KISS' Destroyer Turns 40
By Daniel Eriksson / Gibson.com
On March 15 it’s been forty years since Kiss released their fourth studio album, Destroyer. The album came on the heels of Kiss' breakthrough live album Alive, and it solidified the band's status as one of the biggest rock acts in the world. But that was not the case initially. Many fans were disappointed with the band's new polished sound, feeling they’d lost the raw spontaneity of their first three releases.
Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley enlisted the help of Canadian producer Bob Ezrin to help out in the writing and recording of Destroyer. Ezrin played an integral part in shaping their song ideas in to rock classics, as well as instilling a work ethic that Paul and Gene in particular has held on to for their entire career.
“The thing I always loved about Destroyer is it pushed the envelope and pushed the parameters of what we could do. It pushed us to the limit and yet everything stayed true to us because it was all comfortable, there was nothing forced or contrived,” Stanley said in Kiss' authorized biography Kiss: Behind The Mask (p. 114).
Ezrin share writing credits on eight of the album’s ten songs. Bringing Ezrin on board helped push the band members to new levels both as musicians and songwriters. “Every one of them were punching above their weight class on Destroyer. This was really a huge leap forward for all of them. Gene's bass playing was so impressive on Destroyer; it was really reaching beyond what he had ever played before. And he practiced and practiced. And Ace's guitar playing was so much more controlled and lyrical. And Paul's [guitar playing] too -- you know, I think Paul always had a lyrical style, he just didn't have as much of an outlet in some of the older stuff. Paul's vocals - I think he grew up as a singer at the moment we were doing Destroyer, said Ezrin during an interview with KissFAQ.
Destroyer contain some of Kiss’ biggest songs and live favorites. The Stanley-penned but Simmons-sung “God of Thunder” is certainly the one song I wait for every time I go to a Kiss show! An anecdote about that song is that the kids you hear in the intro are actually Ezrin’s sons.
Ezrin was able to experiment quite a bit in the studio, helping the band create some of their most ambitious songs ever, like for example “Great Expectations.” The song, which Gene Simmons says was written on bass, uses orchestrations borrowed from Beethoven, and a children’s choir (the Brooklyn Boys Choir).
Looking back at Destroyer’s track list you automatically assume that songs like “Detroit Rock City,” and “Shout it Out Loud” were monster hits, but that was actually not the case. Destroyer did reach gold status just a month after its release, buoyed by the success of Alive, but it quickly lost ground after that. But as most of you already know, that would quickly change once radio stations picked up on the b-side to “Detroit Rock City” – “Beth.” The song, which was recorded with drummer Peter Criss on vocals, became the band’s first Top 10 hit in the US.
Bob Ezrin would use guitarist Dick Wagner as a backup during the recording sessions if Ace Frehley wasn’t around at the moment, and Wagner ultimately ended up playing the guitar solo on the song “Sweet Pain.” It was decisions like this that didn’t sit too well with the band’s hardcore fans. But when Ezrin remixed the album for the 35 year anniversary edition he actually came across Ace's solo and put it on the new release. Frehley talked about what he learned from the Destroyer sessions in Kiss: Behind The Mask (p. 69): “The production of the music called for me to play in a more restrained way, but I learned a lot from Ezrin. I didn’t feel restrained at all doing that record, and I think it was some of the best playing I’ve ever done.”
Destroyer ultimately helped Kiss break in to the main stream and broaden their fan base, allowing them to tour Europe for the first time. It’s a very ambitious recording that, even though it might not be solid all the way through, showed that Paul, Gene, Ace, and Peter weren’t afraid to try new things instead of just sticking to the basic formula of their first three studio albums. Besides, who can argue with classics like “Detroit Rock City,” “God of Thunder,” and “Shout it Out Loud?”