By the summer 1986, Paul Stanley was already considering the direction of the next KISS album. The previous album, "Asylum," had only crept to gold status, and Paul was watching as bands, which had once opened for KISS, particularly Bon Jovi, exceed expectations with vastly successful commercial albums. KISS's efforts were simply not good enough, for that sort of breakthrough, and Paul wanted an emphatic album that reinvigorated their career. Rather than continuing to the produce themselves, he felt that an external guiding hand could only help the band with the production, quality control over the material, and provide a fresh perspective to help gain the desired airplay. He also knew a hot producer who he thought could help the band attain its goals: Ron Nevison (who had also been considered for Paul's 1978 solo album). Ron's musical background and track-record was enviable and he was also on a hot streak in the 1980s producing platinum albums for Chicago, Heart, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, The Babys, Meat Loaf, and Ozzy Osbourne. More importantly, it was the transformation and rebirth of 1970s rock act, Heart, who had their career turned around with their 1985 self-titled album that included the mega hits "These Dreams" and "What About Love" that made him stand out. Paul held initial discussions with Ron in the fall of 1985 while KISS were in London to film videos for the "Asylum" album. Over the Christmas/New Year's holidays 1986, the two shared a rental in Aspen to hang out and get to know one another better.
Ron was brought in with one particular goal in mind: To produce a KISS album that could sonically compete with the sort of pop/metal material burning up the charts and filling MTV's high-rotation playlist. Prior to working with KISS he'd done exactly that with Ozzy Osbourne's "The Ultimate Sin," but the obvious lessons that might have been learned from that artist's album may have been missed with the enthusiasm for KISS's project. In the studio, the sessions were much the same as had become the norm in recent years. Gene arrived with dozens of song ideas and demos, which he left Nevison to sort through, while Paul arrived with a much smaller select group of already highly refined songs — many of which had been deliberately written using a keyboard instead of guitar. Paul also felt that with all of his other projects, Gene's material was more a result of other people's efforts with him simply adding a few basic ideas for the requisite credit. As a result, and due to the relationship they had already built, Ron favored Paul’s material, which became the natural focus of the album and mission statement. Gene had been reticent about engaging an external producer in the first place, so took something of a back seat during the project — even if he was more involved than he had been during the previous two albums. He also was not sold on the idea of moving away from KISS's core ethos in search of commercial pop success. Gene and Paul's relationship, which was approaching something of a nadir, was challenged during the sessions, with Paul accusing him of not being fully invested in the band. Gene would respond by buying Paul the Porsche that features in the "Reason to Live" video.
The album's basic tracks were recorded at One on One Recording Studios in Canoga Park, CA, which had a drum room Nevison particularly liked. However, the majority of the album would be recorded at Daryl Dragon's Rumbo Recorders due to its Neve board and comfortable and laid back environment. While the resulting sonics of the album color opinions, Ron tried to bring out Bruce's guitar in a new way, presenting them in the foreground like a lead vocal as a dynamic balance to the underlying keyboards and synthesizers. While certainly not as aggressive as later featured on "Revenge," Bruce is nonetheless very proud of the work that he did on the album. Bruce would also play a lot of the rhythm guitar in order to allow Paul to focus on the vocals. In hindsight, few participants would argue against the key used for several songs being taken down a step. In the search for textures, Ron also had Eric use drum pads during the sessions. Keyboards would also feature strongly, but while Paul’s material had taken on a definite commercial slant, Gene's stronger basic rock sensibilities were used for counterbalance, though Paul wasn't particularly amused to discover that "Thief In The Night" was a Creatures era leftover that had already been recorded/released. With songs such as "No, No, No," and its scorching guitar introduction, were used to keep the album from moving too far away from KISS's core. Bruce's confidence — and his maturing as a songwriter — was evident with material such as "Hell or High Water," one of his four co-writes on the album. Born during the "Asylum" tour, Bruce saw Gene as the only person who could help him realize the piece. However, he would also write with Paul, with the resulting "When Your Walls Come Down" steering clear of becoming too commercial. Throughout the process Nevison thought they had the material, such as the title-track, power ballad "Reason To Live," or power pop vehicle, "Turn On The Night," to generate the hits Paul desired.
It wasn't to be, and while the album proved to be a hit in the U.K. it certainly didn't live up to expectations elsewhere. "Here in the danger zone, it's a jagged edge we climb / But if you take it like stone, and stand on your own / You can make the grade in time." The "Danger Zone" is about celebrating the 30th anniversary of another KISS attempt at reinvention; through a series of interviews with those intimately involved in the album's writing, recording, and resulting tour.
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