Music From the Elder
Released: 1981, Casablanca Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
At the time of this writing, KISS has just released their first new studio album in over a decade. The album has received a ton of press and mixed reviews, and the band has declared the new material to be a culmination of all of the best parts of KISS. With so much focus on this new release and a general resurgence in all things KISS, I felt it would be worthwhile to highlight the most often dismissed album in the band’s catalog and my personal favorite – MUSIC FROM THE ELDER. Released in 1981, MUSIC FROM THE ELDER is the most unique and original album that the band has ever released. For those those haven’t heard the album or don’t know the history surrounding it, allow me a few moments to give you the Cliffs Notes version of the story…
The band was coming off of the ill fated pop-rock UNMASKED disaster and the exit of original drummer Peter Criss. Determined to show the critics how creative and artistic they could really be, the remaining lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and new drummer Eric Carr embarked on a journey into uncharted progressive metal territory. Crafting a story about a boy’s journey into manhood, good and evil, a council of elders, and a homage to the adventures of Homer, the resulting MUSIC FROM THE ELDER would be the first and only concept album from the band. As the album was characteristically un-KISS, MUSIC FROM THE ELDER was panned by critics and confused much of the KISS Army. Aside from a quick promo tour, the album was quickly swept under the rug and the band went back to the drawing board to regroup for what would eventually become CREATURES OF THE NIGHT.
As years have passed and the band has developed selective amnesia about this period of time, MUSIC FROM THE ELDER has attained a cult following both inside and out of the KISS community. In the opinion of many KISS fans (this one included), the album is their creative apex, pushing the boundaries of what many thought the band was capable of in terms of songwriting and general craftsmanship. And with good reason, let’s explore some of those…
1. There are no songs on the album about the genetalia of any member of the band, anywhere. This alone is an accomplishment and worth exploring the album.
2. The album was the band’s first steps from being a 70’s hard rock band into an 80’s metal band. The least commercially accessible of any of the KISS albums, MUSIC FROM THE ELDER wasn’t the glamorous affair of previous albums. There were no pictures of the band anywhere in the packaging, the songs had a dark, gritty undertone to them, and there were no songs about the genetalia of any member of the band, anywhere.
3. KISS name not withstanding, the album is actually a very strong attempt at progressive rock/metal. From the opening guitar volley of “The Oath” to Ace Frehley’s swaggering “Dark Light” to Gene Simmons’ psychedelic alt-rock of “Mr. Blackwell” to the grandiose swell of the epic “Under the Rose” there’s really a lot to like here. It would be interesting to hear a band like Symphony X or such take a crack at some of these tunes and put a new spin on them, because at the core, they’re powerfully diverse tunes crafted with a catchiness that only KISS could deliver. Oh yeah, no genetalia.
4. MUSIC FROM THE ELDER was the last time that KISS was willing to take a chance and not fall back on the legacy of their name to carry them. Aside from the logo on the cover of the album, there was nothing to indicate that you were listening to a KISS album. Though Pink Floyd it was not, the album did feature some of the deepest and subtle songwriting that the band would ever tackle. Critics have always complained that KISS songs are base level disposable fodder, but those critics apparently haven’t listened to MUSIC FROM THE ELDER.
To many, I’m preaching to the choir about how important this album is, but there’s still plenty of fans who don’t know anything about it. Aside from performing “A World Without Heroes” on the MTV Unplugged album and the occasional live teaser, the album has been reduced to a footnote in the band’s history. So while the band goes on tour to promote their latest collection of ho hum rockers and panders to the crowds by playing “Lick it Up” for the zillionth time, I will prefer to remember KISS for a brief moment in 1981 when the band was willing to try something new (taking the makeup off doesn’t count). There are no special editions of the album available, no outtakes or B-sides that I’m aware of, but an album this good doesn’t need it. You can keep your Delilah, you’ll find me with the Order of the Rose.