Michael and Stryper have been reborn since 2013 with the release of the band’s No More Hell To Pay. His recent lyrics are mature and project someone that has the confidence in the Gospel after experiencing the highs and the lows of the past three and a half decades. Recent songs such as Let There Be Light (Genesis 1), Marching into Battle (Revelation 19v11-21), Yahweh (Jesus’ crucifixion) and The Valley (Psalm 23v4) provide clear scriptural assurance- and good licks to practice on a guitar!
Michael has hinted that Stryper will return to Australia for another tour in 2020 to support their new album slated for release early next year. If you want to feel inspired in your Christian faith by a resilient musician, try to get along to this event. In an Australian interview in 1989 with Ray Martin, Michael commented:
“We tell anybody that listens to Stryper, anyone that is into to Stryper, look past Stryper and look to Jesus. We are not the way to heaven. We do not want anyone to think that. We want people to look to Christ. He’s the only way to heaven. He died for the world. Stryper is just out there using our music to spread the Gospel of Christ. That’s all we’re doing”.
As a long-term fan, I think they have held true to their word over their decorated career. Michael and his band are soldiers under God’s command. I hope to see him (and Stryper) perform again in 2020.
Dr Aaron Tkaczynski is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism & Events in the School of Business in the Faculty of Business, Economics & Law at the University of Queensland.