KISS: ‘Destroyer’

Released on March 15, 1976 (Casablanca Records)

Review by Lance Lumley:
I have mentioned many times in past KISS reviews that I was late to the game when it came to buying their music. I knew of the band as young as age ten as I would visit my older cousin, who had KISS posters on his walls and the records playing constantly, but it wasn’t until I had allowance income that I could start purchasing most music. My friend Jeremy and I would walk across our small town in Ohio on a summer day to Fisher’s Big Wheel, which was a chain store similar to K-Mart, and check out the music section. It was here where he would buy his Rush cassettes, and me my KISS ones, at the bargain bin. The first KISS cassette I purchased was Destroyer. I felt officially a member of the KISS Army, and was in awe holding a classic release from the larger than life superheroes I knew of when visiting my cousin. My uncle owned a local music store, and I remember staring many times at the magnificent cover of the album.

Kicking off with “Detroit Rock City,” inspired by a true life story of a fan on his way to a KISS concert who tragically was killed in an automobile accident, the song still has greatness to it after all these years of being overplayed on radio and in concert. The opening news announcements with the character getting into his car to drive to the show, while listening to his favorite band, is a mini movie in itself. Let’s not forget the R&B bass lines from Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss‘ swing style beat to a great guitar riff. Even though there are times I turn the song off if I hear it on radio in the past due to it being overplayed, there is not a better opening song for the album than this track.

One of my favorite’s off the album is “King of The Nighttime World.” Some fans are not fans of the song, but with the guitar note being held to open the song, coming out of the car crash ending from the first track, keeps the up tempo mood going for two straight songs. The song was a re-worked track from The Hollywood Stars, which sounds vastly different than the version KISS fans know. Peter‘s marching style drumming and the guitar fills throughout give the song a more rocking style than the original.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Gene Simmons singing “God of Thunder,” but it was originally a Paul Stanley song. This was the first song I was exposed to by the band, when my cousin would play Alive II at his house while I was looking at Gene on the cover, blood dripping from his mouth, which gave me nightmares for weeks. The slow, creeping tempo, along with Ace‘s guitar work, adds to the horror that many parents saw with the band. Producer Bob Ezrin‘s children talking on their walkie talkies throughout the track added a Freddy Kruger theme that this creature was coming to take children away as well. It has become a part of my Halloween playlist ever since.

I asked on my social media page what people thought was the worst song on the album, and the largely popular vote was “Great Expectations.” I always wondered what KISS fans thought of hearing the record for the first time when it came out, after coming off the success of Alive, with the band’s really first radio hit “Rock And Roll All Nite.” Ezrin comes in, and gets the band to experiment with orchestras, bells, and choir singers. I will say that with Gene actually singing on the track, as opposed to his groveling monster style vocals, proved to me that he wasn’t one dimensional. After coming off the intensity  of “God of Thunder,” the song is a letdown, but not bad enough where you have to skip over the track, but it isn’t one of their best songs.

Kicking off the second side is “Flaming Youth,’ which is good choice. Dick Wagner is rumored to play the guitar solo on the track, where as we found out years later, Frehley missed sessions during the recording, even the famous tale of not showing up because he wanted to play poker. Like many Ezrin produced albums, he tended to bring in his own session people if the artists weren’t up to the task of his boot camp-style techniques. Regardless of who is playing here or on the other tracks, I like the song, and the use of the steam organ at the end of the song added a touch to the song. The song is still a salute to being young, regardless of what older folks say or think, and following the path of happiness, which was a staple of KISS.

“Sweet Pain,” another Gene song, was the second choice listed on my media page as the worst song. The music is great, but the drumming (and the overall singing on the chorus) doesn’t do it for me. This is another song Wagner supposedly plays on. To me, KISS are like professional wrestling, in that I don’t always care who plays what on what parts. It wasn’t until the internet era where us fans who were not inside the band’s camp started finding out that session players or other members played on our favorite albums. Sure, it makes good podcasting and book topics, but with KISS, sometimes it takes away the mystic and appeal of the album. I don’t always need to know the backstage stuff in wrestling to enjoy my classic eras, and have the business exposed all the time. KISS fans are passionate about what line-up they like (which is one of the best things about us fans), but sometimes when I hear fans state that they don’t like an album because “Ace or Peter wasn’t on it,” makes me laugh at times because some of the tracks they weren’t on it anyway. The great thing about the KISS camp is that they kept the secrets intact and made us believe that the original line-up was on the album playing every song.

“Shout It Out Loud” has become one of the well known tracks off the album. I really like the fact that Paul and Gene share vocals on here, which gave an influence of The Beatles (Gene and Paul were heavily inspired by them). The catchy chorus is easy to sing along to. The guitar solo is wonderful too. It became a staple in the live shows for years, which shows its longevity.

The song that really gave the album success has to be “Beth.” Whether or not fans like the song, it gave the band another needed radio hit to sustain themselves, along with giving Peter a track which vocally proved his worth with a hit song. The universal theme of someone being away from their home, either businessmen, doctors, musicians, is captured nicely in this ballad. This, to me, also made the band family friendly, winning all these popular awards to where this may be one of the original signs the band started focusing more on merchandise and internal band fighting to a new level (who’s singing what, who’s songs are recorded, etc). The cold fact is bands needed radio hits to survive, and this helped the band gain more fans than before. Peter‘s voice on the track is soul filled. Even though some diehards scoffed at the song when it came out according to the books I read, we’d all loved to have the royalty checks that were coming in at the time for the song, and the song has lasted throughout the years, without sounding dated. For someone who likes ballads, I think it is a wonderful song.

“Do You Love Me” is a solid ending song for the album, and is one of the first songs I learned to play by the band on drums. Eric Singer has mentioned this is one of his favorites to play with his time in the band as a drummer. This song is also one of my favorites off the Unplugged CD. The song has a simple drum beat that carries the tune but with power, and the bridge part, with Paul‘s vocals having added effects on it, gives the basic song added flavor, along with the chimes at the end. The lyrics of the rock singer wondering if the girl really loves him, besides all the money and fame he has as a rock star, was something different in the KISS world, where normally it was the guy chasing after the girl. Vocally, as well is the echoing of “Do You Love Me” in a higher range at the end of the song. I can’t pick another song that should close the album than this one.

Yes, there are a few average songs on here, but overall there is nothing to be skipped. The iconic cover design has been used in many merchandising products even today. The album brought many newer fans to the fold (you decide if that’s good or bad), where the band experimented in a way that proved success, as opposed to some of their other experimental albums. Some may state it’s overrated in the overall KISS collection, with Ezrin putting his mark with additional musicians and making it into a rock opera flavored journey, instead of the straight up rock sounds the band was doing before. Let’s still give credit for the band taking an experimental road here; it wasn’t too far out there to completely send fans into a massive shock (that will come a few albums later), but there are still quality rock songs on the album. It holds a special place for me personally, with memories of my cousin and best friend (both are sadly no longer here), along with being exposed to great music living in a small town, where I would play my drums to on my boom box. Although it isn’t one of their harder albums, this album rightfully deserves a spot in rock’s hall of fame albums.

Review by Sam Burgh:
It’s hard to say anything that hasn’t already been said about KISS. Often times called one of the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll bands, they are still grinding to this day, whether that’s musically or slapping their logo on any possible piece of merchandise known to man. A lot of people get annoyed by that, but you’ve got to admire the hustle. Aside from the huge brand that is KISS, their album Destroyer is definitely a definitive album for them. This marked a shift in the production and quality of their music and is chock-full of hits.

Kicking off the album is one of KISS’ biggest songs of their career, “Detroit Rock City.” We all know the iconic intro riff, the fast-paced drumming and thundering bass. Ace Frehley’s solo is also very iconic itself. Overplayed? Sure, but that doesn’t take away the in-your-face burst of energy that KISS fans felt playing this for the first time, and that’s something people will always remember. As someone who is most definitely NOT in the KISS Army, but more of a casual fan, I can take or leave this track at this point in my life. Up next, however, is a song that needs to be played a lot more on the radio. “King of The Night Time World” is one of the strongest tracks on the album in my opinion. The drumming chugs along throughout the song all while the rest of the band maintains a steady tempo, plus the chorus is probably the catchiest and easiest to get stuck in your head. This is a great song and definitely underrated.

“God of Thunder” is one of the best “KISS kreations” the band ever conjured up. If you have never heard any KISS music before and see a picture of them in make-up, you expect some heavy and intense stuff. Imagine your disappointment hearing a song like, say, “Mainline” (nothing against “Mainline”, that’s actually one of my favorite KISS songs). Now, if you listen to “God of Thunder”, the make-up makes sense. The unsettling nature of the main riff, thumping, echoey drums and spooky lyrics sung by Gene Simmons are killer. Doing a complete 180°, the next track is “Great Expectations.” I had to listen to this one a few times to finally form an opinion, and honestly, I dig this one a lot. I can see why a lot of diehard KISS fans may not be a huge fan of the song because of the orchestral elements and children’s choir, but the production is fantastic and it’s just a fun song.

“Flaming Youth” follows “Great Expectations” and it’s definitely a big fan favorite. There’s not much that stands out here in my opinion, but it’s certainly not a bad song. It’s just a great rock ‘n’ roll song with a hook that cements it as one of the strongest tracks on the album. “Sweet Pain” is up next and I would place it above “Flaming Youth” any day. The harmonization on this track is very pleasant sounding and almost brings an element of soulfulness to it. “Shout It Out Loud” is a fun one, mostly because the “ohhhohhhh” before the chorus alone is enough for me. Although it’s pretty repetitive, that doesn’t completely ruin the song. KISS have always been good at coming up with hooks that will be stuck in your head for a long, long time.

Alright, where do I start with “Beth”? I know it’s a very big song in the KISS catalogue and considered their best ballad, but I think it is hands down the worst song on the album. Peter Criss’ vocals are nothing to write home about and the entire track just seems like filler. It’s astounding why this song did as well as it did but hey, nobody’s opinion is worth more than anyone else’s. “Do You Love Me” is the last song on the album (unless you count “Rock And Roll All Nite”, which I don’t) and is definitely one of the strongest tracks. Paul Stanley really shows out here with not only his vocals, but his cheeky lyrics.

When all is said and done, Destroyer is a very solid album. The production is great, the different styles used throughout are very diverse and KISS really brought it home with their musicianship.

Track List:
01. Detroit Rock City
02. King of The Nighttime World
03. God of Thunder
04. Great Expectations
05. Flaming Youth
06. Sweet Pain
07. Shout It Out Loud
08. Beth
09. Do You Love Me

Band Members:
Paul Stanley – guitars, vocals
Gene Simmons – bass, vocals
Ace Frehley – guitars, vocals
Peter Criss –  drums, vocals

Additional Musicians:
Dick Wagner – guitar solo (5, 6), acoustic guitar (4, 8)
Brooklyn Boys Chorus – additional vocals (4)
David Ezrin – voices (3)
Josh Ezrin – voices (3)
New York Philharmonic – orchestra (8)
Boz Ezrin – keyboards, piano (8)

Produced by Bob Ezrin
Orchestration by Bob Ezrin and H.A. Macmillan
Engineered by Jay Messina and Corky Stasiak

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Lance Lumley and Sam Burgh for Sleaze Roxx, March 2021

KISS performing “Detroit Rock City” on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special on October 29, 1976: