In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

KISS: Lick It Up (1983)

I’ve already reviewed a KISS album on this website, and I told myself when I first launched In The Desert of Seth that I would only review one album per recording artist. But there’s a pretty big difference between 1970s KISS and 1980s KISS, and most people only know about the former. That’s the version of the band that included Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who each wore their now-famous quasi-kabuki makeup. But as popular as KISS became during this phase of its existence, its success was bound to run dry eventually. Let’s be honest, here; these guys were never musical geniuses. Beneath their demonic-looking makeup, each member was only a mediocre musician at best, and their songs were child’s play compared to their contemporaries. The most musically advanced album they ever released in the 1970s was Destroyer (1976), but that’s only because it was produced by Bob Ezrin, who more frequently collaborated with Alice Cooper. And since Ezrin was practically a member of the original Cooper Group, Destroyer sounds more like KISS covering an unreleased Cooper album than anything Stanley, Simmons, Frehley or Criss would have concocted by themselves. Hell, their most successful single from that album – Peter Criss’ “Beth” – isn’t even a rock song; it’s a goddamn orchestral ballad! (Pharaohs preserve us!)

Appeasing Peter’s desire to branch outside of KISS’ usual scope is what led the band to release their four solo albums in 1978. While this seemed like a great marketing gimmick at the time, it proved to be a terrible idea in the long run. For one thing, three of the four solo albums totally blow (i.e., Ace’s album is the only one that’s good); for another, it led the band to divide and collapse upon itself over creative differences. Their next three albums ranged from just sucking (i.e., 1979’s Dynasty) to really sucking (i.e., 1980’s Unmasked) to totally sucking (1981’s Music From The Elder). By the time Gene Simmons appeared on TV to cry in his makeup and wail over an orchestra about “A World Without Heroes,” Ace and Peter had both quit the scene. (Peter’s reason – that he had too much artistic merit to restrict himself to KISS anymore – was absolute bullshit, as one may deduce from listening to his dreadful solo album. But at least Ace’s reason – that he missed playing straight heavy metal, rather than the pretentious orchestral stuff – was legitimate.) So Paul and Gene soon hired guitarist Vinnie Vincent and drummer Eric Carr to replace them, and then they recorded Creatures of the Night (1982).

An unusually bare album cover for a KISS album, don’t you think?

In my opinion, Creatures is actually KISS’ best album by far; it’s musically superior to anything else they’ve ever released, and it’s all thanks to Vincent and Carr. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ace Frehley; I think he’s a great human being, and I’ve always appreciated him for not taking himself too seriously. But Frehley isn’t much of a guitarist, while Vincent is. His riffs and solos on Creatures make you feel like someone’s firing a nail gun through your skull. As for Carr, listening to him makes you realize how shitty a drummer Peter Criss really was. To illustrate the 180 degree difference that hiring Vincent and Carr made, think of it this way: the first KISS album from 1974 sounds like four kids jamming in a garage (which is enjoyable enough, to be sure). But on Creatures, KISS sounds like a 400-megaton death machine that’s ready to blast the nearest metropolis into orbit with a full nuclear arsenal. I think we can all agree that there’s simply no room for comparison with that; Creatures of the Night represents the point in “KISStory” when the band’s music finally started to catch up with its image.

But KISS’ image also worked against Creatures in its own way. They hadn’t announced that Ace Frehley had left the band yet, and they even paid him to appear on the album cover. So it must have been frustrating for die-hard Ace Frehley fans to learn that Ace wasn’t really on this record. Even more importantly, the fact that KISS looked more or less unchanged led most people to ignore the new album’s release, leaving the general public unaware of the band’s new monolithic sound. While Creatures would eventually attain gold status, it would not do so until twelve years later; the album tour also failed to make very much money, so the band became desperate. As soon as their tour was over, they rushed back into the studio and pumped out another album that continued what Creatures began. Then Paul came up with a crazy idea: “Why don’t we finally take our makeup off and reveal our true faces to the world? We can even make it a big televised event on MTV, on the very same day that the album’s released!” And so Lick It Up came forth into this world on Friday, September 23, 1983.

Thanks to this shameless publicity stunt, the new album was a roaring success, being certified gold in December 1983 and then platinum in 1990. It also introduced KISS to a whole new generation of fans, successfully rebooting the band’s career for the rest of the decade (or at least until Hot in the Shade came out in November 1989 and ruined everything). Granted, the band would never reach the same high point it had reached during the 1970s; but the peaks it did scale were nothing to scoff at. Two of their subsequent non-makeup albums – Animalize (1984) and Crazy Nights (1987) – went platinum as well, which was no small feat considering that the market was oversaturated with glam metal at the time. With bands like Whitesnake and Motley Crue reaching their commercial peaks during the same period, it’s impressive that KISS could take home a slice of that pie at all. They also took full advantage of MTV, releasing several great music videos (with some of the most ridiculous neon pink outfits you’ll ever see, as well as some of the most gorgeous women) and having Paul Stanley host video countdowns as a “guest VJ.” Sure, KISS weren’t as successful during this period as they were during the Destroyer era; but to say they weren’t successful at all would be a bold-faced lie.

Well, I guess they weren’t entirely without makeup…

In my opinion, Lick It Up is not only the best KISS album of the 1980s; it’s also the most blatantly demonic (for lack of a better term). The opening track, “Exciter,” is a balls-to-the-wall rocker about a superhuman being that descends to Earth to court a young woman. It makes me think of the story of the Watchers in the apocryphal book of Enoch, who were these angels that abandoned Yahweh’s heaven in favor of marrying mortal women. “Not For the Innocent” is about KISS traveling the world, scaring the shit out of parents and being a general menace to society; yet it could just as easily be about Seth and some other antinomian Gods tearing a great big hole in the fabric of Judeo-Christian society. The title track, “Lick It Up,” might as well be a theme song for Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club; it’s all about not feeling guilty for our natural desires and enjoying our time on Earth as much as we can. (I’m also pretty sure that the chorus is a reference to oral sex.) “Young and Wasted,” on the other hand, sounds to me like it’s describing a pack of wild se’irim (i.e., Semitic goat demons) that like to raise hell in the Mesopotamian wilderness, while “Gimme More” combines the idea of having steamy hot sex with driving over 100 mph through a desert wasteland.

The second half of the album begins with “All Hell’s Breaking Loose,” an admittedly goofy track that’s about taking a stand against the confusion in this world and becoming part of a greater revolutionary force. It’s perfect soundtrack material for anyone who feels out of step with the rest of Western culture for some reason (especially those of us who are allied with subversive non-Abrahamic Deities). The next song, “A Million to One,” is a breakup song, which means it’s much slower than the preceding tracks; but while songs of this sort tend to be rather whiny in most cases, Paul Stanley still manages to evoke a sense of real primal strength here. Then, in “Fits Like a Glove,” Gene Simmons gives us a stirring homage to anal sex, which is of course a very Typhonian province (given that it doesn’t result in reproduction). This is followed by “Dance All Over Your Face,” which is probably Gene’s reply to Paul’s breakup song above. (Instead of sounding morose, it’s very triumphant-sounding, as if Gene’s been looking for an excuse to ditch his lady friend for quite some time.) Then the album concludes with “And On the Eighth Day,” a rock anthem in which Gene basically says that heavy metal is a holy sacrament ordained by the heavens. (Naturally, I enjoy interpreting the “God” in this song as Seth, and the number eight is significant to me since there are eight stars in Seth’s asterism, the Big Dipper. There are also eight points on the Star of Ishtar.)

Lick It Up strikes me as having a very carnal sort of spirituality to it, evoking an atmosphere of scorched desert sand and shameless human “sin.” Indeed, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons both strike me as being better LaVeyan Satanists or even pre-Judaic Ba’al worshipers than they are religious Jews. Certainly Lick It Up is one of the very best glam metal albums ever produced, and certainly glam metal in general is very Ishtarian, with its various poster boys painting themselves up like Jezebels and hollering hymns to the sex industry. Of course, glam metal isn’t the only musical genre that obsesses over human animal mating behavior like this; and as far as channeling Ishtar goes, artists like Tina Turner, Madonna and Lady Gaga are probably much more to Her liking. But I can’t help it; whenever I listen to Lick It Up and other albums of its ilk (including Animalize, Asylum and Crazy Nights, the next three albums in KISS’ discography), I feel like I’m a Typhonian nomad who’s stopping by the nearest Temple of Ishtar for an enchanted evening with some of Her holy qadishtu.

For some reason, listening to Lick It Up always makes me think of ancient Babylon.

It’s somewhat understandable to me that neither Paul Stanley nor Gene Simmons are very kind to themselves about their non-makeup period today. For one thing, it was a very rough time for them in private. They never got along too well with Vinnie Vincent, and things deteriorated with him so badly that they had to fire him in 1984. They soon replaced him with Mark St. John (who plays guitar on Animalize), but Mark unfortunately came down with Reiter’s Syndrome and had to be replaced as well. The band stabilized a little when Bruce Kulick joined the band later that same year, but then Gene Simmons became a problem. He developed some kind of identity crisis and became obsessed with launching a career for himself in Hollywood, appearing in films like 1984’s Runaway and 1986’s Trick or Treat. And then, as if that weren’t enough already, poor Eric Carr passed away from heart cancer in 1991. (Gods bless you, Eric!) So I can see why Paul and Gene might not have the highest opinion about what was happening to them from 1982 to 1991; there was definitely some bad juju going down.

But the thing that really sticks in my craw is that Paul and Gene have both gone so far as to denounce their non-makeup albums as mere cash-ins on what bands like Motley Crue were doing at the time. My question to them is, “Just what the hell do you geniuses think you were doing in the 1970s? You were ripping off Alice Cooper, that’s what!” KISS have always been hacks, but at least when they took the makeup off, they felt a lot more pressure to produce some tunes that were really heavy and really tight. It took exposing their adorably ugly mugs live on MTV to finally get them out of that godawful disco/pop/orchestral rut they’d been stuck in since 1976—and if you ask me, Lick It Up, Animalize, Asylum and Crazy Nights are each more enjoyable than anything Motley Crue’s ever done.

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4 responses to “KISS: Lick It Up (1983)

  1. Heavy Metal Overload March 16, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Yes yes yes! 1000 times yes! I love 80s KISS. Some of the best stuff they ever did and Lick it Up and Creatures are two of the best metal albums ever! Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian March 18, 2016 at 7:14 pm

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the review. And I’ll tell you what else; whenever the video for “Uh! All Night” aired on VH1 Classic’s Metal Mania on Saturday, me and the Tonester always took it as at a sign from the heavens that we should really open another beer!

      Liked by 1 person

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