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Universal (2012)
Rating: 8/10

After a disappointing outing with Psycho Circus (1998) and a complete letdown with Sonic Boom (2009), I could really have cared less about the release of Monster. Once I saw it in front on me in the music section of my local Wal-Mart though, my Kiss Army loyalty kicked in and I picked it up. Much to my surprise, Monster is exactly that! It’s a hard-edged, rock ’n’ roll ride that has some excellent moments on it.

The production here may be the most noteworthy part of the show. Monster has a huge, thick sound to it. In that respect it reminds me a bit of Creatures Of The Night (1982) and Revenge (1992), although the songwriting has a more rock ’n’ roll flare to it that is probably more in line with Hot In The Shade (1989) or Rock And Roll Over (1976).

This is evidenced best by the screaming solos on ‘Long Way Down’, the spiralling and appropriately titled ‘Wall Of Sound’, and the delightfully evil, Gene Simmons-led ‘The Devil Is Me’. The latter of which took me back a bit; I guess Simmons has more left in him than I gave him credit for!

Monster is a rock ’n’ roll ride from start to finish really, so anthems are not in short order. ‘Shout Mercy’ has a Rolling Stones kinda swagger with Paul Stanley screeching provocatively over the top of the pounding rhythms. ‘All For The Love Of Rock & Roll’ has a Grand Funk Railroad kinda fun spirit to it, and Eric Singer’s voice brings something refreshingly different to the album dynamics. ‘Hell Or Hallelujah’ is a straight shooter as well, shedding all the pretence that Kiss are anything but a good time rock ’n’ roll band. ‘Take Me Down Below’ is damn near perfect as far as anthems go, boasting a huge chorus, a great riff, and a driving rhythm section.

There are a couple of moments where it feels like the guys are trying too hard. Most notably ‘Freak’, which musically fits right in, but lyrically is pretty cheesy. And that’s being nice about it. ‘Outta This World’ is plagued by the same musical problems, but the music is so tight that it comes off slightly better.

Overall, I couldn’t be more shocked that Kiss had an album like this left in them. Unlike Sonic Boom and Psycho Circus, this doesn’t sound like Kiss trying to be Kiss. It just sounds like Kiss, fun and energetic and a little goofy. Easily the band’s best album in nearly 25 years, longtime fans and new should both give this album a chance. I think you’ll be well pleased with what you hear.

Mark Fisher