KISS

"Monster" (Universal; 2012)

Reviewed by Snidermann

Kiss, one of the most popular bands of all time, were going down a dark hole with the recordings of "Psycho Circus" (1998) and "Carnival of Souls" (1997). Both of those albums just plain stunk.

Things finally turned around with the band's last CD, "Sonic Boom" in 2009 (check out our reviews below) and 2012 release of "Monster." Was this turnaround just a fluke? Could Kiss actually release two good albums this late in the game?

Kiss has produced a lot of high quality music. The classics "Alive" and "Destroyer," for example, and the more modern "Revenge" and "Hot In The Shade." It hasn't all been good, of course. Consider "Music From the Elder" (yuck) the above-mentioned "Carnival of Souls" (double yuck!) and "Psycho Circus" (barf!). Those releases stunk up the universe.

Then came along "Sonic Boom" and the brand new "Monster." And what was the difference in those recordings? Three words: Paul Stanley, Producer. Gene Simmons apparently decided to focus on his continuing money grab and let fellow band mate Paul Stanley produce the last two recordings. Lo and behold, both recordings are simply awesome. In the same vein as their early career, the music on this albums once again is simple, features high quality songwriting and, most importantly, is fun once again.

From the very first cut, "Hell and Hallelujah," the music flows like honey from one track to the next. The best line in the entire recording is: “That’s when you see the ring on her finger, that is when she tells you she is single tonight. That its' all for love of rock'n'roll.” And that's when Kiss is at their best, when they're doing it for their love of rock'n'roll and not the almighty dollar.

Kiss: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com.

"Sonic Boom" (Roadrunner; 2009)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Since the make-up came off, Kiss has been working too hard to fit into what modern rock'n'roll sounds like. Although I love "Carnival of Souls" and I enjoy "Psycho Circus," neither album had that classic Kiss feel. "Sonic Boom," on the other hand, definitely does. Embracing all of the clichés' that make them who they are, Kiss have produced an album that hearkens back to their glory days. "Sonic Boom" sounds like the band's classic albums "Rock and Roll Over," "Love Gun" and even a little bit of "Dressed to Kill." For a band celebrating their 35th Anniversary this year, Kiss knocks this one out of the park.

It's been 11 years since the last studio album from Kiss (the disappointing, both critically and commercially, "Psycho Circus"). And, while I gave that album a decent review back when it was released, whatever success it did enjoy was due as much (or more) to the excitement surrounding the original line-up reunion. "Sonic Boom" features Tommy Thayer in Ace Frehley's shoes and Eric Singer in Peter Criss's. Both musicians have a longtime relationship with Kiss and their experience, alongside founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons,  come together to form a real Kiss classic.

"Sonic Boom" begins with the first single, "Modern Day Delilah," a track whose bombastic rhythm catches you by the throat almost immediately. Like most of the Paul Stanley-penned tunes on "Sonic Boom" (especially the feel good anthem "Stand"), "Modern Day Delilah" buzzes with positive energy. Track 2 is the first of the Gene Simmons' songs, "Russian Roulette," and, like most Simmons songs, it's got a lascivious tongue placed firmly in cheek. This is nowhere more obvious than in Track 4, "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)", and its Simmons-sung chorus, "Nobody's perfect; But, baby, I come awfully close." Finally, in true classic Kiss fashion, both Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer get their chance at the microphone with Thayer's better-than-Ace-Frehley vocals on "When Lightning Strikes" and Singer (who we've heard sing for Kiss before) on "All for the Glory." Thayer, by the way, does a great job of emulating the legendary work of Ace Frehley while adding a bit of himself and Singer, well, he's Eric Singer, one of the best drummers in rock'n'roll today.

Paul Stanley insisted on producing "Sonic Boom" and that decision proves to be a wise one. Stanley's always been the most musically focused member of the band and his production on this CD makes every song shine. Not only is it a great hard rock CD, but it could be called a great classic rock CD at the same time. The band sounds great, tighter than ever but, of course, after 35 years together for Stanley and Simmons, you'd expect them to be.

The pre-release advertising for "Sonic Boom" promised "No Ballads and No Filler" and Kiss delivers ... although we do kind of miss a ballad along the lines of "Beth" or "Forever."

"Sonic Boom" is the Kiss album that fans have been waiting far too many years for. But it's here now ... and it's great to have Kiss back! 

Kiss: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com.

"Sonic Boom" (Roadrunner; 2009)

Reviewed by Snidermann

While listening to Kiss’ new release, "Sonic Boom," I can think of only two things:

1) When money hungry Gene Simmons’ mark on a release is minimal, the release is good ... very good.
2) Kiss can be a good band when they want to.

"Sonic Boom" is a welcome change from the tripe that has come out of the Kiss camp over the last few years. "Psycho Circus" and "Carnival of Souls" were both dismal releases. Now, with "Sonic Boom," my faith is restored in a band I really liked growing up. In my opinion, "Sonic Boom" is the best Kiss release since "Revenge." I have listened to this CD about ten times through and I hum the tunes throughout the day.

This time the Kiss boys have truly put out a good solid release. Do I approve of the way Gene Simmons prostituted the Kiss name? Hell no. However, with all the bullshit that Gene can muster, "Sonic Boom" is a truly inspired release that I think Kiss fans worldwide will enjoy. 3 chain saws.

Kiss: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com.

"Kissology Volume 3: 1992 - 2000" (VH-1 Classics; 2007)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

The usual subjective arguments apply to "Kissology Volume 3" that apply to previous editions of "Kissology" and any greatest hits compilation (not just by Kiss, but by anyone). And those arguments are: "They left off the best songs," "They left out the best performances," "This isn't the best era of KISS," "They're missing this and that..." and "These aren't the performances would have chosen."

But the fact remains that, although they can't please everyone, once again Kiss has released a terrific collection of live performances that highlight this particular era of Kisstory. Included are over 600 minutes of footage, ranging from the band's 2000 performance at Continental Airlines Arena (humorously entitled "The Last Kiss,") to a special re-mastered and restored disc containing what is believed to be the band's first ever filmed performance in Queens, NY, 1973. (I know, I know: this set is supposed to be 1992 - 2000. Read the DVD insert to see why the band decided to release this here).

In between, you've got the "complete" MTV Unplugged performance (which includes tracks not seen on the original MTV special but not the band's re-takes, etc., that have been available for years on bootleg CD), the famed Tiger Stadium and Dodger Stadium performances and the Brooklyn Bridge and "Detroit Rock City" film premiere performances.

In addition, most editions contain yet a fifth bonus DVD. My edition had the band's performance at the KROQ Weenie Roast in 1996, which I happened to attend. It's great to have that show on DVD today.

All pieces of Kisstory, all beautifully restored and remastered, "Kissology Volume 3" is a fine "closing" to the hugely popular Kissology series. I say "closing" with quotation marks because it seems to me that the band's history didn't end in 2000 but continues to this day. I smell "Kissology" volumes IV and more in the not-too-distant future.

 For more information, check out www.kissonline.com

"Kissology Volume 2: 1978 - 1991" (VH1 Classics; 2007)

Reviewed by Metal Mark

This DVD set represents the career of KISS from 1978 until 1991. The set contains three discs plus a fourth bonus DVD. However, there are three different bonus DVDs so you would have to buy three sets at different places to ensure getting all three of the bonus DVDs. 

The first three discs contains two entire concerts, parts of concerts, TV appearances, the European version of the film "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park," interviews and a few videos. The first of the two complete concerts is from Australia in 1980. The quality is a little fuzzy, but it's a solid show overall with a wild crowd and a decent performance. Ace seems a little tired, but the rest of the band makes up for it. 

The second complete concert was, surprisingly, the one I preferred. It's from Detroit and was filmed in 1990 -- which means it was "The Hot in the Shade" tour. Not my favorite album by a long shot, but they put on a very entertaining show. It may not be the high energy of the mid-1970s, but it's an enjoyable performance for certain. I think Bruce Kulick was so solid that it allowed Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley to roam the stage more. Of course, this also allowed Paul to do some stage moves that are completely ridiculous. Some of the language is cut, but overall the sound and picture quality is fairly high. 

There is also an eight song performance from 1983 in Maracana Stadium in Brazil. The quality is fuzzy on these tracks and Paul and Gene are having to shout the words because the crowd is just enormous. There are five songs live at the Spectrum in Philadelphia from the Crazy Nights tour. The quality on these clips is very good and it's a shame we didn't get the whole concert. That's probably the biggest highlight of the set. 

My bonus disc was nine songs from a 1988 show in Tokyo. While good, it's not the whole show (I assume) and it would have been nice to have the complete show. The quality on some of the clips (like the two tracks from Belgium in 1983) are rough, but most of the clips on the set are of decent or better quality. 

What's here is good, but there is a big gap with nothing representing Animalize or Asylum. I would gladly have traded the European version of "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park" and some of the partial concerts in exchange for the entire "Animalize Live Uncensored" concert that I saw on VHS a few times so many years ago. 

Overall most of the material is good and there is a lot of it. Whether you want it or not probably depends on how much you think of this period of the band's career.

 For more information, check out www.kissonline.com

"Alive! 1975 - 2000" (Mercury; 2006)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Yeah, it's probably just another one of those repackaging scams. You know, when  a record label or a band releases some previously available material remastered and probably with a couple of bonus tracks so that you'll go out and buy something you already have. Well, if this is the case with "Alive! 1975 - 2000," then this is an example of how you do it right.

"Alive! 1975 - 2000" consists of four CDs. The first three discs are the band's classic original live albums: "Alive!" (1975), "Alive II" (1977) and "Alive III" (1993). All three discs have been remastered (although, to my ear, they don't sound much different from the 1997 remasters) and the two disc sets that comprised "Alive!" and "Alive II" have been squeezed onto one disc instead of two. As far as I can tell, nothing has been edited out (I compared the running time of the original CD re-issues to these and found only a few seconds difference). Both "Alive II" and "Alive III" feature bonus tracks ("Rock and Roll All Nite" and "Take It Off" respectively).  

The fourth disc is "The Millennium Concert" from 2000, recorded on New Year's Eve in Vancouver. For the most part, it's never been released before (with the exception of "Rock and Roll All Nite") and features live versions of such newer Kiss songs as "Psycho Circus," "Heaven's on Fire" and "Into the Void," as well as the perennial classics, performed by the original line-up.

As far as the first three CDs go, the reviews are simple: "Alive!" is arguably one of the greatest live albums that has ever been recorded, "Alive II" was a worthy follow-up (and featured some of the best studio tracks in the band's career) and "Alive III" -- although not quite in the same league as the first two CDs -- is an impressive live album itself.

"The Millennium Concert" CD is crisply produced, loaded with pyrotechnic explosions and benefits from the improved recording techniques of the day. The newly reunited (at the time) band sounds sharp and dynamic, although there is a bit of a slowdown in tempo from previous live versions. This CD could have easily been released as "Alive IV" (instead of the disappointing "Symphony" CD that bears that name instead).

This four disc set comes in a terrific, multi-fold package and includes a 32-page booklet with re-prints of artwork from the original albums, new photos and commentary from each of the original band members as well as others important to Kisstory (i.e., Bob Kulick, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, etc.).

As I said at the top of this review, "Kiss Alive! 1975 - 2000" may be just another attempt to get fans to buy music they already have in their collection. But it's a incredible overall package with enough extras so that Kiss fans won't mind shelling out hard-earned cash for. And, if you're unfamiliar with the legendary live recordings of Kiss, you need look no further than this collection.

 For more information, check out www.kissonline.com

"Rock the Nation: Live!" (Image Entertainment; 2005)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

KISS's "Rock the Nation" live is a two DVD collection featuring the legendary band performing live in July of 2004. As you might guess, it's a frigging huge show, complete with towering pyrotechnics, a stage with more lights than New York City and, of course, four costumed rockers who know how to give an audience what they came for.

The band now features Tommy Thayer on guitar (replacing Ace Frehley) and Eric Singer on drums (replacing Peter Criss). The liner notes claim that the band is "truly re-energized and reborn." Despite that hyperbole, there's some truth to that statement. Thayer plays the classic Ace Frehley licks in a way that Frehley himself couldn't over the last few years and Singer, one of hard rock's premiere drummers, is as strong as ever here. In addition to their incredible musicianship, however, both Thayer and Singer also know how to put on a KISS show. They fit in with the apparently ever-fit Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley as if they were always there.

Speaking of Stanley and Simmons, these two rock'n'roll veterans appear to be ageless, at least when they're in full makeup. Stanley is still today one of rock's best frontmen and Simmons hams it up to the delight of the screaming crowd. Stanley does have a little trouble with his vocals early on, his voice sounding strained and shallow, but that seems to improve by the time "Tears are Falling" comes around, about halfway through the first disc.

It's great to hear "Tears are Falling" performed live after all these years and that's another area that makes "Rock the Nation" so cool. Also appearing on the DVD are the rarely performed "Makin' Love," "Got to Choose," "Love Her All I Can," and the post-makeup hit (and pre-makeup hit, now that I think about it) "Unholy." And it's a good thing that these songs are here because there's no new music on this DVD. It's been too longer since KISS hit the recording studio but these rare songs do take some of the repetition out of "Rock the Nation."  

"Rock the Nation" also addresses one of the biggest complaints of DVD concert viewers, at least on seven songs. The fast, MTV-style cutting that has been the bane of many a concert DVD is alleviated through the viewer's choice on seven songs with "Kiss Powervision." That feature allows the viewer to choose which bandmember to focus on throughout the entire song. In other words, if you choose to watch only Paul Stanley throughout a particular track, you can do so using the "Powervision" feature. 

Additional bonus features include six behind-the-scenes features exploring what goes on behind the scene in creating a KISS concert, as well as footage from the band's theater performance in Melbourne, Australia.

A must for any KISS fan, "Rock the Nation: Live!" is a terrific document of what this classic band is all about today.

KISS: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, Tommy Thayer.

For more information, check out www.kissonline.com

"Symphony: Alive IV" (Sanctuary / KISS Records; 2003)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Following in the footsteps of Deep Purple, Metallica, the Scorpions and others before them, the masked foursome (this time, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Tommy Thayer) join the formidable Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in yet another attempt to merge the worlds of hard rock / heavy metal and classic music. Does KISS "Symphony" work? Well, sort of.

This double-disc CD set is divided into three sections:
Section 1 (6 songs): Performed by the band themselves in the classic KISS Alive style. Think of this section as pure, unadulterated, live KISS.

Section 2 (5 songs): Performed by the band and the Melbourne Symphony Ensemble. The songs performed in this section should tell you plenty about how it sounds: "Beth," "Forever," "Sure Know Something," "Shandi," "Goin' Blind." Think of this section as KISS "Unplugged."

Section 3 (10 songs): Performed by the band and the entire Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Think of this section as KISS meets Metallica's "S&M."

In all fairness, the music on this CD probably deserves three chainsaws, despite my rating above. For the most part, this veteran band still kicks ass. The problem, however, is this: How many times do we have to hear the same material over and over and over and over? The first six songs on Disc One have already appeared on at least one previous live KISS album and, in some cases, even two (more if you count the "Unplugged" record). They don't sound that much different here - so what's the point? This CD would have been just as strong without them.

Section 2 doesn't sound all that different from the band's previously released "Unplugged" CD. Yeah, you've got strings here instead of guitars but, again, it isn't all that different. And, again, most of these songs have appeared on previous live KISS albums.

Section 3 is an interesting experiment that never really fails but only rarely truly succeeds. "Detroit Rock City" sounds pretty cool with the big orchestra behind it, but "King of the Night Time World" is no big deal and neither is "Do You Love Me." "Shout It Out Loud" is one of the big winners here, sounding awesome with all that classical power behind it. "God of Thunder" works well because of its ominous tones and "Love Gun" is worth a listen but - of all the tunes - "Black Diamond" is perhaps the most disappointing. Anyone who's heard Yoshiki's version of that classic song on the "Kiss My Ass" tribute CD knows what "Black Diamond" could have sounded like. On "Symphony," it's almost pure KISS with the orchestra being all but absorbed into the background. "I Was Made For Lovin' You" and "Great Expectations" are next, the former sounding pretty good with the orchestra, the latter sounding pretty much as it did on "Destroyer." Of course, "Rock And Roll All Nite" is the CD closer and pretty much any way you hear that song is cool and it sounds great here.

Maybe the real trouble with "Symphony" is it's one of those things you have to see to truly appreciate. Judging from the photos included in the CD jacket, it was pretty spectacular, with the entire Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in full make-up and pyrotechnics up the ying yang. Thankfully, a DVD is being released later this year.

By the way, the band still sounds great: Paul Stanley remains one of rock's most underrated vocalists and Peter Criss sounds good on "Beth" and "Black Diamond," too. Gene Simmons, as always, is obviously having a blast and Tommy Thayer, taking over for Ace Frehley, proves that it takes more than the make-up to step in and that Thayer's got everything it takes in spades. I just wish they'd get back into the studio and record some new material, instead of constantly regurgitating the old.

This CD is available in two editions: the first a standard jewelcase edition, the second a limited digi-pak edition that includes a bonus poster (the limited digi-pak edition reviewed here).

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com

"The Second Coming" DVD (Image Entertainment; 2002)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

I never really liked the idea of a KISS reunion. It seemed to me that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley managed not only to keep KISS alive with their several post-makeup lineups, but they managed to take the band to the next level. A band that - finally - would get recognized for their music. "Revenge" was a classic hard rock album and "Carnival of Souls" is one of the most underrated hard rock albums of the 90s.

But then it happened. Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer were let go and Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were back. The clown princes of rock returned to rule the world once more.

You can't argue with their success. The band went on to sell out concert tours all around the world and rake in literally hundreds of millions of dollars. But it still kind of stung that the band who we all supported during the non-makeup days was rudely pushed aside in the name of the holy dollar.

"KISS: The Second Coming" actually takes some of the sting out. After viewing this DVD, KISS fans and others may come to realize that the KISS makeup reunion was actually about more than money. Oh, yeah, sure - it was the money first and foremost - but the camaraderie and true chemistry between the original four KISS members is obvious throughout the program. After watching "KISS: The Second Coming," it becomes obvious that KISS re-united as much for the magic of the old days as for the money. (Okay, maybe not as much as the money, but enough to show).

The DVD is basically an extended version of MTV's "Behind the Music." The first section is pretty much exactly that - telling of the band's history from the early days to the release of the feature film "Detroit Rock City." There's some terrific footage here - early black and white footage of the band live, rare backstage footage, and more. It's a fascinating, though somewhat homogenized, history that conveniently leaves out any mention of Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent and the band's non-makeup members.

Actually, it's after the "Behind the Music" feature ends that the disc gets really interesting. Here, the band takes the viewer backstage to the making of the KISS reunion. There's footage of the band rehearsing in street clothes and those garish KISS boots. There's footage of the photo shoots, the press conferences, the dress rehearsals, the sound checks. There's naked ladies. "KISS: The Second Coming" gives fans a voyeuristic look into the legendary band and it is here that the program's real honesty shines through.

As with most DVDs, "KISS: The Second Coming" has nearly flawless visual images and sound. And there's the usual supplemental footage as well: Live performances of "Shout It Out Loud," "Shandi" in Australia and the pyro-overloaded "Detroit Rock City" from the world premiere of the motion picture.

I still miss the old days when me and KISS were trying to convince the rest of the world that it was the music, not the makeup. But "KISS: The Second Coming" made me understand why the band felt the time was now to put the clown makeup back on and "rock and roll all nite and party every day."

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

"The Box Set" (Mercury; 2001)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

KISS always said that - when the finally got around to releasing their long-awaited, much-anticipated box set - they would take their time about it because they were going to do it right.

Of course, they also said they'd never put the make-up back on.

That little dig aside, the fact of the matter is that KISS did a pretty good job with their five-disc box set. Included on the 94-track collection are over 30 unreleased tracks, including demos, alternate takes, solo cuts and live tracks. The set is laid out in near-chronological order, beginning with a demo of the classic "Strutter" and finishing with a cut from the still unreleased "Alive IV," which the band claims will be released in 2002.

Disc 1 begins with a lot of rare KISS. Demo versions of "Strutter" and "Deuce" (that I believe are the same versions released with the rare double-disc "Alive" series re-releases from Australia) start the disc off, followed by a trio of Wicked Lester tunes. Wicked Lester, of course, was the band that Gene and Paul's first band together). Four Bell Sound demos are also included, all of which later wound up on KISS studio records. These are fascinating listening because they differ so slightly from the final versions. Most interesting, perhaps, are early demos from Paul Stanley ("Stop, Look To Listen") and Gene Simmons "Leeta" (from 1966!) that really show how these guys early influences. "Leeta" is so Beatles-esque it's scary. There is also a live cut, "Acrobat," that later morphed into "Love Theme From KISS."  The balance of Disc 1 consists of KISS classics, from the first three studio albums.

Disc 2 starts off with cuts from the legendary first "Alive!" album. Next up is a previously unreleased track, "Doncha Hesitate," that is a trashy Paul Stanley number. A previously unreleased demo of "Mad Dog" follows, a slow-burn Gene Simmons song. A demo of the KISS classic "God of Thunder" is up next, featuring vocals by Paul Stanley (Stanley wrote the song; Simmons sings it on the studio version). The lyrics are different here, the guitars a little sharper (believe it or not) but this is easily the best unreleased track on the CD. Simmons gave the song life, but - judging from this cut - Stanley could have easily handled it, too. Another unreleased track, "Bad Bad Loving," is an early version of the big KISS hit, "Calling Dr. Love," and is interesting just for its differences. Track 13 is a demo of "Mr. Speed," another classic Paul Stanley ripper. The final three tracks on this CD are a soundcheck recording of "I Want You," a demo of "Love Gun," and "Love Is Blind," a previously unreleased demo that is another Beatles-like ballad from Mr. Simmons. The balance of Disc 2 contains classic KISS tracks from "Alive!," "Destroyer," "Love Gun" and "Rock And Roll Over." 

Disc 3 starts off with the legendary studio version of "Detroit Rock City" and then fades into "King of the Night Time World," from "Alive II." The unreleased tracks here are a raunchy demo of "Radioactive" from Gene Simmon's solo album, a demo of "You're All That I Want, You're All That I Need," and a live version of "Talk To Me," from the "Unmasked" album featuring Ace Frehley on guitar and Eric Carr on drums. This song was recorded during the band's hugely successful Australian "Unmasked" tour. The rest of the disc is filled with tracks from "Alive II," the four solo albums, "Dynasty," "Unmasked," "Music From the Elder" and "Creatures of the Night." One track, "Nowhere to Run," is from the "Killers" greatest-hits package and is listed as being "previously unreleased in the U.S." 

Disc 4 is from the band's non-makeup era and features only two unreleased tracks: "Time Traveller," a poppy 80s-era number from Paul Stanley and "Ain't That Peculiar," a demo from Eric Carr that became "Little Caesar" on "Hot on the Shade." The balance of the songs here are taken from some great non-makeup KISS albums ("Lick It Up," "Hot in the Shade"), some not-so-great KISS albums ("Crazy Nights") and some middle of the road albums "Animalize" and "Asylum").

Disc 5 starts off with cuts from the band's brilliant "Revenge" CD and includes a very raw demo of "Domino," with some different lyrics. Also included here is a "previously unreleased" version of one of the band's best unreleased songs, "It's My Life." Unfortunately, this version was recorded for the "Psycho Circus" album and just doesn't work. Wendy O. Williams recorded a better version of this song years and years ago and bootleggers will tell you that another version - recorded by KISS prior to "Psycho Circus," exists. Finally, this CD ends with "Rock and Roll All Nite" recorded for "Alive IV," and - as someone who is not a big fan of the re-united "classic" line-up - it still sounds pretty good. The balance of the songs on this CD include tracks from "Revenge," "Unplugged," "Carnival of Souls" and "Psycho Circus." "Nothing Can Keep Me From You," from the "Detroit Rock City" film soundtrack is also included here and still has my vote for worst KISS song ever.

Also included in "The Box Set" is a detailed book, filled with full-color pictures and notes from the band on each track, that is absolutely fascinating reading for the real KISS fan. I sat down and listened to the entire set while reading the book. The band's comments herein are nothing short of revealing, insightful and even entertaining. This book is every bit as important as the CDs in this set.

Despite the wealth of content here, however, there are die-hard KISS fans who are destined to be disappointed with "The Box Set." With a band like KISS, who have been around since before guitars had strings, bootleggers have already released many of the so-called "unreleased" tracks and die-hard fans will have already heard them. The Wicked Lester tapes have been available for years, for example, and - of the 30 or so unreleased tracks in the 5-CD set - only a few are probably being heard by real fans for the first time. There is a bright side here, however. Paul Stanley has always told fans to save their money on bootlegs and wait for the real thing and, in that, the band succeeds. Although these rare demos may have been heard before, the digital mastering on "The Box Set" makes the tracks sound better than ever before.

Another disappointment is in the selection of some tracks. For "Let's Put the X in Sex," for example, Paul Stanley proclaims in the book how disappointed he is with that song. Then why is included here, Paul? And for years Gene Simmons has gone around boasting about the "Christine Sixteen" demos that Eddie Van Halen recorded with him way back when. According to the book notes, KISS couldn't get the necessary "clearances" to include them here. Well, dammit, Gene, we've waited twenty years for this box set and you've got more money than God. You should have paid whatever necessary to get the required clearances.

And the "previously unreleased coda" from "Childhood's End" (off of the "Carnival of Souls" CD) is as unnecessary as the band originally decided when they cut it the first time. It adds absolutely nothing here. And did I mentioned that Track #15 on Disc 5, "Nothing Can Keep Me From You" from the "Detroit Rock City" film soundtrack, has my vote for the worst KISS song of all time?

In addition, fans of Peter Criss and Ace Frehley  - and, for that matter, fans of Eric Carr, Eric Singer, Bruce Kulick, Vinnie Vincent or Mark St. John - may feel slighted here. The entire package is geared toward Gene and Paul. Quite honestly, however, that's how it should be. Stanley and Simmons have always been the driving force of KISS.

All in all, however, KISS's "The Box Set" is a tremendous success. The packaging is - as one might expect from KISS - just excellent. Two versions are available - the first (reviewed here) is the Deluxe Guitar Case edition, which contains the five CDs, a hardcover copy of the book and a miniature guitar case that hold them all. It's even lined with that blue furry stuff and comes with a key! The "Standard Edition" is basically just a box and comes with a softcover book. 

KISS fans will go ga-ga over the "Box Set," despite the disappointing aspects listed above. It's a pretty thorough history of a band that has withstood the tests of time and continue to be hugely popular. Those who have never heard of the band might be better off starting off with "Double Platinum," "Smashes Thrashes and Hits" and copies of "Revenge" and "Carnival of Souls." It's a cheaper way to find out if KISS was about the music, or about the make-up.

Of course, there's also a merchandise catalog enclosed. What'd you expect? It's KISS!

For more information, check out www.kissonline.com

"KISS Pinball" (Playstation) (Tarantula Studios/Take2; 2001)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

"KISS Pinball," as you probably already know, isn't a new album by KISS but a video game for the PlayStation game console based on the original PC software. While it's a tolerable time-passer, this game is really only for KISS completists and for fans of other, mostly superior, "pinball"-type video games.

There are two playable tables in "KISS Pinball," one entitled "Last Stop: Oblivion" and one entitled "Netherworld." Though both tables have their own individual "back stories," their table play is basically the same. Like you would at a standard pinball machine, you shoot the ball and try to keep it in play as long as possible using multiple flippers on the game board.

KISS fans will love the KISS-oriented graphics but bemoan the complete lack of KISS music anywhere on the CD (there aren't even any brief samples!). A special feature does allow you to insert a KISS CD (or any other CD) while you play so you can listen to it during the game, but there's no music by the band anywhere on the game disc. 

Another annoying detraction is that, obviously, the entire playing field can't appear on your television at one time - it's too long. So, the field scrolls as the ball bounces along the screen. That's fine sometimes, but most of the time, the ball travels so fast that the scroll becomes nothing more than a blur. Try keeping track of gameplay then.

The game is priced at a reasonable $9.99, so its shortcomings are easily forgiven. Big time KISS fans will no doubt love "KISS Pinball." Others will be just as happy playing other pinball-type video games or even happier playing "Tomb Raider" for the nth time.

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

"Psycho Circus" (Mercury Records; 1998)psycho.jpg (16168 bytes)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Say what you will about the rock'n'roll marketing antics of KISS, the fact remains: without the music, they'd be nothing. And, to the chagrin of critics for the past twenty-some years, this band has continued to survive. True, it's been in a myriad of formations but KISS has been around and in action since they first hit the scene in the early 1970s.

Of course, these days, most people tend to forget about the days after Peter Criss and Ace Frehley first left the band and the legendary makeup came off. "It's the band's first recording in nearly twenty years!" trumpet some record stores. Well, yes and no. "Psycho Circus" is the first new studio album in nearly twenty years featuring the four original members of KISS; those same four members who took over the world in the late 70s with their fiery live shows, their anthemic rock, schmaltzy ballads and loud, power-chord guitars.  What's interesting is that despite the fact these guys haven't recorded together in nearly two decades - it's as though they never split up. "Psycho Circus" is the KISS album the original KISS - Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss - would have recorded had the non-makeup KISS of the 80s never existed.

From the comic-book theme "Psycho Circus" to the anthems "I Pledge Allegiance to Rock & Roll" (how can you get more "anthem" than that?) and "You Wanted the Best" to the token Peter Criss ballad, "I Finally Found My Way," "Psycho Circus" is as pure a KISS album as we're likely to ever get. It's a collection of fun, pump-your-fist-in-the-air rock'n'roll that wasn't designed to make you think - it's designed to make your forget. Forget your troubles, that is. It's rock'n'roll at it's purest - it's fun!

Sure, it gets a little old hearing lyrics about how these guys conquered the world again and, sure, it doesn't sound as though Ace Frehley can wield his axe the way he used to (although his "Into the Void" is one of the album's best tunes). But the vocals of Paul Stanley have only gotten better with age and Gene Simmons remains one of the coolest rock stars on the planet. And, if nothing else, it's good to see the ol' Catman, Peter Criss, back at his place behind the KISS drumset.

Is the return of KISS a good thing for rock'n'roll? I'd say so. They're the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa of rock music. In a world of too-serious, gloomy-lyricked young rockers, the explosive fun of KISS is a welcome shot in the arm.

That isn't to say that "Psycho Circus" is as tight an album as it could be. The band's non-makeup era "Revenge" is a superior recording, a record that celebrated everything the original KISS stood for but delivered it with a stunning musicianship that the original lineup can't match.

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

psycho.jpg (16168 bytes)"Psycho Circus" (Mercury Records; 1998)

Reviewed by Snidermann

I must say, I was more then a little skeptical when I heard that the original KISS was re-forming for a reunion tour, then an album. As far as I'm concerned, the original KISS has two strikes against them: Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. I have seen both of them live in their solo endeavors and neither was very good. It always pissed me off that these two has-beens replaced two of the best musicians working today (Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer).

That said, I have been a KISS fan for about 25 years and, to be honest, I didn't care much for KISS when Ace and Peter left the first time. However, as I got to know the "new band," I realized that the music was basically the same. When I saw KISS at the Long Beach Sports Arena during the "Hot In The Shade" tour - shitty seats and all - they rocked the house in a big way.  Then tragedy struck and Eric Carr - the best drummer in hard rock - died of cancer. (Let me pose a question that has been burning inside me since the old lineup got back together: If Eric Carr were alive today, would the original band still have re-formed?). Eric Singer took over the sticks for KISS and with Paul, Gene, and Bruce, KISS cut a few more great records, did some bitchin' tours and even the KISS conventions. Then - after the unplugged MTV special, boom! KISS dumps Bruce and Eric and bring back Peter and Ace so they can repeat the same gig they did over 20 years ago. Big deal.

Now, getting back to the new KISS release "Psycho Circus': As you may have guessed from the above paragraph, I was ready to hate the new CD from the original line-up. But I have to admit - after listening to it a few times, I found myself really getting into it. "Psycho Circus" sounds just like a Kiss record; simple yet compelling. So as I listened to "Psycho Circus" I suddenly realized that I was feeling the same way I did when Peter and Ace first left the band: As long as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are part of KISS, it's KISS (even with those two losers back in the loop - just call me the KissArmy Devil's Advocate General!!)

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

"Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions" (Mercury Records; 1997)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Before they put the clown make-up back on, KISS was finally turning into a respectable band again. Their "Revenge" CD was one of the best albums they'd put out in years and the long-awaited follow-up, "Carnival of Souls," was rumored to follow in its footsteps. 

But then the MTV "KISS: Unplugged" happened, and Gene Simmons saw dollar signs (lotsa friggin' dollar signs) and "Carnival of Souls," completed and sitting on the shelves at Mercury Records, was all but forgotten about.

As the makeup tour began to take over the world, "Carnival of Souls" was leaked by someone who had access to it, and the fans snapped up bootlegs as fast as they could get their hands on them. It was all over the place by the time it finally hit record bins and it sold rather poorly.

Listening to "Carnival of Souls," however, one realizes that the lack of sales came more from the understandable excitement about the re-union of the original KISS, than from the quality of the CD itself. "Carnival of Souls" features some of KISS's heaviest stuff ever. Beginning with the Simmons-penned "Hate," the CD rages through mostly bottom-heavy numbers (a la Black Sabbath) and a few strange attempts at art ("Childhood's End"). Whereas previous KISS albums were always focused on Simmons and Paul Stanley, "Carnival of Souls" gave guitarist Bruce Kulick a chance to really show his stuff. Of the twelve tracks on this CD, Kulick co-wrote nine. And his style of music - a somewhat more modern sound than classic KISS - is evident throughout. In fact, Kulick actually made his lead vocal debut on this CD, on the final track, the strange little ditty "I Walk Alone."

Interestingly, despite the heaviness of this CD, Paul Stanley delivers the heaviest songs. "It Never Goes Away" may be one of KISS's heaviest song ever - and one of its best.

"Carnival of Souls" is a darker, heavier, more somber KISS than we'd heard in the past - and it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the clown makeup had not been reapplied. "Carnival of Souls" may have given this line-up (Simmons, Stanley, Kulick and Eric Singer) a new fanbase. Despite the fact that many KISS fans reject it, it's a strong album, certainly stronger than the original lineup's next CD, "Psycho Circus." 

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

"Revenge" (Mercury Records; 1992)

Reviewed by Snidermann

"Revenge" came out in 1992 and each of the twelve tunes is exactly what you want from a Kiss record: simple kick ass rock'n'roll, period. "Revenge" was recorded by what I consider the second best line-up in Kiss history and, no, I don’t mean that loser spaceman (Ace Frehley) or the drummer who can't keep a beat, Catman Peter Criss. The "Revenge" line-up includes Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer. 

"Revenge" delivers some unforgettable Kiss tunes, played straight from their metal souls and produced by Bob Ezrin (who also produced "Destroyer" as well as music by Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd). These forces combine to make one totally bitchin' rock'n'roll release. 

I said that "Revenge" was played by Kiss's second best line-up. In my opinion, their very best line-up included Gene, Paul, Bruce and the late Eric Carr, who passed away a few years ago from cancer. "Revenge" is dedicated to the memory of Eric Carr and the CD's last track is called "Carr Jam." Allow me to quote from the CD notes: " ... while going through the vaults. (Bob) Ezrin came across an old 24 track of a hot riff written by Eric Carr, recorded on May 1981. It included a thunderous drum solo ... the only one Eric every recorded. We included it here because it was a chance for us all to remember how great Eric really was." As any member of the Kiss Army will tell you, we all miss the genius of Eric Carr. (On a personal note, I firmly believe this whole make-up reunion tour would not have happened the way it did if Eric Carr were alive today.)

Kiss's "Revenge" simply fucking rocks. LONG LIVE THE MEMORY OF ERIC CARR!!!!

KISS is: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick.

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

"Asylum" (Mercury Records; 1985)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Don't let that ridiculous, psychedelic cover mislead you: "Asylum" is a more than acceptable KISS CD, complete with the rock solid anthems ("King of the Mountain"), the sex-drenched rockers ("Uh! All Night") and the prerequisite radio ballad (the classic "Tears Are Falling").

Another shining example of the band's work after the makeup came off, "Asylum" is 100% pure KISS. There's the irresistible songwriting (with sometimes admittedly dumb lyrics), the simple but effective power guitar and the attitude of a band that's obviously having fun doing what they do.

According to the liner notes, "Asylum" was one of the KISS albums that Paul Stanley was the driving force behind, due to Gene Simmons' interest in the film industry. Like most of the best KISS CDs, this is a good thing. For my money, KISS was always at its best when Stanley was in control. The huge commercial success of "Asylum," despite that embarrassing album cover, is more evidence of that.

KISS: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Carr, Bruce Kulick.

For more information, check out www.kissonline.com

"Animalize" (Mercury Records; 1984)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

"Animalize" is probably best known as the album that KISS recorded while Gene Simmons was on vacation. Okay, Gene wasn't actually on vacation, but he was working hard to become a movie star and record label mogul and not focusing so much on KISS.

The result is that "Animalize" is a Paul Stanley-heavy album, probably best remembered for its big radio hit, "Heaven's on Fire" and the speedy fingers of temporary guitarist Mark St. John. 

"Animalize" is different from previous KISS albums because the music isn't quite as ... well, catchy... as, say, stuff from "Destroyer" or "Love Gun." It's as though Paul Stanley the Producer thought that KISS needed a harder, edgier sound and he got it.

That sound, however, doesn't ever quite catch on in "Animalize." It comes close, with tunes like "I've Had Enough (Into the Fire)", "Get All You Can Take" and "Thrills in the Night" (all energetic Paul Stanley-penned tunes) while tracks like "Lonely Is the Hunter," "While The City Sleeps" and "Murder in High-Heels" (all by Gene Simmons) just kind of plod along. "Burn Bitch Burn," another Simmons song, should also be singled out for possibly the worst lyric of all time: "Oooh, baby, wanna put my log in your fireplace."

Still, St. John's fiery fretwork is a highlight - the guy simply shredded. Unfortunately, illness took him out of the game shortly thereafter. 

"Animalize" isn't the best album KISS ever recorded, but it's not the worst, either. Every once in awhile I have to pull it out and give it another spin and you should do the same.

KISS: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Mark St. John, Eric Carr.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com

"Creatures of the Night" (Mercury Records; 1982)

Reviewed by Snidermann

When KISS recorded "Creatures Of The Night," they were coming off of the less-than-spectacular performance of "Unmasked" and the stunning failure of "The Elder." They badly needed a hit. Fortunately, they went back to the music and put money-making on the back burner. Money was still probably their main motivation (this is KISS we're talking about) but at least they put some heart back into the music. 

"Creatures" is vintage KISS and, although the studio line-up has been contested throughout the KISS world (Gene and Paul, of course, with Eric on the drums and Ace Frehley and Bob Kulick rumored to have contributed lead guitar), this is a line-up that really worked. Putting lead guitar aside, this is one of the best line-ups in rock'n'roll history: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and the late, great, irreplaceable Eric Carr. And consider how many songs from this CD are still played in KISS shows today: "Creatures of the Night," "I Love It Loud," "War Machine" and others. 

Speaking of "I Love It Loud," this is one of the quintessential KISS songs of all time. "I Love It Loud" is an anthem that is as alive today as it was in 1982. This song is pure and simple and right to the point; no hype, no bullshit, just rock'n'roll.

KISS is still out there touring today but this I know: It's not the KISS that I remember. The KISS that really knew how to rock'n'roll all night and party every day. The KISS that knew the makeup ... and the money ... wasn't nearly as important as the music. The KISS that recorded such great albums as "Destroyer," "Alive," and "Revenge." 

KISS (according to the liner notes, at least): Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Eric Carr.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com

"Love Gun" (Casablanca / Mercury Records; 1977)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Sometimes, with all the hoopla and sold-out shows that still surround KISS, you gotta go back and re-discover what all the magic was about. Listening to 1977's "Love Gun" will do just that for you. 

Beginning with the hard rocker "I Stole Your Love," "Love Gun" was a collection of 10 KISS classics that remind you what was great about the band, and what wasn't so great.

On the great side are songs like "I Stole Your Love," "Shock Me," "Love Gun," and "Almost Human," all of which are solid rockers, even today, and proved the band could write hit songs (even as "Shock Me" also proved that Ace Frehley probably should never sing).

On the not so great side are near-duds like "Got Love For Sale," which still rocked pretty well but didn't make much sense, the attempted anthem "Tomorrow and Tonight," which played like bad movie rock, and "Then She Kissed Me," a gender-bending cover of the classic tune by The Crystals (if I remember correctly) that came off as a little whiffy. These songs still have a bizarre attraction the them, however, that is almost irresistible.

"Love Gun" also features the huge radio hit, "Christine Sixteen," which would get Gene Simmons arrested if he wrote and recorded it today, and "Hooligan," a strangely nostalgic, Peter Criss-sung ditty about car parts, school and candy stores.

These days, listening to "Love Gun," one is surprised at how well many of the songs still play and the newly remastered version sounds very good - crisp and clear and fresh. 

Despite continued ticket sales and promises of a new studio album, KISS will never be back where they were back when their legacy was being written in giant letters of light spelling "K-I-S-S." But it's always nice to go back and remember what was.

KISS: Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons.

For more information, please visit http://www.kissonline.com

"Destroyer" (Mercury Records; 1976)

Reviewed by Snidermann

I was just a kid KISS's "Destroyer" was released, and I fondly remember buying the (vinyl) record from and just simply loving it. It was raw, hip, rebellious and my parents hated it - what more could a new teenager ask for?

Over twenty years later, and "Destroyer" is still all those things and more. This record has truly stood the test of time and remains a viable piece of work. Producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin (of Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd fame) served as producer here and his talents are obvious. "Destroyer" is a true group effort.

At the time of this release KISS was what rock musicians were supposed to be: bigger than life, richer than God and very cool. "Destroyer" boasts some classic KISS standards including "Detroit Rock City," "Shout It Out Loud" and their hugely popular ballad, "Beth." 

But it's not just the hits that make "Destroyer" work so well - it's the other songs as well. Strangely, listening to this recording, one would never imagine that the original line-up, and its unique personality, was going down the shitter. Thankfully, the band was revitalized when Peter Criss and Ace Frehley left the band and real musicians like Eric Carr, Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick joined the band. Yeah, I know - the reunion tour is the biggest ever. That may be, but the band today is nowhere as good as the band that recorded "Revenge."

"Destroyer" is still one of my favorite recordings and it reminds me of a simpler time, when rock was pure and legends still played music for the sake of music, not for the sake of money. You certainly can't say that about KISS today.

KISS: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley.

"Alive!" (Polygram; 1975)

Reviewed by Snidermann

The 1975 release of KISS's "Alive!" is a standing tribute of what rock'n'roll is all about. The songs are as alive and vibrant now as they were 28 years ago (28?! Holy shit!). The music is loud and bombastic and each track works as an individual song and as part of a bigger collective. And, perhaps most importantly, a stunningly evergreen document of rock'n'roll's greatest live show.

"Alive!" still rocks today just like it did when I was a fucking teenager. The first time I heard this album, KISS became legends of rock'n'roll to me and - although they piss me off for their money-grubbing ways today - it doesn't really matter what they have done since. The simple fact that they played and recorded this album - and the fact that it is still as powerful as it was when I was a teen - proves that KISS deserve their Legends status. Of course, it helped that my parents hated it. 

KISS's "Alive!" is a cornerstone of metal music. Some say "it's the makeup, not the music," that makes KISS so popular but I think "Alive!" proves them wrong. Back then, KISS was all about the music. In fact, I never even saw them live until after the makeup came off.

"Alive!" is cool rock'n'roll that is still easily identifiable with its totally testosterone basis. Shit, man - it makes me want to grunt like Tim Allen!

This is truly a musical snapshot in time that has stood the test of time and that I - and millions of others - will always treasure.

KISS: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com

"Hotter Than Hell" (Casablanca / Mercury Records; 1974)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

After the less-than-spectacular commercial success of their debut CD (it wasn't until "Alive!" that they really hit it big), KISS took a different direction with their second album, "Hotter Than Hell."

Whereas their self-titled debut was slickly produced and more up-tempo, "Hotter Than Hell" took more chances. First off, the production on this CD is rough at best. The 1997 re-master, however, clears up much of the murkiness that plagued the original CD. Then there were the songs: For the most part, slower, heavier and grittier than those on "KISS." Only the title track registered any real heat, although several of the tunes - "Let Me Go Rock'n'Roll," "Goin' Blind" and "Parasite" in particular - would later come to be known as KISS classics. 

"Goin' Blind" is of particular note because it may be the first ballad KISS ever recorded. Interestingly, that particular tune didn't really come into its own until the band removed the make-up and began their KISS Convention Tour, and began performing that song unplugged.

"Hotter Than Hell" hit record stores a scant eight months after the self-titled album, but its impact wasn't really felt until years later when many of the songs appeared on the band's legendary "Alive!" album. Still, the remastered disc sounds better than ever and most of the songs hold up surprisingly well, even thirty years after the album's original release.

KISS: Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons.

For more information, check out http://www.kissonline.com

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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