21 KISS Albums Ranked Worst to Best
Even those who aren’t fans of rock are familiar with the image of KISS, one of the biggest and most influential rock bands ever. While known mainly for their hits, there are a ton of great songs and a lot of diversity in this band’s fifty-year career. So today, I will explore a list of Kiss albums ranked from worst to first, so join me along what will be a fun journey (and will probably spurn many debates).
KISS Albums Ranked Worst to Best
If you’re looking for the TLDR (or Too Long Didn’t Read version), here it is: Coming in first place is the band’s landmark 1975 live album, Alive!, for perfectly demonstrating the electric intensity of KISS in concert when they were young and ready to take over the world. Ranked dead last would be 1997’s Carnival of Souls, for its shallow failed attempts at emulating the popular grunge sounds of the day.
21. Carnival of Souls (1997)
Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, the masterminds behind KISS, were usually savvy about borrowing from the latest musical trends. Sadly, this attempt at the grunge and alternative stylings of bands like Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots falls completely flat.
Favorite Song on Carnival of Souls: “Jungle,” the longest KISS track, surprisingly works whereas the rest of the album drags for eternity. It’s got a bouncy, grungy riff that’s catchy and doesn’t lose my interest.
20. Sonic Boom (2009)
After a decade gap between studio albums, KISS decided to distance themselves from their edgier 90’s output with a return to the hard rock style of their 70’s material. Unfortunately, the results don’t meet expectations. Lacking the spark of what initially made the band great, this album seems tired and forced.
Favorite Song on Sonic Boom: “Say Yeah” closes out the album with an appropriate anthemic atmosphere that approaches the vibe the band was going for. It’s a shame the rest of the album isn’t as memorable.
19. Psycho Circus (1998)
Anticipation was high leading up to this release, which was billed as the first album in twenty years to feature all four original members of the band. Fans were understandably disappointed when the album only featured one song with all four members, leading even the band to later reflect that Psycho Circus wasn’t a proper KISS album.
Favorite Song on Psycho Circus: “Into the Void” is the only track featuring all four original members. Guitarist Ace Frehley wrote this one, and it’s a classic hard rocker like he’s known for.
18. Crazy Nights (1987)
Despite being a commercial success for the band, this one is too filled with cheesy synths and corny hair metal ballads for me. Crazy Nights takes the formula established on previous albums like Asylum too far. While there are some fun hard rock party anthems here, most of the record is too slick and commercialized.
Favorite Song on Crazy Nights: “Thief in the Night” is one of the heavier songs on the album with a good fist-pumping beat. It closes out the album in style with its powerful riff and catchy chorus.
17. Hot in the Shade (1989)
While the album was a conscious effort to return to a raw and stripped-down sound, Hot in the Shade is too long and still too reliant on the hair metal theatrics of its predecessor, too often sounding closer to Poison or Def Leppard than KISS. Still, the removal of the synthesizers reveals the occasional hard-hitting riff and a more rocking sound overall.
Favorite Song on Hot in the Shade: “Rise to It,” a Paul Stanley track, is a killer opener. It’s a driving, anthemic heavy metal song with a powerful backbeat from late drummer Eric Carr.
16. Asylum (1985)
The first album to feature Bruce Kulick on lead guitar, this is the band’s first full-on embrace of the popular hair metal sound of the era. Popular ballads like “Tears Are Falling” are harbingers of what was to come on Crazy Nights, yet there are still some good rocking tracks on the album, like “Trial by Fire” and “I’m Alive.”
Favorite Song on Asylum: “King of the Mountain” kicks things off with a fast-paced Paul Stanley track featuring some excellent riffing and soloing courtesy of Bruce Kulick. This track has an Ozzy Osbourne feel to it, giving it a slight edge over the other tracks.
15. Monster (2012)
This album goes for the same 70’s style hard rock formula as Sonic Boom, but the results are far better. The current lineup featuring guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer has more chemistry on this one. There are still some weak and hackneyed cuts on the album, but the band’s intentional recording on analog equipment gives the album a more enjoyable vintage feel.
Favorite Song on Monster: “Back to the Stone Age” is fast, heavy, short and sweet like the band’s 70’s heyday material, and it’s the best replication of that sound on the album.
14. Animalize (1984)
While entering the cheesier territory that led to Asylum and Crazy Nights, this album feels more inspired and rocking. Hit single “Heaven’s on Fire” is a powerful stadium rocker, and there are some other gems, but the album’s hair metal theme runs a bit thin towards the end.
Favorite Song on Animalize: “Burn B*tch Burn” is a heavy Gene Simmons rocker, featuring some great shred guitarwork from one-time guitarist Mark St. John.
13. Revenge (1992)
While retaining the slick and professional production of their 80’s work, Revenge brought back some much-needed heaviness to the band’s sound. Unlike Carnival of Souls, this album doesn’t go too far in an alternative rock direction, yet still sounds edgy and modern. Not every track works, but songs like “Domino” and “Unholy” are essential KISS tracks.
Favorite Song on Revenge: “Unholy” kicks things off in style with a track that perfectly demonstrates the heavy and more musically intricate sound the band was going for.
12. Unmasked (1980)
Tensions were high during this period of KISS, with original drummer Peter Criss soon on his way out of the band. The band alienated many older listeners by moving to a more pop rock sound, but there are some underrated gems here. While songs like “Shandi” are too commercial and poppy, Ace Frehley provides some great tracks that are catchy but have more of an edge to them.
Favorite Song on Unmasked: “Talk to Me” is a great piece of power pop by Ace Frehley, reminiscent of bands like Cheap Trick. Session drummer Anton Fig is especially impressive on this track.
11. Lick It Up (1983)
Ditching their signature makeup and revamping their style in a slick heavy metal fashion, KISS began to emulate the sound of bands like Judas Priest and Motley Crue here. Despite some filler tracks, it’s a fun party metal record throughout, and guitarist Vinnie Vincent shreds in the style of guys like Eddie Van Halen.
Favorite Song on Lick It Up: “Exciter” opens the album with a ferocious riff, a catchy anthemic chorus, and a great solo from guest star Rick Derringer.
10. Creatures of the Night (1982)
The first album to feature Vinnie Vincent on guitar, this one shows a stylistic shift towards the heavy metal sound that would define the rest of the band’s work during the 1980’s. This one retains some of the bluesy hard rock sound of their 70’s work while mixing it with the modern sound of artists like Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest.
Favorite Song on Creatures of the Night: “War Machine” is an epic closer featuring Gene Simmons on vocals. Eric Carr pounds the drums while Vinnie Vincent shreds tastefully. This song has remained a staple in live setlists for a reason.
9. Music from “The Elder” (1981)
This is one of the most maligned albums in the KISS catalogue. KISS decided to move in a more epic and grandiose progressive rock direction. Most fans and critics hate it, but I think it works. There are some stinkers on here but it’s easily the band’s most ambitious project overall and evokes the feel of bands like Rush and Kansas at times.
Favorite Song from Music From “The Elder”: “Escape from the Island” is one of the few instrumentals in the band’s discography, but it’s a surprisingly complex and intricate piece from a band known for their simplicity. Ace Frehley tears it up on this one, soloing like crazy over the complex rhythms.
8. Love Gun (1977)
Our first 70’s entry on the list is a fun, up-tempo hard rock album. Despite some filler tracks, there are some absolute KISS classics here like “Christine Sixteen” and “I Stole Your Love.” The album does get a bit repetitive, but it’s still worth picking up.
Favorite Song on Love Gun: “Shock Me” is my favorite of the songs Ace Frehley sang and wrote for the band. Its lyrics describing a true incident of Frehley being electrocuted, this is a great hard rock song with one of Ace’s best solos.
7. Dynasty (1979)
While this is an unpopular album among KISS fans for its perceived disco influence, most of these songs are well-written and plenty rocking. While “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and “Sure Know Something” are pop-oriented tracks, they’re well-done and catchy. And there are some classic rocking songs like “Charisma” and the Ace Frehley tracks.
Favorite Song on Dynasty: “Hard Times,” a Frehley composition, is the heaviest tune on the album and definitely not the disco the album is known for. This is a raw, loose, and heavy rock tune.
6. Dressed to Kill (1975)
Dressed to Kill has a similar stripped-down style like the band’s first two albums, but the songwriting isn’t quite up to par. Still, classics like “She” and “Rock Bottom” really capture the band’s raw energy during this early period in their career.
Favorite Song on Dressed to Kill: “Rock n’ Roll All Nite” is a song most people know, and for good reason. It’s an iconic rock anthem. It’s a simple, catchy song that demonstrates the KISS mission statement of rocking all night and partying every day.
5. Destroyer (1976)
While I do think Eddie Kramer’s production is a bit overblown and removes some of the rawness I enjoyed about the band’s first three albums, the songwriting is mostly top notch. I could do without “Great Expectations,” but the rest is hard rocking and anthemic. There’s also the experimental Peter Criss ballad “Beth,” which works very well.
Favorite Song on Destroyer: “King of the Night-time World” is a piece of power pop perfection. Paul Stanley sings this upbeat, swinging feel-good song. It’s a wonder it wasn’t a hit single.
4. Rock and Roll Over (1976)
The band quickly released this follow up after the success of Destroyer earlier in 1976, and I think it improves on some of that album’s flaws. It’s a more concise and focused album, featuring a more raw rock n’ roll sound, but without the filler of Love Gun.
Favorite Song on Rock and Roll Over: “Calling Dr. Love” is one of my favorite KISS songs. The crude sexual innuendos of Gene Simmons’ lyrics combined with the mean riffs of Stanley and Frehley should be enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
3. KISS (1974)
This is the rawest KISS album, a low budget and underproduced affair that perfectly captures the desperation and hunger to rock this band had in their youth. This garage band feel fits the songs perfectly, as the band combines elements of glam rock like David Bowie and hard rock bands like The Who, but with a distinct New York sleaziness.
Favorite Song on KISS: “Cold Gin” is a classic ode to alcohol. Every party rock band must have one, and KISS wrote one of the best. I love the sludgy and distorted playing, and the way Gene Simmons belts out the lyrics with such an attitude.
2. Hotter than Hell (1974)
The band’s second album is my personal favorite KISS studio album. From the sleazy title track to the melodic “Got to Choose,” to the sludgy power of tracks like “Goin’ Blind” and “Parasite,” this is an album you need to check out if you’re only familiar with the more commercial KISS material.
There’s not a bad track here. While the album is consistently rocking, it’s more rhythmically varied than their debut, and manages to stay interesting throughout.
Favorite Song on Hotter than Hell: “Parasite” is one of the band’s heaviest. If you‘re a fan of bands like Blue Oyster Cult or Black Sabbath, this is about as close as KISS gets to that type of powerful rock n’ roll.
1. Alive! (1975)
While I normally don’t include live albums in my rankings, it’s necessary for a band like KISS. Their reputation was largely built on their spectacular stage show, and as great as many of their studio albums are, none of them properly capture the feel of a KISS concert. Alive! displays the band at their most energetic, and it’s why it tops my list for one of the best Kiss albums ever.
While the album is often sloppy and raw, it fits the songs perfectly. I would also recommend Alive II, but the original shows the band at their best.
Favorite Song on Alive!: “100,000 Years” is where the band goes off the rails in the best way possible. Clocking in at twelve minutes, this one is full of long solos and general musical insanity, abandoning the structure of the original song and going someplace magical.
So that’s it—my Kiss albums ranked from worst to first is now complete! Many younger music fans are only familiar with the band’s popular image, but what gets lost is just how good at writing powerful rock n’ roll songs these guys are throughout all eras of the band. Hopefully this list will get some of you to dive deeper into the KISS catalogue.
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This article was written by Avery and edited by Michael.