Kiss were simply light years ahead of the competition in 1974, with the exception of Aerosmith and a few others.
Written by: Dangerzone
ALBUM: Hotter Than Hell
SERIAL: NBLP 7006
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Paul Stanley – vocals, guitar * Ace Frehley – guitar * Gene Simmons – bass, vocals * Peter Criss – drums, vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 Got To Choose * 02 Parasite * 03 Goin’ Blind * 04 Hotter Than Hell * 05 Let Me Go, Rock N Roll * 06 All The Way * 07 Watchin’ You * 08 Mainline * 09 Comin’ Home * 10 Strange Ways
WEBLINKS: Site Link
It certainly wouldn’t be an understatement to suggest Kiss’ debut ranks as one of the most influential U.S. hard rock albums of all time, ranking up there with the likes of Montrose as far as timeless recordings goes. Looking at the music itself without the bands makeup and stage show, it brought the American rock scene into relevancy, at a time when English acts dominated the show.
The production team of Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise were formerly of Dust, a band who never quite made the big time, despite being an accomplished act themselves, Dust however were systematic of the more dated nature of U.S. rock and to the duo’s credit they assisted Kiss into taking things further than they ever could have. The debut was a moderate hit for Kiss and only eight months later they recorded the follow up, again produced by Kerner and Wise. The big difference this time was the album being recorded in Los Angeles, much to the chagrin of the band who detested being removed from their New York habitat.
Much has been said of this album and for me it’s superior to the debut because there’s a harder edge evident, even though Wise said he wasn’t happy with the production. The intent supposedly was to make a Black Sabbath type album sonically, which isn’t really evident, but it’s still more varied and experimental in sound, showing good range for an early album.
The album is full of Kiss standards and lesser known tracks, but somehow remains somewhat obscure when considering Kiss’ more classic albums. ‘Got To Choose’ is a heavy start, displaying the bands knack for a wicked melody. Immediately it has more of a metallic edge than the debut, there’s just a tad more bite. This is simply light years ahead of the competition in 1974, with the exception of Aerosmith and a few others.
‘Parasite’ quickly became a live favourite thanks to Frehley’s distinctive riff, a hefty slice of heavy metal. The track is credited to Frehley who supposedly wasn’t confident enough to sing yet, but it’s amazing just how well it’s stood the test of time. ‘Goin’ Blind’ was a track Simmons wrote with Wicked Lester bandmate Steve Coronel back in 1970 and melodically it’s quite obvious, far unlike anything else on the album, much dreamier in tone and playing, with the whole ‘I’m 93 You’re 16’ subject matter adding to the drama!
The title track is prime hard rock which was imitated by thousands, the type of raunchy hard rock permeated by bands to this day. Stanley himself it was inspired by Free‘s ‘All Right Now,’ which is noticeable, but this has that unique American feel. I’ve always been surprised how this isn’t a concert staple, which might be a good thing given how stale the majority of the debut has become due to overkill live.
The basic approach of ‘Let Me Go Rock and Roll’ is more in keeping with the debut, two minutes of driving rock where Criss shines behind the kit. This is how simple rock should be, surely. Simmons belts out ‘All the Way’, with Frehley shining on guitar, helped by a chorus that would have sounded fresh a decade later.
‘Watchin’ You’ is even heavier and for all purposes this is the sound of heavy metal in 1974. It wasn’t as well produced as the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Black Sabbath naturally, but the intensity is glaring and the fact it’s so simple makes the effect so much more stunning. Kiss would be at that level in a short space of time, but here they were still struggling financially.
The remaining trio of tracks is among the more obscure of the original lineup, with Criss appearing on vocals for the three chord crunch of ‘Mainline’. Criss always had the raspy element to his voice, providing the rough edge needed for some of these songs.
‘Comin’ Home’ benefits from another standout chorus, something the band was clearly excelling at, only two albums in. It’s not overly heavy, with the emphasis on the melody. Criss takes vocals again, this time on the staggeringly moody ‘Strange Ways,’ another Frehley track which again shows the band at their heaviest, Frehley executing a feedback-laden solo which rates as one of his best, if not forgotten.
The album was a reasonable seller for Kiss, but the stardom so desperately sought continued to elude them. They balanced this with heavy touring, which accentuated their visual appeal and bombastic live shows.
They would meet success of course with ‘Alive’ a year later, following another great album, ‘Dressed to Kill’. The band has said the sound of ‘Hotter Than Hell’ failed to reflect their powerful live sound, a malaise that has affected more than one band, but it’s something I’ve always agreed with about Kiss.
But given the passing of time their early albums have a definite rawness that was lost with ensuing success. They regained it over time, but this album more than any other demonstrates the burgeoning success on the horizon for Kiss. More importantly it’s one of their heaviest albums and set the stage for a generation to follow, many of whom never really filled Kiss’ boots.
Hotter Than Hell