By ANTE GRABOVAC
From start to finish, Monster finally lives up to the pre-release hype that accompanies every KISS album. How many times have we heard ‘this is a mix between Destroyer and’ something else or ‘the best since Destroyer‘. Make no mistake, this is their best release since 1992’s Revenge. All four members fire on all cylinders to deliver a consistent studio effort, one that was sadly lacking on their previous three releases.
Sonic Boom from 2009 also came with the hype but fell very flat. It lacked the quality of tunes that make KISS great, the rocking, fun, great choruses we all know and love a KISS album to feature. They tried hard to get there but there weren’t many tunes that will have any longevity. The tour included three songs from the album (“Modern Day Delilah”, the monotonous “Say Yeah” and the Gene staple “I’m An Anima”l), all of which will be left off the set list in future.
Eleven years before that Psycho Circus was meant to be the return-tomake-up studio album but the behind the scenes fall outs and lack of contribution from original members (Ace and Peter) generated more interest, although there were some nice moments like the title track, “Raise Your Glasses”, “Pledge Allegiance To The State of Rock N Roll”.
Meanwhile, the last non-make up album, Carnival Of Souls, was solid but just not KISS. It was trying too hard to be grunge and industrial, boasted some interesting moments and good musicianship but – as I said – it just wasn’t KISS.
What’s so good about Monster? It rocks in a big way.
Tommy Thayer has found his feet in the studios with KISS and it shows on this. Some fine riffing, some great solos, he puts his stamp on this album. Paul Stanley carried KISS, especially through the 1980’s, and has always been its shining star but when Gene concentrates on music a great KISS album happens because Paul’s finely crafted tunes need to be balanced by Gene’s gutteral, evil, lustful ones,
And that is when KISS works best as a band and produce its best music.
Eric Singer, one of the best drummers in the hard rock genre, again proves his wares and longevity in the band. Except for the reunion and Psycho Circus tours, Eric has now been pounding the drums for KISS since 1991. It’s hard to believe but he is KISS’ longest serving drummer.
The album starts with “Hell Or Hallelujah”: a cracking tune that was the lead single (if such things exist anymore) released three months before the album to give the fans a taste. The song continues to astound and is rightly fixated in the current KISS set list in their jaunt with Motley Crue. It boasts a killer riff is followed by Paul spitting the words with fire and attitude worthy of a man much younger than 60. The tune was solely penned by Paul, as well.
“Wall of Sound” is a rolling, dirty riff with Gene growling the lyrics recalling his form from Revenge. Reminiscint of the fabulous “Spit” from that very album but yet having a worthy life of its own, “Wall Of Sound” proves Gene is back. Stanley, Thayer and Simmons share the writing credits.
“Freak” is probably a little autobiographical, a little bit written with KISS fans in mind. KISS have always been great at uniting the fans by rallying through being a bit different (take “Crazy Nights” for example). Stanley takes on lead vocal duties while he and Thayer take writing credits. Gene adds the balls with strong backing and a nicely-placed ending pledging allegiance to the state of independence. There is just something that hasn’t fully grabbed me about “Freak”. I like it and has a worthy place on the album. I like it but don’t love it.
When reading the song titles before listening to the music, the title “Back To The Stone Age”, just read that this was going to be a Gene tune. True to form. it is and its a beauty. Thayer starts the song with a mesmerising riff, the chorus is as catchy as anything Gene has ever sung and it’s just good times. The whole band have writing credits on this one. “Sit on the throne, let em kiss the ring, Cause I’m a stone age man, I’m the king”. Its perfectly suited to Gene’s KISS character.
“Shout Mercy” has Stanley and Thayer again combining to write. This one has attitude from start to finish. with a wolf whistle riff throughout that is polished off by Singer’s drumming precision. “We’re gonna make a little ecstasy, you and me, that’s what its all about” and that is what its about.
“Long Way Down” is another Stanley/Thayer penned tune, Stanley taking vocal duties to describe how its hard to stay at the top. Another solid tune.
“Eat Your Heart Out” starts out acapella, before another simple rock riff impresses before Gene starts his story of love, lust and desire. Another catchy chorus again has this listener pleasantly surprised with a Gene tune being killer and not filler like they have been on so many KISS releases. “You’re my pleasure, you’re my pain, I’m coming back again”. Its all Gene’s composition.
Stanley, Simmons and Thayer then combine for another Gene-lad track. Is this the last of the trilogy? On Destroyer we had “God Of Thunder”, on Revenge we had “Unholy”, now finally Gene concedes “The Devil is Me”.
Tommy Thayer writes and sings “Outta This World”. Summing up all the energies of now being the official Space Man in the band, this song can stand in amongst all the better Ace sung tunes from the late 70’s and early 80’s. It’s a much better outing than Sonic Boom’s first solo vocal for Thayer on the “When Lightning Strikes” track. The music, lyrics and even the way its sung has traces of Ace. Its no wonder as Ace was a major influence on Thayer and he played Space Ace in a KISS covers band before his work with KISS. He started in the corporation in the early 90’s when Bruce Kulick was still on lead guitar duties with special projects such as the KISStory book, before helping Ace re-learn his own riffs for the re-union tour and then his own first live show in 2003 at KISS Symphony in Melbourne. It’s amazing to think he has already been in the band officially for almost a decade.
“All For The Love Of Rock N Roll” has Eric Singer on lead vocal on a Paul Stanley-penned tune. This could sit nicely alongside some of Peter Criss’ best moments including “Mainline” and “Hard Luck Woman”. It’s bluesy with a country tinge. It’s all class, catchy and you will be singing along in no time.
“Take Me Down Below” is a sensational song, very reminiscent of a 1970’s Angus Young riff with its driving, its pounding and when the lyrics come in you half expect Bon Scott to be singing but you get Gene instead. “I told her that I had a submarine, She said I know exactly what you mean”, Paul helps in the chorus and then takes lead vocals for verse two and has his own double entendre lines “I raised my flag and she dropped her dress, I’ll take you on a cruise you’ll never forget, She said we better move it cause I’m already wet”. Stanley, Simmons and Thayer take credit. A whole lotta fun.
“Last Chance” wraps the album up in great style another nice rocker, singalong, unrelenting tune. Paul takes lead on the vocals combining the writing talents of Stanley, Simmons and Thayer once more.
Monster, KISS’ 20th studio release, is a worthy addition to the KISS library. Next year sees 40 years of KISStory. Time will tell Monster‘s longevity but at the moment I see it sitting loud and proud amonst their finest moments; that being the first four releases and Revenge. Will there be any juice left in the tank for a 21st album? Time will tell that too but on this form, lets hope so.