In Defense of Their Good Name is a column where we rise to the defense of bands or albums that are often criticized in the metal scene. If you have a band or album that you think should be defended, let us know.
One of the more interesting things about KISS is despite having one of the most signature looks in rock music, they have no signature sound. In 1980 after two unsuccessful attempts at riding the disco wave with Dynasty and Unmasked, the band found themselves at the lowest point in their popularity. The problem was clear, but the band argued about the solution. Either they were going to record a back to basics hard rock album or make something important. A statement. They chose to make that statement. KISS gambled the rest of their credibility on a high concept art/prog concept record. And failed spectacularly.
It turns out the world wasn’t ready for KISS to make their version of The Wall. Neither was KISS. Unlike the highly personal vision of alienation from the status quo Roger Waters brought to The Wall, KISS had no vision. They threw together a story about a “boy” chosen by a mysterious “order” to fight some nameless “evil.”
No one had confidence in the finished product. The label chose to release it out of sequence to showcase the heaviest and most commercial songs while burying the story elements. It not only killed the flow of the album, but muddled what was already a very thin story. KISS was not confident enough to stand up for the finished version and let a compromised version of a challenging work be released.
Luckily for us, we can listen to the album 34 years later with no expectations, and in its original sequence. It is a pretty fun album. The real hero of the project is Bob Ezrin, riding both the success of producing The Wall and a massive cocaine bender.Ezrin used the blank canvas that is KISS to produce a sprawling epic bridging his previous concept albums The Wall and Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare with a more neanderthal guitar crunch . Alice Cooper’s style can be heard very clearly in “Odyssey.” Horn melodies straight from the Nightmare record cascade out of of majestic strings.
Compare this version to the original written by Tony Powers.
Now listen to “Welcome to my Nightmare” especially around the 2:23 mark to see Ezrin’s sensibilities improving the song overall.
Ace’s sole contribution, “Dark Light,” has the balls to feature a guitar solo accompanied only by latin percussion. It is also the song most distinctly KISS-sounding. Although I stand by my original assertion that KISS does not have a signature sound, Ace himself has a very signature guitar style. No one else but him could be playing that riff.
“Only You” begins as a middle of the road hard rock tune before turning on itself into a really bizarre tribute to Rush. Gene Simmons plays a descending major key bass line while Ace is actually holding out the type of atmospheric chords that one associates with Alex Lifeson. This is the type of song you can only write when the only authority figure in the room is partying with Dr. Rockso. But it’s great!
Another song which is sort of KISS-like except for the artistic aspirations of the project is “Mr. Blackwell.” Gene Simmons makes the most of the really sludgy doom-metal bass tone which he locks in perfectly with Eric Carr’s tight kick drum rhythm. This is one of the songs which transcends the album concept and stands up on its own. Ace deserves another shout out for the wonderfully primitive solo.
The absolute masterpiece of the album is “The Oath.” Although towards the very end of the album in the original sequence it was the first song in the record label’s resequencing. That’s because the viking metal triplets and Paul Stanley’s falsetto kick fucking ass. This song is so good I don’t want you to listen to the original. Listen to fucking ARCH ENEMY cover the shit out of it.
This album wasn’t for everyone, including KISS. They quickly washed their hands of it, replaced Ace Frehley with Vinnie Vincent, and started on their journey writing reasonably competent 80s metal radio staples. But Music From “The Elder” is a good album. It’s too nerdy and arty for regular KISS fans and probably too KISS for true prog fans, but for those who are willing to open their mind and listen to the album for what it is, the rewards are great.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with a song KISS wrote in 1987 called “You Make Me Rock Hard.” This is for no other reason than I want you to remember that a band is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today who wrote a song called “You Make Me Rock Hard.”