SHOUT IT OUT
Guitar Player|January 2022
LOUD It took four albums for Kiss to rise from Rust Belt cult act to national rock stars. Now the pressure was on for a follow-up. They responded with Destroyer, the 1976 album that turned the New York City glam-rockers into Gods of Thunder.
DANTE BONUTTO

EVERY LONG-RUNNING BAND has its defining album, a creation that emerges from a seemingly perfect convergence of creative forces. For the Beatles it was Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band. For the Rolling Stones it was Exile on Main Street. Numerous other examples abound, from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

For Kiss, the magic arrived on Destroyer, an album on which the forces didn’t combine as much as they cascaded forth like a fountain of stage blood. Coming after the clunky opening trio of Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill, 1976’s Destroyer was the studio follow-up on which the New York City glam rockers fine-tuned their mix of brawny rock and roll and theatricality into a musical vision that was both sonic and cinematic in its scope. Yes, it has the hits, including “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Gods of Thunder,” “Flaming Youth” and “Beth,” but Destroyer has something more: a cohesiveness of sound and vision — amid a sonic collage that includes choir, orchestra and keyboards — that in 1976 elevated Kiss to the ranks of rock and roll gods. To many fans, it was and remains their greatest achievement.

Although the album’s anniversary has been celebrated before — witness 2012’s Destroyer: Resurrected, on which producer Bob Ezrin sweetened and amended the production — Kiss have gone all out with the new Destroyer 45th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Edition. Comprising four CDs, a Blu-ray audio surround-sound disc mixed by Steve Wilson, a 68-page hardcover book and numerous collectibles — including a replica 1976 Kiss Army Kit — it’s a celebratory box every true fan will rush to own. Best of all, it offers a total of 73 tracks, 48 of which are previously unreleased. Bear in mind, the completed album had a mere 10 songs, including the hidden closing track, “Rock and Roll Party.”

But just what was it that inspired Kiss to such heights some three studio albums into their career? Remarkably, it was their first live album, Kiss Alive!, released one year earlier. The album had been a runaway success, giving the band its first smash hit.

“You know how McDonald’s have a sign that ticks over every time they sell another burger?” guitarist Paul Stanley asks. “Kiss Alive! was like that for us. We went from 70,000 sales to a million sales, and it just kept going.”

For America’s most flamboyant sons, Kiss Alive! was a genuine education, proving in Gold and Platinum currency that the appeal of the band was based on more than just music. Which is not to devalue the studio recordings from 1974 to ’75, as some of the most popular Kiss songs ever were put to tape in that period, including the chart hit “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Think of it like this: If Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill were the foreplay, the whisper in the ear and the hand on the thigh, then Kiss Alive! was the moment when the passion finally peaked. It was all there: the heaving and the humping, the solos and the raps… the whole nine yards.

Kiss Alive! was what we stood for,” Stanley affirms, “the embodiment and the magnification of everything we were as a band. It was Kiss on steroids.”

For Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, the pressure was well and truly on. Achieving success is one thing; following it up is another. If Kiss Alive! was to be a springboard, they couldn’t afford to rest on their platform shoes. They returned to the studio — the Record Plant in New York — knowing that however good their songs were, they needed a cheerleader and guru who would leave no stone unturned in the quest for musical greatness.

Enter producer Bob Ezrin.

“I’d first crossed paths with Bob up in Canada, where I was doing some promotion,” Stanley recounts. “He asked me if I liked the sound of my own records, and because I was young and full of piss and vinegar, I said that I did.

“However, I was well aware of what he could do in the studio, of the work he’d done with Alice Cooper.” Ezrin had first joined forces with the Alice Cooper Band for their 1971 album Love It to Death. “Which was cinematic and atmospheric, yet still totally rock and roll,” Stanley continues. “His fingerprints are all over that stuff, so it was just a no-brainer that he should be our one and only choice for Destroyer.”

In making their first three albums, Kiss had simply written the songs, then gone into the studio to record them before heading out on tour. It was a straightforward process, the way presumably every record was made… except that in Ezrin’s world, there was a little thing called “pre-production” that had to be factored in. It was a first-time experience for Kiss, who must have suddenly felt like they were back at school.

“Actually, brutal boot camp was more like it,” Stanley says, wincing. “Bob definitely had a whistle round his neck. At the time, of course, we were basking in the glory of our success with Kiss Alive!, and we weren’t exactly open to outside opinion. But we listened to him because he was, well, right! With Bob, it was ‘Teach us!’ ”

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