Not even the Hottest Band in the World is perfect, despite their nearly 50 years of success, and even for an unofficial member of the KISS Army such as myself, I’m not going to lie and claim KISS have never had a misstep or made a mistake from time to time. I’ve been one of their biggest fans since 1991, and while I either wasn’t born yet or was too young to have experienced the groups lean years, I’m sure there are fans of Gene, Ace, Peter, and Paul who have PTSD reactions to the disco/pop/opera stretch of KISStory from 1979-1981.
I’ve written at length about how after hitting the absolute peak of their powers with albums like Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun and Alive II (then releasing a solo album for each member of the group), KISS fans were hit upside the head with the mirrored disco ball that was Dynasty, leaving a lot of us scratching our heads and looking quizzically at how just a few years prior KISS was clad in black leather and breathing fire to looking like they had stepped out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
Things would only get stranger with Unmasked; which while better than Dynasty, was bolstered by Ace keeping as much rock in the group as possible, then the KISS Army was asked to take the Oath with Music from the Elder, which is still trying to be explained almost 40 years later.
By 1982, things were looking bleak for KISS, so taking one last shot in the make-up, the band got back to as close to their roots as possible. The acid flashback costumes from the disco phase of the group were stripped away and the boys adopted a simpler look going back to more or less what got their foot in the door back in the early 70s. Simplified black and white costumes, along with the thunderous drumming of newly minted Eric Carr replacing Peter Criss in the band, KISS released Creatures of the Night, possibly their heaviest record since Hotter than Hell, but was it a case of too little, too late?
This is my opinion, and some may agree or disagree, but I firmly believe had KISS released Creatures immediately after Unmasked, the KISS Army may have been more accepting of Music from the Elder. They may not have liked it anymore than they did, but at least they may have been satiated enough by the fire and thunder of “War Machine” and “I Love it Loud” to say, “alright, you guys want to do some weird, operatic concept album for a medieval film that no one has two fucking ideas what it’s even about, go nuts”.
The Elder did so poorly both critically and commercially the band scrapped their idea of a tour before it even got off the ground. Unmasked had started the trend of tour troubles to the point that the band could barely draw a few thousand fans to shows in the U.S., when they had been selling out every show not long before. It was only in international markets like Australia and South America that KISS were still on top of the world, performing to a crazed fan base that would have turned out in droves even if KISS played Gene’s ’78 solo album from start to finish for every show.
Creatures of the Night was an incredible record that came out at the right place but at the wrong time. KISS had regained some of their edge and with Eric Carr once again providing those booming drum tracks, KISS had got as close to metal as they ever would in their career, except for maybe Revenge in 1992. Although, Creatures doesn’t have that eye rollingly, saccharine “Every Time I Look At You” stinker weighing the record down.
Creatures is one of the rare albums that doesn’t have a bad track anywhere to be found. Danger may be the weakest song on the album, but overall Creatures of the Night is hard, dirty and mean with a hint of menace throughout. While the band did tour in support of the album, it would only be with half of the original lineup.
Peter Criss was long gone, having left when Unmasked was released, despite being on the cover artwork, and by ’82 Ace would jump in his spaceship and depart the band to pursue a solo career, leaving the band to recruit Vinnie Vincent to fill in for a cup of coffee on Lick it Up.
Creatures also holds the distinction of having two strange album covers that make little sense in retrospect, one moreso than the other. The original album cover from ’82 has Gene, Paul, Eric and Ace in full make-up despite Ace not playing any lead guitar on the record, having his duties covered by everyone from Vinnie Vincent to Bob Kulick. Then there’s the almost comical re-release of Creatures from 1985 with Gene, Paul, Eric and Bob Kulick’s younger brother Bruce on the cover.
This particular cover is amusing for the fact that while Bruce was in the band by ’85, he certainly was nowhere near being in KISS when the album was first pressed in ’82, and all four members of the group aren’t wearing make-up which makes sense as the band had ditched the make-up in ’83 after Vinnie had joined the group, but Vinnie had lead guitar credits on the ’82 and ’85 versions of Creatures, except he doesn’t appear on either cover but Bruce is on the ’85 cover yet he doesn’t play lead on the album, and neither does Ace, but he’s on the ’82 cover, and…well, they’re both a better cover than Animalize.
Creatures of the Night is a landmark album for reasons both good and bad, it sits firmly in my top 5 of favorite KISS albums, but as I mentioned if they had released it before Elder instead of after would their futures and fortunes been different? Clearly, in 2020 KISS is one of the biggest bands in rock and roll history, and are hall of fame icons, but in the early part of the 80’s had Creatures been unleashed on the KISS Army sooner, would it have been enough for Ace to stay? He’s stated he had to leave or else he would have self destructed, but had Creatures come out on the heels of Dynasty and been a bigger success, it may have been the shot in the arm the band needed to compete with the NWOBHM acts that were popping up as the new decade unfolded, and while I love Vinnie and Bruce in their own right, if Ace had got the help he needed KISS maybe wouldn’t have gone through lead guitarists like Spinal Tap went through drummers.
For my personal sensibilities, Ace should’ve never left the band. There’s no one quite like him when it comes to the classic KISS sound and who knows what 80’s KISS may have sounded like with the Spaceman still in the fold. A beautiful mixture of Lick it Up/Asylum/Frehley’s Comet, or maybe the powder keg would’ve went off and destroyed the band completely.
Creatures of the Night may have been a case of too little, too late, but in hindsight maybe it was for the best in that Rock and Roll Hell.
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