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Heavy metal has been associated with ol' Beelzebub ever since its inception, but there have been a few acts who took the opposite route and put their Christian beliefs in hard rocking songs, such as Stryper. Formed in Orange County, California, in 1983, the group was originally known as Roxx Regime, and consisted of singer/guitarist/main songwriter Michael Sweet, drummer Robert Sweet, lead guitarist Oz Fox, and bassist Timothy Gaines. It wasn't until the group changed their name to Stryper (which stood for "Salvation Through Redemption Yielding Peace Encouragement and Righteousness"), that things really began taking off for the quartet. Specializing in the melodic Van Halen/Def Leppard style (with heart wrenching power ballads tossed in), dressed in all black and yellow outfits, and spreading their religious message even further by tossing bibles out into the crowd at their shows, Stryper was signed by the Enigma label in 1984. The same year, the group's debut recording, a six track mini album titled The Yellow and Black Attack, was issued. The album created a buzz for the group among metal heads, which only heightened with the release of their first full length album, 1985's Soldiers Under Command. The first Stryper release to crack the Billboard Charts, it's success resulted in the re-release of The Yellow and Black Attack (which included an extra two tracks and new artwork), in 1986. Later the same year, Stryper issued their sophomore full length, To Hell With The Devil, which many consider to be the group's finest hour. Turning out to be their highest charting album of their career (barely missing the Top 30), the platinum-certified album benefited by MTV's repeated airings of the videos for "Calling on You" and the syrupy ballad, "Honestly" (the latter of which peaked at #23 on the U.S. singles charts). Despite possessing a different message from their peers, Stryper's music by this point fit in perfectly with the other popular pop/hair metal bands of the day (Bon Jovi, White Lion, Dokken, etc.). Yet just as it appeared that Stryper could possibly break through on a massive scale, such new metal styles as thrash (Metallica) and more stripped down rock (Guns N' Roses) began to usurp Stryper's pop metal audience. As a result, Stryper's next release, 1988's In God We Trust, failed to expand their following, nor did it live up to promise of its predecessor (although it did manage to earn gold certification). Sensing this, the group adopted a more harder edged sound and look for 1990's Against the Law, and even covered the Earth Wind and Fire funk classic, "Shining Star." Neither managed to cross over to the top of the charts. A greatest hits set, Can't Stop the Rock, followed in 1991, but with Nirvana just about to ring the death knell for pop metal bands, Michael Sweet decided to leave the group for a solo career. Surprisingly, the remaining members of Stryper opted to carry on as a three piece (with Fox handling lead vocal duties), and continued to tour for a spell. The Michael Sweet-less version didn't last long however, as Stryper officially called it quits in 1992. In the wake of their split, its members remained busy. Michael Sweet's solo career never scaled the same heights as Stryper's, although solo releases have appeared on a somewhat regular basis, 1994's Michael Sweet, 1995's Real, and 2001's Truth. Robert Sweet issued a solo recording, Love Trash, in addition to studio work, while Fox and Gaines formed a new group, Sin Dizzy, who issued a `rock opera' (concerning the crucifixion of Jesus Christ), titled He's Not Dead. During the intervening years, a large core of devoted fans remained in tact (resulting in all their albums reissued by Hollywood Records). In 1999, Sin Dizzy played a show with Michael Sweet, which ended in an off the cuff jam session of old Stryper tunes -- resulting in reunion rumors. And with a heightened nostalgic interest regarding `80s era metal bands come the early 21st century, Stryper agreed to sporadically reunite for a `Stryper Expo,' which has since turned into an annual event. Stryper's second `greatest hits' collection, 7: The Best Of Stryper, followed in 2003, which included a pair of new tunes recorded especially for the collection, "Something" and "For You." Greg Prato

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