Christian glam metal. These days, it seems almost impossible, but for much of the 80s, it was big business. California band Stryper were one of the first “contemporary Christian” bands to achieve crossover appeal, shifting millions of copies of their hit albums Soldiers Under Command (Enigma, 1985) and To Hell With The Devil (Enigma, 1986). They had the teased hair, twin guitar solos, and piercing vocals of their more sinful contemporaries, along with black and yellow striped stage outfits that signified Christ’s suffering under the lash. Bibles were tossed into the audience at their shows, as the band attempted to convert the fallen with the help of history’s sleaziest music genre.
Stryper fell apart in 1993, as record labels jettisoned their Aqua-Net armies in favor of the “Seattle sound” that was quickly sweeping the nation. The band’s former members languished in obscurity in 1999, when performing opportunities began to sow the seeds of a possible reunion. Soldiers Under Command, a 2004 film by directors Greg Fiering, Matt Luem, and writer James Reid, depicts the band ten years after the break-up. Stryper’s been invited to a Southern California Christian Rock Expo for a one-off show, and the group’s four members are grappling with the possibility of a more permanent reunion. There are financial and logistical concerns, but also another overweening question: Does God want them to get back together?
Though the film is only 18 minutes long, it captures enough bizarre behavior and head-scratching quotation to justify a much longer movie. Drummer Robert Sweet, with his yard-long blond tresses and Sunset Strip fashion sense, seems hopelessly stuck in the eighties. “Stryper’s a Lazarus,” he says, eyes wide. “Just waiting to come back up.” His bandmates are more subdued and sanguine about the reunion, but similarly convinced that if the Almighty wills it, they will rock together once again.
The enthusiasm for a long-moribund Christian hair band is almost overwhelming. The fans in attendance at the expo are a bad combination of enthusiastic and unhinged, and their lack of self-awareness when interviewed about their undying love for Stryper makes for heady viewing. For such a short documentary, the film is a remarkably complete bit of story-telling, conveying the band’s rise and fall and rise with surgical precision. As four aging metalheads who love the Lord charge into their reunited set in front of a quarter-full auditorium, it’s hard not to root for the “yellow and black attack.”