03/15/2016

The Oral History of KISS' 'Destroyer': 'It's a Miracle We're Alive'

As rock masterpiece turns 40, original lineup looks back with producer Bob Ezrin

By Kory Grow / Rolling Stone

When Paul Stanley thinks about Destroyer, Kiss' high-concept fourth album, turning 40, the only word he can summon at first is "unbelievable." "It's stunning," the singer-guitarist tells Rolling Stone. And then he regains his humor. "To think that it was 40 years ago is absolutely mindboggling. Because I'm only 40 now."

"It seems like yesterday," drummer Peter Criss says. "I do believe, personally, that album was Kiss's 'Stairway to Heaven.' Let me overstep my bounds [laughs]. But I do believe it was our 'wow' album."

From the opening scene-setting radio broadcast foretelling a Kiss fan's death before the anthemic "Detroit Rock City" to the album's big-beat closer, "Do You Love Me?", and impressionistic, avant-garde hidden track "Rock and Roll Party," Destroyer proved that Kiss were more than costumed headbangers. It presented a wide swath of emotions, from the moving mega-ballad "Beth," which won the People's Choice Award that year, to the boot-stomping, blood-spitting "God of Thunder" to the R&B rave-up "Shout It Out Loud," all of which became concert staples for the group. And even though the fantastical sleeve art presented the group, which also included vocalist-bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist Ace Frehley, as a jaunty foursome on a Wizard of Oz–styled journey of destruction, the songs proved they reveled in positivity. It was a turning point.

The group recorded the LP in a couple of sessions with producer Bob Ezrin, whose prior credits at that time included smash records by Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Aerosmith. "We had done three albums, all that sold far less than what we expected," Stanley says. "Then our manager, Bill Aucoin, gave us the idea of creating a sonic souvenir, almost like something you would bring home from the circus, a memento that captured what you had experienced. That became [1975's] Alive! Finally, we'd had a hit. Bill said, 'You could easily go back to where you were if we don't come up with something that really ups the ante.' He suggested we work with Bob Ezrin."

The producer pushed the group to new heights, and helped them craft their commercial breakthrough. Although Alive! was the group's first gold record, Destroyer was its first to sell a million copies in less than a year. It's since been certified double-platinum.

To celebrate the legacy of the record, Rolling Stone spoke with Kiss' four original members, as well as Ezrin and cover illustrator Ken Kelly.

"It's a cinematic album," Stanley says. "It's an album that takes what was the norm and turns it into IMAX. The screen suddenly widened and what we were doing had such atmosphere."

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