Retrospective Reviews: KISS’ Revenge (1992)

Feature image courtesy of StarChildLuver

By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

Image courtesy of KISSopolis

It’s that time again. This time, I’m taking a retrospective dive into one of KISS’ nastiest, filthiest, and downright sinister records in 1992’s Revenge. In addition to that, today (May 19th, 2022) is also special, as KISS fans around the globe, as well as the band, are celebrating Revenge’s 30th anniversary.

Revenge is beloved by the bulk of KISS fans, so it’s safe to say that this one will not be filed under the heading “underexposed.” Still, the Revenge’s forty-eight minutes and fifty-one seconds of full-on hard rock music might just be the finest that KISS ever laid to tape.

As KISS’ first record of the 1990s, Revenge was the band’s follow up to 1989’s Hot In The Shade, an album which came out at the tail end of the glam rock era and found the band touching on the expected tones of the era.

It’s important to remember that while Hot In The Shade did eventually go gold, it was something of a disappointment commercially. As the 90s dawned, and more alternative stylings began to not only emerge but come to the forefront of rock music, the members of KISS knew that they needed to take decisive and swift action to remain relevant.

In regards to the pressure that KISS faced around that time, during an interview with VWMusic, guitarist Bruce Kulick commented:

“I feel that music was really changing at the time, and it was getting darker and grungier. We know this, and I think that Gene was really embracing that stuff quite a bit. He liked some of that darkness that some of those bands had. He was attracted to the drop-D tuning and all those things, but Paul was not so sure. He was not a big fan of flannel shirts and all that. [Laughs]. So, when we started to work on songs, Gene was the one that was really writing and being creative and working on stuff, and I worked a lot with Gene. Eric [Singer] would be involved, and we would jam in these kinds of funky studios and come out of there with ideas.”

Also of important note was that longtime KISS drummer Eric Carr had recently been diagnosed with cancer around this time, and so KISS began the difficult process of finding what was initially thought to be Carr’s temporary replacement. It didn’t take long for KISS to pivot to Eric Singer, who in addition to drumming for Black Sabbath and Badlands, had also held down drum duties for Paul Stanley during the frontman’s 1989 club tour.

It soon became clear that KISS would need a visionary voice to guide them through this transition, and as fate would have it, that voice was Bob Ezrin. At the time, Ezrin seemed an odd choice given the producer’s failure while helming KISS’ 1981 disaster, Music From “The Elder.” But peel back the onion, and you can see where KISS was going here. Ezrin had also ably guided the band to watershed success with 1976’s Destroyer, an album that put KISS on the map as a studio entity, and the word on the street at the time was that Ezrin had cleaned up and was finally clear-headed, and so with Ezrin in tow, KISS began the arduous task of writing.

By this time, KISS had been using outside songwriters for the better part of the decade, so that was no surprise. What might come as a surprise to many KISS fans is the reunion with Vinnie Vincent during the writing sessions for Revenge. Fans will remember the epic fallout in the wake of the Lick It Up Tour, which led to Vincent being jettisoned from the band. Still, the fact remains that in addition to being a wonderful talent on the guitar, Vinnie Vincent could write a damn good song, and so it was with great interest that Vincent returned to the fold, in a songwriting capacity at least.

During a 2021 interview with VWMusic, drummer Brian James Fox, who was a member of the Simmons sponsored and produced Silent Rage recounted his role in the Vinnie Vincent led songwriting sessions:

“We worked with Vinnie Vincent on some tracks. He was writing with Paul and Gene at the time for the album, but I don’t recall which tracks we worked on with him. You know, it was weird with Vinnie, he wouldn’t tell me the name of the song, and even if I heard it, I don’t remember any of it because it was just like five hours of just working on one song. I do remember with Vinnie Vincent, at the end of one song, I said, ‘Let’s just go really heavy at the end, like double bass,’ and Vinnie said, ‘No, I don’t like it.’ I wanted to do this big build-up at the end, and Vinnie didn’t like the build-up and said, ‘Well, let’s do it this way…more in line with my way of recording.’ And then we get Gene on the phone, and Vinnie held up the phone to the speakers, and played both versions of the ending, and says ‘Gene, which one do you like better?’ Well, Gene ended up liking my ending better, and then Vinnie goes, ‘Yeah, I like that too. It was my idea.’ [Laughs].”

James Fox went on to further elaborate on Vincent’s process:

“He just kind of showed up at the rehearsal space that we had. He presented a song, and we just worked on it for four or five hours, then recorded it, and made a demo out of it. He was just a quiet, tiny little fella. I had never met him before, but that was odd, you know? Working with him on a few tracks was very…interesting.”

Image courtesy of Bruce Kulick Twitter (official)

With the stage set, let’s break down the album starting with the opening track, “Unholy.” As a kid, this song didn’t hit with me. I didn’t get it. But in retrospect, I can’t get enough of it. It’s just about the heaviest, and grungiest track of the band’s career, and so it’s no shock that this song, in particular, garnered regular airplay on MTV around this time. One of the things I love about “Unholy” is the serious nature of the lyrics. After mailing it in for a bit in the 1980s, it’s nice to see Gene return to form here in a big way. Also interesting is right off the bat, even if only in a small way, Vinnie Vincent makes his presence known by playing the intro to “Unholy.”

Next up is another favorite in “Take It Off.” A few very interesting tidbits regarding this track. For starters, we already know that Eric Carr was down for the count during the sessions, and so, you probably assume that Eric Singer handles drum duties, right? Well, if you’ve made that assumption, you’d be wrong. It’s actually veteran session drummer Kevin Valentine, who for those keeping score also handles drum duties on most of 1998’s Psycho Circus, but that’s a story for a different article.

Also of note regarding “Take It Off” is that former Alice Copper alumni Kane Roberts took a turn here as a songwriting partner. According to Roberts, Stanley was unsure of the partnership, as such, the Starchild asked the guitarist to meet him at the movies for some good old-fashioned get to know each other guy time. I bet you’re wondering what movie they saw…the answer to that question is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, of course. Another fun fact: Did you know that Bruce Kulick played bass on this track?

Moving on through to track number three, we’ve got the first of many deep cuts, this one being penned and sung by Paul Stanley. The track is heavy, with driving riffs and pounding drums. While it’s been purported that Stanley was not so into the grunge theme, you’d never know it here. Onward and upward as “Spit” begins, which serves as a true tour de force, with all the elements of KISS’ musical powers on full display. You’ve got classic Simmons innuendo, a fun call and response vocal between Simmons and Stanley, with Eric Singer, ably holding serve, but the true star of the show is guitarist Bruce Kulick. Now, for those that haven’t heard the album, be prepared for me to utter those words, or something similar again, because in Revenge, we see what probably amounts to some of the finest work of Kulick’s long career.

Next, KISS takes it down a notch, with an anthemic cover of Argent’s classic 70s glam rocker “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II.” Readers and longtime members of the KISS Army might remember that this track serves as something of a last stand for KISS’ longtime drummer, Eric Carr. As I mentioned earlier, Carr was sick, and in treatment for cancer around this time, and while he might not have been able to hold down drum duties as he would have liked, when it came time for the recording of the track, Carr was well enough to lend his distinctive voice to the track for it’s backing vocals.

As a side note, Carr, despite reports that he could barely lift his arms, and had to wear a wig, the drummer found the intestinal fortitude to rise one last time and appear in the music video for “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II.” This moment will forever be etched in KISS lore, and in the fall of 2021, during an interview with VWMusic, Eric’s sister Loretta Carr had this to say about the shoot:

“He wanted to be there. He rehearsed for that album in early January. He was part of the album [Revenge]. People who were on set said that he was, ‘Running rings around everyone.’ Everyone wanted to go to sleep, and he wanted to keep going. He always wanted to keep going, and that’s how he was; he loved it. He had the energy. It was the love of music, the love of being a part of the band. We all find that extra special strength in ourselves when we love what we are doing.”

Revenge’s next track is the uber classic “Domino,” which for those that don’t know has something of a special history, as the riff is kinda sorta borrowed from Black N’ Blue’s 1986 song, “Nasty, Nasty.” In an interview with VWMusic in 2021, Black N’ Blue’s frontman Jaime St. James had this to say about the track:

“I don’t know quite know for sure about the background of that record, but I remember going into the studio to visit Gene, and I remember listening to “Domino,” and he goes, “You’re damn right I stole that from you.” [Laughs]. You know, he doesn’t make any bones about it. [Laughs]. So, I go, “Well, I guess we’re even.” [Laughs]. Over the years, when we play ‘Nasty, Nasty’ in a club or something, there will always be some jackass who yells out, ‘You ripped off KISS, that’s ‘Domino.’’ I go, ‘Domino” ripped us off. Look at when the album was released!’ [Laughs]. Honestly, it’s all good. I think it’s all great.”

Regardless of the origins, “Domino” has endured as one of Simmon’s most quintessential tracks, and it segued perfectly into the record’s next track, the Vinnie Vincent co-written “Heart of Chrome.” Now, to this day – and this will probably always be the case – it’s unclear just how involved Vinnie was in the writing of “Heart of Chrome,” but one thing is certain, it’s an inspired track, and a true KISS deep cut.

Image courtesy of Bruce Kulick Twitter (official)

I mentioned earlier that Gene Simmon’s return to form was one of the best things about Revenge, and the bassist’s sonic assault on listener’s earholes continued with side two’s second track, “Thou Shalt Not.” With a fun chorus, an aggressive lead vocal, and some tasty leadwork, “Thou Shalt Not” remains a standout in my eyes.

Here is where the album takes a turn for the interesting with the acoustic ballad, “Every Time I Look at You.” I’ve long championed the six-string abilities of Bruce Kulick, and with good reason – the man is a wizard – but it’s his acoustic work where I feel he shines the brightest, and “Every Time I Look at You” is no exception. I think that a lot of fans discount this track, and it is perhaps a bit of a shock to the system given Revenge’s heavier than heavy vibe, but one can understand where KISS was coming from here given the success they experienced with 1989’s hit ballad, “Forever.” You can’t blame the band for trying to strike gold for a second time. Also of interesting note, perhaps as means of harkening back to the Destroyer sessions where he was brought it to lay a solo down for “Sweet Pain,” Dick Wagner was brought in to play the solo for “Every Time I Look At You.”

In the wake of a tender ballad, leave it to Gene Simmons to kick listeners in the teeth and turn things up to eleven again with the record’s next track, “Paralyzed.” As is the case with many of the tracks here, the grunge vibes are apparent, and the heavy riffing, and hard-hitting drumming are aplenty. Once again, Simmons and company have delivered a deep cut to be proud of, and as I’ve alluded to before, once again, Kulick’s searing guitar work sends this one home.

As Revenge winds down, and the penultimate track kicks off, we see Vinnie Vincent’s last stand with KISS in “I Just Wanna,” an innuendo-laced sex-driven affair. I’ve personally always loved this song, and I’m not alone. Like many of Revenge’s tracks, I wish they played this live currently. If they did it in the early 90s, surely they could make it happen today, right?

My understanding is that initially, Revenge was to be an eleven song affair, but the unfortunate passing of Eric Carr during the sessions spurred on his bandmates to include a tribute of sorts, and that tribute came in the form of Revenge’s closing track, “Carr Jam 1981.”

For those that don’t know, the origins of the track date back to you guessed it – 1981. As the story goes, Carr and then guitarist Ace Frehley were jamming in the studio during the recording of Music From “The Elder,” and they laid down this track. Later on, with the help of bassist John Regan, Frehley would recycle the riff and the idea of the mid-track drum solo for “Breakout,” a cut featured on the guitarist’s 1987 solo record, Frehley’s Comet.

For KISS, the original masters served as the best living tribute they had at the time, and so Kulick re-recorded the vicious solo, with Carr’s original drums remastered, but wholly left intact. As far as tributes go, “Carr Jam 1981,” is a not so gentle reminder of just how ferocious of a drummer Eric Carr was, and one whose legacy and enduring influence on KISStory cannot be understated.

Thirty years on, as I look back at Revenge, I can’t help but feel with absolute certainty that this is easily one of KISS’ best albums, and easily the band’s best album of the 90s, and it’s not even close. The loss of Carr could have undermined the band, and for some bands, losing a drummer of Carr’s caliber might have spelled the end, but thankfully, for KISS, Eric Singer was waiting in the wings, and his contributions cannot be understated. The fact that Singer, aside from his reunion era respite, has remained with KISS, effectively making him the band’s longest-serving drummer, assures that his legacy will too be etched in stone, and KISS fans’ collective hearts.

Revenge’s push to possibly sound “more grunge” does not date the album in the slightest as with Ezrin at the helm, KISS still managed to retain its heart and soul, and in the live setting these tracks slotted in nicely amongst the band’s older numbers. If you don’t believe me, just go back and listen to KISS’ Alive III, and you’ll see what I mean.

The debate of which album is KISS’ best will rage on forever, and it really comes down to preference. For some, the band begins and ends with the classic 1973-1979 era. For others, any era will do, and in those instances, it’s a complete crapshoot as to which record one might pick. As for me, I love all eras of KISS, and while the original foursome will always be my favorite, I’ve got a special affinity for the band’s 90s lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Singer, and Kulick. I feel this unit was special, supremely talented, and was unjustly robbed of its chance to continue to shine due to the reunion, but that’s a story for another article.

As for Revenge, while ranking KISS’ studio albums proves difficult, I can safely say that it’s top-five, perhaps even top-three, and aside from maybe Creatures of the Night, Revenge is handily KISS’ heaviest record, and definitely, its nastiest. Retrospectively, Revenge has got all of the ingredients required for a great KISS album, more so, it’s got all the ingredients for a great album in general. I will always remember this record fondly, and on the album’s 30th anniversary, I say cheers to all those involved in creating it, you did well here, and that’s something I think fans of all shapes and sizes can agree with.

Image courtesy of KISSopolis

Interested in learning more about KISS’ Revenge? Hit the link below:

Be sure to dive into the full archives of Idle Chatter, by Andrew Daly, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/idle-chatter-archives/

One thought on “Retrospective Reviews: KISS’ Revenge (1992)

  1. Best KISS studio albums (no particular order):

    KISS
    Hotter Than Hell
    Dressed to Kill
    Destroyer
    Rock and Roll Over
    Love Gun
    Alive II side 4
    Ace ’78
    Gene ’78
    Paul ’78
    Peter ’78
    Dynasty
    Unmasked
    The Elder
    Creatures of the Night

    Next-best studio album (in order):

    16. Revenge

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