Released: 13 October 1982
Track List: Creatures of the Night; Saint and Sinner; Keep Me Comin’; Rock and Roll Hell; Danger; I Love It Loud; I Still Love You; Killer; War Machine
Best song: “Creatures of the Night” for metal, “I Still Love You” for emotion
Worst song: “Killer”
Previous album: Music from “The Elder”
Next album: Nope. I’m done. But Kiss’s next album was Lick It Up.
Well, The Elder has been an unmitigated disappointment. The band is in tatters. We lost Peter and now we’re about to lose Ace. He’s still with the band in the initial stages, and he will appear on the cover art, but he will not be heard on the finished recording. Ace has had his creative differences with Gene and Paul, to be sure, but his downward spiral is soon to bottom out, and he’ll be lucky to survive.
So searching for a guitarist, they find one Vincent Cusano, who will be credited as a songwriter in the liner notes, but not as a band member. Cusano, of course, will soon be announced as a member of the band, Ace’s replacement, under the name Vinnie Vincent. And things will not go well between him and the rest of the band … but that comes later, when your reviewer no longer cares.
Amusingly, when the band re-released Creatures a few years later with new cover art, it still didn’t depict Vinnie; it features Bruce Kulick, kid brother of Bob from Alive II, who had replaced Vinnie’s replacement (the 80s were rough), and who would be the band’s lead guitarist until the late-90s reunion.
BANG. The album starts with its title track and this is hard rock. The drums are thunder. The guitar is wailing in the first five seconds. The song escalates (the refrain is sung twice after the first verse, thrice after the second, and four times after the third). The song ends with a hard stop instead of a fadeout. The chorus has that ethereal “ooohhhhh” which clearly is going for the “nocturnal howl” vibe. The solo actually has Vinnie doing a decent Ace impression, intentional or not. “Howling in the shadows ’til we start to bite!” This is just utterly different from anything you’ve heard from them before. Kiss is doing something you can fairly call metal. It is great. Who the hell are these guys?
“Saint and Sinner” takes things down a bit, but it rocks. Gene’s not talking about sex per se here, but about … an ugly breakup? Wow! “I’m movin’ on / I’ll go it alone / because love’s turned to stone.” This is hard rock, ladies and gentlemen. Vinnie would soon enough be known for being a show-off, but here he is bright, melodious, and expressive, not overly technical.
“Keep Me Comin'” is pure Paul, with comin’ an obvious double entendre. But the way that riff duels with his singing (“I know what you’re like / you’re not / sleepin’ at night!“) and the slightly more sophisticated structure (with prechoruses! It’s Kiss; I don’t expect “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”) show how he’s grown as a songwriter. Two things detract a little: The way he belts out the final “Whoa, keep me comin’ babe!” on each chorus sounds a bit strained even for Paul; and the chorus itself is so simple (“you gotta keep me comin’, keep me comin’, keep me comin’ babe …”) that even for Kiss it overdoes the simplicity. Meh.
“Rock and Roll Hell” is weird. As a kid I could never figure out if it was metaphorical (living a hard life as a struggling musician) or if it was somehow literal (this guy is actually in hell and has somehow figured out a possibility for escape). The production contributes to the dilemma: Gene’s voice is hugely reverbed to give it an epic quality that, to my mind, “hard life on the streets” doesn’t call for but “fight for one’s soul against the forces of darkness” does. Oh well. I’m probably just weird. Is it good? It’s decent. The instrumentation works, with a few bits of bright, relatively clean guitar against big beefy chords, and solid, plodding drumming from Eric.
“Danger” pulls us back to the tempo and energy of the title track, but it’s less engaging. Once again, Paul sounds like he’s shouting a bit much. Paul has a genuinely good voice when he sings, and there’s a place for shouting here and there, but too much of this song is the latter. Still, if you came to the album daring to hope that Kiss would finally get back to hard rock, this is more of what you signed up for. The finest moment, to my taste, is at the end when the narrator actually goes to hell (at 3:33: “Give me fires that endlessly burn / I’ve passed the point of return”), complete with “eerie/ghostly” vocalization behind him. And then a quick “Danger, danger” and a hard stop! They stuck the landing, that’s for sure.
Side Two brings us the album’s anthem, and it is a monster, and like its two great predecessors (“… All Nite” and “Shout It Out Loud”), still gets played on both radio and stadium public-address systems to this day. “I Love It Loud.” The drums. The “Ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh!” chants. The almost-staccato verses (“Whiplash, heavy metal accident / Rock on, I wanna be president”). The extremely economical, yet effective, solo, just seven notes — this is an anthem, it’s about the singing and chanting, and the guitar knows its place. The multitracked and lower-register “I love it” on the choruses. My only question: what the hell is with the false first fade-out? Were they consciously imitating “Suspicious Minds”? The songs couldn’t be more different if they were in different languages. Who cares. The song is down to the chanting at that point anyhow.
Next up, “I Still Love You”. Wait, what the hell is a song with a run time of six minutes doing on a Kiss album? It starts slowly, with a lovely arpeggiated melody, and Paul singing properly, and little key changes once per verse, and it slowly builds up adding harmony to the guitar, and Paul’s voice acquires reverb … and then the distortion comes in when Mr. Operatic starts insisting “I gotta make you see, I gotta make you see,” and then WHOA “I still looooove you!”
Let me stop here and put it bluntly. If you do not like love songs about longing and pain, in which the lover is pleading with the beloved to not let go, to give their love a chance, you will hate this song. If you however enjoy such things, your jaw will drop listening to it.
Holy crap, Paul. This is easily the most passionate outpouring of raw longing Paul has yet put on a Kiss album. Yes, it’s long, but it doesn’t feel that long, because this might be the end and he’s pleading and give him a chance. It’s very, very good. That final “I really, really lo-oo-ooo-ove you” is f***ing chilling. You’re right there with him begging her to not give up, give him one more chance, can’t you see this is killing him? I can’t explain it. It’s amazing.
We go from arguably the album’s finest moment to my least favorite, “Killer”. Now as a self-identified feminist in 2017, I cringe at the line “Bitch is insane”, but then I did as a young listener in 1983. Okay, okay, “Kiss song in 1982” context: I dunno. It’s all right I guess. It feels like it doesn’t cohere very well; the “Killer — run for your life / Killer — will she bite” bits feel like they belong in a different song. The main riff is actually quite good; I would have enjoyed this as an instrumental, of all things. It has a satisfactory enough ending. Meh. It’s short.
And the closer, “War Machine”. This is one of those “See how badass I am” Gene songs, but instead of dwelling on his male endowment, he’s singing about … how he’s going to destroy civilization? What is this? It’s rather silly, but honestly, is it any less silly when Megadeth or Slayer or a “real” metal band does it? Of course not. My main objection here is actually the weird distortion effect on Gene’s voice. It sounds like he’s singing with his mouth halfway underwater at times. And here’s the point in the album — yay, they waited until the end — where a lot of Vinnie’s guitar work feels like it’s for technical show rather than emotional content.
When Creatures came out (I was nine), my somewhat older friend the Kiss fan was reluctant to let me listen to his copy; he said it was too hard rock for a little kid. Little kids can handle hard rock, but he was definitely right in that this was harder than anything Kiss had done before. I eventually did get a copy (probably only a year or so later) and it did kinda blow me away.
Creatures of the Night is a really high point to end Kiss reviews with. The album’s finest moments (title track, anthem, and passionate power ballad) are outstanding. If this were the actual final album from Kiss, it would be a great way to sign off. I’ve seen lists which ranked it second only to Destroyer. I can’t agree that it’s more consistently good than Love Gun, but it is definitely in the upper tier of Kiss’s output. If you like your cock-rock hard (oooh, I nailed the double entendre there) you owe it to yourself to listen to this.