“I’m going back to the Stone Age / back where I belong,” grunts bassist Gene Simmons on “Back To The Stone Age,” one of the most unrepentantly primitive stompers on Monster, the 20th studio album by Kiss. Simmons means it. Recorded entirely with tube amps, magnetic tape, and analog boards, Monster is a gleeful throwback to the thick, beefy sounds of the ’70s. Kiss helped solidify those sounds, so it only makes sense that the band is embracing them again; the only question is what took so long. No matter. Never short on chutzpah in the first place, Kiss is emboldened by this backslide—and if that resurgence comes a little late in the band’s career, at least it’s worth the wait.
Simmons and his fellow remaining Kiss co-founder, Paul Stanley, have said that Monster is meant to be a callback to their own creative peak: 1976’s iconic Destroyer. They meant that literally. Monster’s opener, “Hell Or Hallelujah,” taps into the meat-locker majesty of Destroyer’s opener, “Detroit Rock City”—right down to the replacement of the refrain “Get up! / Get down!” with the nearly identical “Lay down! / Stay down!” Stanley sings lead, and it’s eerie how powerful his blood-gurgling roar still sounds, even as he slings riffs the size of dinosaur steaks. “Wall Of Sound,” on the other hand, slides into a grungy rut, and guitarist Tommy Thayer turns in the disc’s weakest cut with his lifeless vocal on the otherwise chunky, catchy “Outta This World.” Drummer Eric Singer fares far better in his sole vocal vehicle, “All For The Love Of Rock & Roll,” a blues-fueled anthem of mythological proportions. And cowbell.
Of Monster’s many strutting moments, though, “Back To The Stone Age” has the biggest swagger. Cribbing heavily yet reverently from MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams,” Stanley grinds out sludgy gobs of garage glam; meanwhile, Simmons reclaims his alpha-goon status with a proud, primitive proclamation: “I’m a Stone Age man / Yeah, I’m the king.” Still one of the most popular live acts in the world, Kiss doesn’t need to prove anything by making a good album—or any album at all. That Simmons and Stanley put this much passion and knuckle-dragging fun into Monster makes the disc’s sporadic warts just part of the appeal.