Review: Destroyer 45th Anniversary Edition, The Vaults Are Opened (Finally)!

The vaults finally open and Kiss and Universal Music unleash the studio album that firmly established Kiss as superstars, with a little help from the magic of Bob Ezrin. Packed with hours of alternative versions plus an exquisite new surround mix, does this release align with the stature the album has already attained?

Street date: Nov. 19, 2021

Formats:
• Super Deluxe 4-CD + Blu-ray Audio box
• Double black vinyl
• Limited edition yellow/red Double vinyl
• 2-CD set
• Digital / Streaming

Words like “seminal” or “iconic” are often lobbed around haphazard, diluting the value of the superlatives as trite throwaways. But with KISS the rules don’t apply, and perhaps have never applied. After all, rules were made to be broken. Pressing “play” on the new KISS “45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition” of “Destroyer” may not take you back to 1976, with the KISS Army circa 2021 spanning multiple generations. However, you’re nearly assured being transported to a warm and happy place, if you’re willing to set aside expectations and preconceptions, and weigh this package for what it is: A victory for fans, particularly those of a diehard persuasion, simply through its very existence. “More” is the never-ending demand of those who are never satisfied – that’s not a judgment being passed, just a simple observation. When the proverbial “vault” doors officially first creaked open in 1989, it provided little more than a tease. Fans waited until 2001 for a meaningful mass of material to feed their insatiable appetites for the band’s music. Since then, there have been various efforts with an expanded treatment of “Love Gun,” the KISSology series, and several compilations with bits and pieces included. But while other bands have jumped in to expanded releases, KISS fans have watched jealously and waited impatiently. Now, Universal and KISS are digging deep, and hopefully rebooting the KISS legacy catalogue with a suitably fitting starting point. “Destroyer,” as the band’s signature studio album, is the perfect candidate.

This 45th anniversary edition will be available in multiple formats: Double vinyl, 2-CD, and digital/streaming, plus a super deluxe edition which features 4 audio CDs and a Blu-ray audio disk. That latter disk features Steven Wilson’s Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround mixes of the original studio album (plus 2 bonus tracks). One of those bonus tracks, the original guitar solo version of “Sweet Pain” was originally released on “Destroyer: Resurrected.” For those lacking the specialized equipment to enjoy Wilson’s mix, the other four CDs include more than enough material to satisfy that hunger for archival material and fully celebrate the era in which it was created. The Super Deluxe is crammed full of era specific KISS ephemera, notably a complete recreation of the original KISS Army Kit (sans “Beth” 45). Other items of particular interest include a KISS logo Iron-on, KISS Army Sticker, 8×12″ Destroyer Foil Flyer, a reproduction of the incredibly rare “Destroyer” Canadian Flyer, newly created band member trading cards, posters, reproduction stage blueprints of the amazing “Destroyer” tour stage, a reproduction “Destroyer” tour program, and more. Impressively, the package is supported by a 68-page hardcover book with extensive “liner notes by Paul Elliott & Ken Sharp featuring interviews from Gene, Paul, Ace, Peter, then-manager Bill Aucoin, album producer Bob Ezrin, and many more about the album’s writing and production process, U.S. and European tours, photo shoots, promotional stories, band member memories from their TV appearance on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, and an intoxicating amount of unreleased photos and imagery” (PR). All that is fun, but it is ultimately the music that matters.

The new Abbey Road remaster of “Destroyer” takes the album to a new plateau in terms of its sonic fidelity, while maintaining the integrity of producer Bob Ezrin’s original intention. Bob was given his opportunity to revisit “Destroyer” in 2012, with “Destroyer: Resurrected,” but the new remaster makes no changes to the underlying structure. That 2012 treatment had plusses and minuses – it allowed the producer to revisit the album with the benefit of hindsight, new perspectives, and new technology. It was something of a double-edged sword, with it changing the dynamic character of some of the material, while peeling back the layers on the sonic tapestry. Ultimately, it was found to be an uncomfortable listening experience for some, with decades of the album’s sound so firmly engraved in the mind. It was certainly a worthwhile exercise, and perhaps it should have been included here as a matter of completeness. The Abbey Road remaster doesn’t aim to change that original feel, it neither adds to nor subtracts from the original. It simply polishes the gem, removes all dust and blemishes, and restores the album’s shine to a pristine state perhaps last heard on studio monitors in early 1976, before the process of manufacturing and duplication started the inevitable process of chipping away the façade. “Destroyer” is KISS’ gleaming trophy of creative performance and execution, and this superlative 2021 remaster presents it in grandly exquisite form.

Consuming audio is a highly subjective experience tied to the ears, brain, and the equipment used by the consumer. In this reviewer’s case, the ancient advice of listening to this album with headphones first was followed. Block out as much extraneous noise and become enveloped within the full sonic majesty and embark on an aural adventure. As the album commences, the first thing that jumps out is the incredible clarity of the standard album. There have been numerous remastering treatments of the material over the decades, but Bob’s already excellent mixing is presented with absolute perfection. The result is stunning, most obviously on the grand cinematic pieces such as “Detroit Rock City” and “King of the Night Time World,” but even the bombastic anthems such as “Flaming Youth,” “Do You Love Me,” and “Shout it out Loud” ring out timelessly. Even the least refined of the album’s tracks, “Sweet Pain,” sounds glorious. The mastering levels are not displeasing – in other words, it has not been brick-walled to death and the listening experience is gratifying.

Underneath the hood, Peter Criss’ powerful drumming drives the whole album, and he remains this reviewer’s MVP for the album. Gene’s bass growls nicely providing a throbbing undercurrent of emotion. This rhythm section is locked in, and it matters not a damn how much pain was endured during Bob Ezrin’s “boot camp” to for the individual band members to reach that point. In this case, the end truly justifies the means. “Beth” remains the band’s keystone, the full representation of their unexpected transition from stars to superstars, and firm illustration of the album’s demarcation line between original era and what soon followed. The album concludes with the original ending montage, “Rock and Roll Demons,” providing a satisfying sigh to a 35-minute marathon.

For diehard collectors, CD2 is where the action starts. The band has dug into their collections, to provide a taste of the demos recorded in preparation for the new album sessions. It is a brave artist who displays their raw creations, crafted early in the creative process for a project and remember: The band had essentially been on tour continuously supporting the “Dressed to Kill” and “Alive!” albums with only short breaks during 1975. It is the raw clay or rough block of stone, prior to Bob’s influence becoming paramount, that some of the material represents; before application of the musical chisel or warm hands molding, reshaping, and crafting into form. Those raw sketches illustrate all that went into that process of transformation. Here the listener witnesses the raw ingredients, the DNA of “Destroyer.” Lead-off track, “Doncha Hesitate,” previously issued on KISS’ 2001 Box Set, benefits from the fresh sonic mastering. It’s still a fun and catchy song, even if it feels somewhat like a leftover or transition from the previous album’s ethos. With its pop overtones and hooks, it’s in stark contrast as a reject to the resulting album. “God of Thunder and Rock and Roll” is Paul’s upbeat and almost danceable original full title for “God of Thunder.” Once refined, it would be given over to Gene, becoming his signature song. The original illustrates a different vantage point of the same perspective, though one must remain relieved at Paul’s willingness to surrender to Ezrin’s judgement that it needed a demon to voice it. “It’s The Fire” remains a fan favorite, and fortunately the sonic quality is a quantum leap from the unofficial copy that has circulated for many previously. Paul’s influences are a bit more transparent with references to Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Free. But nothing can detract from it’s fun rock ‘n’ roll romp. Like “God of Thunder,” Paul’s up-tempo demo of “Detroit Rock City” is another illustration of how Bob Ezrin’s input took material from the basement to the stratosphere. “Love is Alright” concludes Paul’s demos for the album (even though it’s a Gene song). Most of the demos on this CD were recorded at Magna Graphic Studios in mid-1975, with road manager J.R. Smalling filling in for Peter Criss (he was purportedly on vacation during one of the band’s infrequent downtimes that year when the recordings were made).

As is the case with Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons’ demos start with “Bad Bad Lovin'” and “Man of a Thousand Faces,” which have previously been released on the 2001 KISS Box Set and Gene’s “Vault” (albeit in an edited form as “Man of 1,000 Faces #2”), respectively. In the case of the latter, the listener is now being given the original full-length version. Where Paul’s songs are more fully formed in later years, Gene has something of an advantage at this time with his demos of “Man of a Thousand Faces,” “Burnin’ Up with Fever” (also unedited versus the Vault), and disc closing track, a stereo version of “True Confessions,” is another demo previously released (in mono) on Gene Simmons’ “Vault.” However, none of those songs were deemed suitable for use on the album. Some of Gene’s other musical ideas from the period, such as “Rock and Rolls Royce,” “Mad Dog,” and “Bad Bad Lovin’,” represent a potpourri of ideas later recycled into an assortment of other KISS songs – generally being completed for the “Rock and Roll Over” album. Only “Mad Dog” was developed from Gene’s Magna Graphic contributions (though minor elements of “Night Boy” turn up in “Sweet Pain”). The point for collectors will be that other than multiple takes of several of the songs, the full known Magna Graphic demos are represented in their very best sound quality.

The third disc is a bit more hit and miss for the hardcore consumer. Single edits were usually the result of a sledgehammering of a statue, a seemingly random slicing of the original song to shoehorn it into a radio friendly duration – not that there was that much airplay for KISS. The positive is that the completeness of the collection is enhanced by their inclusion. That the edits and mono mixes may become a bit tedious may be a downside for some but remember that the mono mixes once served a specific purpose and may remind other listeners of the way they first heard the album. The new acoustic mix for “Beth” is personally not as uncomfortable as the tweaking Bob Ezrin performed on “Destroyer” in 2012. It’s certainly an interesting novelty none-the-less, and a beautiful homage to the song that served as a lifeline for the band in August 1976. It is a completely different creature to the acoustic version recorded in 1978 for the band’s TV movie, though without hardcopy of the liners it’s not possible to determine the sources of the component parts. Admittedly, some content on this disc has circulated for decades, though unofficially. Diehards should take note that there will always be something “old” to them that might be new and interesting to someone else. Presenting material in its best sonic clarity makes the inclusion of the live instrumental rehearsal of “King of the Night Time World,” a song by another band being adapted by KISS, fascinating.

For the most part, the bonus material is of exceptional quality and diehards will be best served to remember that they may have been spoiled by having some of the material in similar quality previously. Gathering it all together in one place brings a finality to the release history of the album. And there will be some tracks that blow their minds, in terms of upgrades to fidelity. Instrumentals of “Do You Love Me?,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “God of Thunder” provide a glimpse at the musicianship masked underneath the vocals, and allow full appreciation of the growth experienced by the band members during these sessions. Both vocal and instrumental versions of the unused and discarded externally sourced “Ain’t None of Your Business,” with Peter Criss vocal, deliver on the promise this collection offered. Alternate mixes of “Do You Love Me?” (with a fun ending), “King of the Night Time World,” and “Shout It Out Loud” (with more prominent piano and a fun count-in) also provide surprising previously unheard elements from the recordings. Early versions of “Great Expectations,” “Flaming Youth,” and “Do You Love Me?” are also fascinating insights to the creative development of the songs during the sessions reflecting subtle changes songs underwent.

The final CD features a live recording from L’Olympia in Paris, from 22 May 1976. It will be the most divisive musical content presented in the collection. On the one hand, it is a properly mastered version of the best sound quality version of that show. On the other, while it is the classic “Stoned in Paris” bootleg, it has circulated for decades in very good sonic quality and isn’t really a “Destroyer” live recording per se. The European tour in May-June still saw the band in transition from the “Alive!” period, even though some new songs had been added to the set from March onward. The true “Spirit of ’76” tour didn’t commence until July, following extensive rehearsals on a brand-new stage with a proposed set list that included no less than seven songs from the album: “Detroit Rock City,” “King Of The Night Time World,” “God of Thunder,” “Sweet Pain,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Do You Love Me?,” and “Flaming Youth.” If recordings featuring those songs were not available – or not extant – that is one matter, but there are certainly several soundboards and videos from the tour (Toronto, Anaheim, Jersey City, Houston, Richfield). It may simply be a case that they were unavailable or deemed unsuitable for any number of reasons. The inclusion of this show is certainly not a blemish on the overall product, though perceptions will likely be polarized. It’s difficult not to think that if KISS have created a “From the Soundboard” series, that recordings such as these could better serve as part of a throwaway “Official Bootleg” series. Only the absolute best should be presented within a “Super Deluxe.” Listeners do get live versions of “Flaming Youth,” “Shout It Out Loud,” and “Detroit Rock City,” and they have NOT been artificially enhanced as were the live tracks for the “Love Gun” deluxe. That is another win, and the recording certainly has character!

The final disc, the Blu-Ray audio disc with Steven Wilson mix was not available for review, but Wilson’s reputation is such that it may motivate this reviewer to invest in the requisite gear to enjoy that effort, though it will also be available via Dolby Atmos streaming. It includes as an additional bonus the original guitar solo version of “Sweet Pain” with Ace’s guitar work. That returns me to my earlier point that “Resurrected” ought to have been included for completeness, but then again most who wanted that will already have it and it might have had a negative impact on either bottom line or price point. With the super deluxe at a price premium, a more condensed “Deluxe Edition” will also be available. It marries the remastered studio album with a nice selection of the bonus material. It serves as a well-balanced sampler. Also available is a 2LP edition that omits the four live tracks from Paris on the deluxe edition.

I don’t do ratings. Suffice it to say, this release more than exceeds my expectations and there’s clearly been care and consideration in its crafting. But it’s not perfect, so while I hope it is only the first of many, I also hope that feedback is at least considered.

Purchase from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Destroyer-Anniversary-Super-Deluxe-Blu-ray/dp/B09GSBD83S/?tag=thekissfaq-20

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