God of Thunder
Written by Paul Stanley
Lead vocal: Gene Simmons
From the album Destroyer, 1976
Produced by Bob Ezrin at Electric Lady Studios and the Record Plant, New York
In a nutshell: Birth of the Demon.
Review: Until about 1976, Gene’s character in KISS was sort of nebulous and poorly defined. Gene himself was at a loss to describe what he was when asked directly by Mike Douglas and in various pre-76 write ups and reviews he was described as a bat, a vampire, a dragon and, coolest of all, a “bat-lizard.” I might be wrong, but it seems like the Demon character didn’t really get settled on until the Destroyer era and specifically, the song God of Thunder in which Gene set himself on the path he would more or less follow for the next 45 years.
It’s weird to think that God of Thunder, Gene’s character-defining signature song, was written by Paul. Demoed by Paul with road manager JR Smalling on drums, Paul’s original take on God of Thunder envisions the titular deity as less a god of destruction and more a god of love and lust. Unlike Gene who wants the daughter of Aphrodite to “hear my words and take heed,” Paul wants to “make love (to her) till we bleed” and while Gene was “raised by the demons,” Paul was “raised by the women.” The demo is considerably faster than the final version and features a funky drum pattern (which lends credence to the notion that JR drummed on Strutter ’78, but that’s a KISSpiracy for another time.)
Anyway, onto the actual song, not the demo. The first thing we hear are the heavily distorted voices of a pair of children, namely David and Josh Ezrin, the sons of producer Bob Ezrin. Bob recorded them yelling and making noises through a walkie talkie set and peppered the results through the track. After the opening shouts, the riff kicks in and it’s probably the best riff KISS ever committed to wax. Arrestingly heavy, soaked with reverb and stomping along like Godzilla making his merry way through downtown Tokyo, the God of Thunder riff has rightly become one of KISS’ most iconic.
Gene’s vocals come in and he never sounded more evil. Up till God of Thunder, Gene’s songs had more often than not been either sex songs or party anthems, but here was a very different kind of song. Right from the get-go as his now-iconic “demon” voice erupts through the speakers singing of how he was born on Olympus and raised by the demons, we know that this is a very different Gene Simmons to the one we’ve known up till now.
As the vocals boom and thunder, the musical backdrop too is unlike anything fans had heard from KISS. As well as the standard guitar, bass and drums there are a whole host of weird and creepy sound effects on the track. There are diabolic screams and wails, creaks and cracks that sound like the very earth opening under our feet and, best of all, unearthly shrieks and swoops as if we are being divebombed by a pterodactyl. Though headphones in a dark room, it can be a pretty unnerving listen.
Two verses and choruses pass with Satanic children giggling and gigantic devil-birds circling overhead, before Peter, his drums sounding like they are coming from the very depths of hell, signals Ace that it’s time for a solo. The Spaceman stays on the low strings for the first half of the solo, playing what Gene dubbed “dinosaur bends” before sliding up the neck for the second half.
Rather a sung third verse, Gene speaks the lyrics in a diabolical growl, transforming what might have otherwise been a routine verse three into something approaching an incarnation, a devilish chant certain to enthral young listeners and upset their parents in equal measures and then, accompanied by metallic clanks that sound like hammers pounding on anvils in the forges of hell itself, the chorus comes back in and the song wraps up with a reprise of the main riff. Over the riff can be heard yet more Satanic and demonic growls and hisses, creepy laughter, screams and finally one last unearthly howl that cracks and fades into silence.
God of Thunder quickly usurped 100,000 Years as Gene’s big number in live shows. Before 1976 Gene’s blood act had seen him play the part of a man possessed. A savage beast, his body spasming in convulsions, spewing great gouts of blood that flowed from his mouth in thick red ribbons. Post-Destroyer, after Gene had officially become the Demon and the God of Thunder, the blood act was much more choreographed and controlled. Bathed in an eerie green glow and perched atop his castle parapet, Gene seemed entirely in command of the situation, spitting blood more as a devilish display for the audience than the earlier seemingly involuntary convulsions and throes. Maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there, but watching clips, it seemed like Gene tailored his blood spitting act to accommodate his new character; where the bat-lizard was wild and unpredictable, the Demon had authority and was in control. None of this, of course has anything to do with the song. I apologise for wasting your time.
Too extreme by the standards of 1976 to see release as a single, God of Thunder became a staple of the KISS live set from the very start of the Destroyer tour and became not only the point where Gene would do his blood routine, but also the spot in the set where Peter (or the Erics) would perform their drum solo. Starting in 1979, pausing throughout the 1980s and resuming after the reunion, Gene also performed a flying stunt during the introduction to the song, usually rising high above the audience to sing the song from a platform in the rafters.
First played in April 1976 and most recently played at the Atlantis in Dubai at the KISS 2020 Goodbye event, God of Thunder has been played over 1300 times by KISS and has been included at least once in every tour since 1976 with the exception of the Asylum and Crazy Nights tours.
A few of the more notable performances of the song include the Hot in the Shade tour where Leon the giant Sphinx performed the spoken third verse (an effect that sounds a lot cooler than it actually was,) the KISS Symphony performance in Melbourne where the band were backed by an entire orchestra and the aforementioned KISS 2020 Goodbye show where Gene, forced by local laws and worries about COVID-19, not only didn’t spit blood but changed the lyrics to the song, replacing “I was raised by the demons” to “I was born with a fever” and “rob you of your virgin soul” with either “rob you of your sacred goal” or “rob you of your sacred gold.” The jury’s still out as to which of the two he is actually singing.
I keep going off on tangents. I apologise. There’s a lot to unpick with this song and I could probably keep writing for another thousand words, but I think I’ll wrap this one up here. Whether it’s the Ezrin-produced original, the turbo charged live version on Alive II, the Southern fried country version on MTV Unplugged (no really) or the symphonic Alive IV version, God of Thunder is a legitimate KISS classic and the definitive Gene Simmons song.
Even if it was written by Paul Stanley.
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