REVIEW: KISS – Carnival Of Souls (The Final Sessions) (1997)

Part 38 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster

KISS – Carnival of Souls (The Final Sessions) (1997, recorded 1994-95)

Finally!  Five years since Revenge, a studio album!

But not the studio album that the general public had been expecting.  The average person on the street would have expected an album by the original Kiss, since they’d just finished a long worldwide smash hit reunion tour.  Carnival of Souls was an album by Paul, Gene, Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer; the album they had finished just before the reunion tour was announced.

Prior to the reunion tour, Gene hyped the new material:  “Very much a brother record to Revenge,” was a quote he gave to M.E.A.T Magazine.  “Head music” was another phrase he used to describe the new album, which was then still called Head (original artwork from Bruce’s website below).

COSartworkFlameHeadjpg

With 20/20 hindsight, I think it’s obvious that Kiss were choosing to evolve by jumping on the grunge bandwagon.  The producer was Toby Wright, best known for cutting two records with Alice In Chains.  The riffs were downtuned, heavy, and obviously not from the streets of New York like classic Kiss.  These sounded like riffs from Seattle.

The thing is, I like Carnival of Souls, quite a bit.  I absolutely loved it back then.  I paid $30 for a bootleg copy (at one point, this was the most heavily bootlegged album ever) back in 1996.  I like almost every song, and this record was historic for Bruce Kulick.  Not only did he have a whopping 9 writing credits out of 12 songs, but he also had his first lead vocal:  “I Walk Alone”.  (Today, Bruce sings lead vocals on his excellent solo albums — check out the BK3 album featuring Gene & Nick Simmons.)

Ironic that Bruce would indeed walk alone in early ’96, having been a driving force of this record.

Kicking off with a lot of noise, feeback, and Paul’s backwards distored vocals, “Hate” opens Carnival of Souls.  Anchored by a complex drum & cymbol pattern by Eric Singer, “Hate” is probably the heaviest song Kiss has ever recorded.  It is a relentless Soundgarden-ish assault with a drum pattern straight out of the Matt Cameron book of tricks.

Paul’s “Rain” is another good, grungy song, but it is nothing compared with “Master & Slave”.  Also known as “Tell Me” on some bootlegs, this is a bass-driven number, with an actual chorus that can be sung along to.  Kiss fans latched onto this one as an early favourite.

“Childhood’s End” is the first epic ballady type song on the album, a Gene title stolen from an Arthur C. Clarke classic.  Lyrically unrelated, this song features a children’s choir and probably could have been on an album like Revenge had Bob Ezrin produced.

Perhaps unwisely, this is followed by a true ballad, Paul’s “I Will Be There”, a song written for his son.  It is a beautiful, sparse, strictly acoustic piece with a soaring vocal.  Bruce’s intricate solo sends this one into the net for a goal.

Closing this “side” of the album is “Jungle”, the only single from Carnival.  Clocking in at almost 7 minutes, this is the album’s standout song.  It is a powerful bass-driven groove, with the kind of anthemic Paul chorus that keeps me coming back.  I love this song, and when I played it in the store, people loved it too.

The second “side” of the album opens with “In My Head”, probably the weirdest Gene song on the album.  Heavy, angry, weird.  I love this song, but it’s pretty different.  Lyrically, musically, this is unlike anything Kiss have done before and I’m at a loss to compare it to something by somebody else.

“It Never Goes Away” follows “In My Head”, another slow one, this one very powerful and perhaps like something that would have been on an album like Superunknown.   “Seduction of the Innocent” continues the slow song pattern.  It sounds a little like heavy Beatles.  I can hear some of that psychedelic “Tomorrow Never Knows” vibe, but in a heavy context.  Gene’s chorus tops the cake.

An epic is up next:  Gene’s “I Confess”.  The verses sound much like outtakes from The Elder, with strings and a dark vibe.  Then Gene’s chorus nails the foot back to the gas pedal.  The song alternates between heavy choruses and quiet verses, much like the popular music of the time….

Paul’s final song of the album, “In The Mirror”, is a scorcher.  It has a killer riff and could have fit on any number of Kiss albums.  Imagine it recorded by the original lineup.  If you can picture it in a “I Stole You Love” vibe, suddenly it sounds like something that could have been on Love Gun.  As it is, the guitars are very 90’s in their sound and the drums very dry.  It was the fashion.

Carnival of Souls ends with what ended up being Bruce Kulick’s swan song, his first and last lead vocal:  “I Walk Alone”.  This fan favourite has a very tentative lead vocal, he’s noticeably improved in the years since.  Still, it’s a nice ballad, and when Gene joins him singing the end, it’s perfect.  Strangely enough, this song never made any of the bootleg discs out there.  Perhaps it was never meant to be on the album?  I don’t know the answer to why.

Carnival has two obvious weaknesses:  the trendy grungy sound, and the fact that so many songs are slow or ballads.  I feel that the ballads are more than made up for by the heaviness of songs like “Hate” and “In My Head”.  I think that Paul’s best two songs, “Jungle” and “Master & Slave” make up for any dull moments.  As for the sudden defection from rock n’ roll to grunge?

Well, keep in mind that this is the band who went disco in ’79.

There was one outtake from this album, which is on the Kiss Box Set:  “Outromental”, which made it onto promo cassettes but was cut from the album itself.

The biggest disappointment with this album was the packaging.  The band decided against the original cover art, and to avoid confusion put the bare-faced lineup on the cover.  But there’s no booklet, no lyrics, and only a couple pictures.

4/5 stars

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34 comments

  1. Great review, Mike! I really enjoyed this album and still do. I think I probably prefer it to Revenge. Why wasn’t it released in the first place, do you know? I wonder if they made a mistake sitting on it, I seem to remember it being pretty well reviewed when it finally came out, especially in the guitar mags. Was it just the reunion tour that clashed with it or did they get cold feet about the direction, I wonder?

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    1. I wonder too man. The official reason given in interviews at the time was always the reunion. And they were always cagey on the release of it, at one point Gene said the whole album would be included in the box set.

      But I think you nailed it when you mention cold feet. I think that’s it. They got cold feet after Destroyer, too, and returned to a “classic” Kiss sound.

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  2. Great review and I agree on just about everything. Love this album. So underrated. But the thing with this album is that it’s so obvious that they were jumping on the grunge bandwagon, just like it was so onvious that they were jumping on the AOR / Melodic Rock bandwagon with Crazy Nights. But I don’t care because in my world, a great album is a great album no matter in what genre the music is working.

    The reason why this album got shleved was because when it was finsihed the reunion was about to take place and they didn’t want this release to coincide with that because it would confuse people and the line up on this album was no more. The reason it got released was because of all the bootlegging. The chose a really indiscreet cover because they wanted everyone to know that this was not officially the new Kiss album

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    1. I have no problem with an indiscreet cover…but the lack of a booklet and liner notes was really disappointing to me. This was 1997, I paid $19 for this thing WITH my staff discount. You know what I mean?

      As for the bandwagon…well, again, it was 1997. You could accuse many many bands of “going grunge” or “going alternative”. Hell, one of my customers, Gord, used to complain that Native Tongue by Poison was “too alternative”. And I guess from his perspective, it was! (Not from mine of course, and we’ve discussed that.)

      It’s also a fact to say many grunge/alternative bands were influenced by Kiss.

      Smashing Pumpkins. Soundgarden. Pearl Jam. Stone Temple Pilots did a show wearing Kiss makeup. Alice In Chains did a video of them applying Kiss makeup. And the ironic thing is that Kiss weren’t considered cool…yet they were an influence on every band in the 90’s that WAS cool!

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      1. I know. They were also an influence on every band in the 80’s as well. That’s why I meant by the bandwagon jumping with Crazy Nights. Kiss weren’t concidered cool in 1987 either, still every band on that scen were huge Kiss fans as well.
        There were just as much jumping on trends in the 80’s as in the 90’s. That’s what I like about this day and age, it’s ok to dig both Alice In Chains, Journey and Mötley Crüe.

        Native Tongue too alterntative??? Haha, well, it was a plain hard rock album. Not glam, but still not even close to alternative…

        I know what you mean by the cover. I was also disappointed by the lack of a booklet. I don’t really think the gave crap about that album when they were making big bucks on the reunion.
        Union, the band with Bruce Kulick and John Corabi did both Jungle and I Walk Alone live.

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        1. I have their album, Live From the Galaxy (?) and it is so cool. And they did Power To The Music on it too! (That’s another album I’m reviewing in a couple of weeks.)

          Yeah, I think you’re right about the 1980’s as well. Bon Jovi were huge, Poison wanted Paul Stanley to produce their album, but I remember there weren’t that many Kiss fans in my highschool. I was the only serious Kiss fan. One or two other guys went to see them on the Crazy Nights tour, with their older brothers, or in 1990 opening for Whitesnake. None of them had any of the albums though.

          It was kinda hard loving a band that everybody in my school didn’t get, but hey, that’s what Kiss has always stood for: being an individual and liking what you like because you like it.

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        2. Paul Stanley even talked to Guns N Roses about producing Appetite For Destruction but that didn’t work out. Thank God. I know Paul was a huge Bon Jovi fan around that time and I guess they both liked to write songs with Desmond Child.
          Did Kiss actually open for Whitesnake???

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        3. I heard about that Appetite thing. Best that it never happened.

          And yes Kiss opened for Whitesnake in Toronto in 1990. It was Slaughter, Kiss, Whitesnake. And there’s a BIG story about it too. If I find the magazine article, I can scan it for you.

          There was a problem with the booking, both bands were booked to play the same venue and so they agreed to play together on one bill, Whitesnake headlining because of the perceived success of Slip of the Tongue vs. Hot in the Shade.

          Paul made several comments about how the headliner would not allow them to use their full stage show. He really wound the crowd up. To the point that Whitesnake was booed when they came on stage and booed throughout part of their set.

          Steve Vai (who is friends with Bruce Kulick today) said that in all his years of playing on stage, he’d never been booed before. He said he’d gone up on stage where people where chanting, “Yngwie…Yngwie…Yngwie…” and he had to walk out and play. But he’d never been booed before opening for Kiss.

          I’d love to dig up that magazine.

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      1. I think with Sonic Boom and Monster you really get the feel of a unified band effort rather than individuals bringing in their own tunes. It’s good he’s upped his game since Revenge. He was supplying a bit too much filler on albums like HITS.

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        1. HITS and Animalize had the most Gene filler in my opinion. I actually think Asylum was a great album for him – Anyway You Slice It, Trial By Fire and Love’s A Deadly Weapon are all awesome. Secretly Cruel is pretty good fun too. I actually think that’s one of KISS’ best albums.

          And I was thinking the exact same thing about Crazy Nights just the other day! I used to think his tracks were mostly subpar but I really like all of his stuff on that album now.

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        2. It’s funny, I kind of count Love’s A Deadly Weapon as a Paul song! Kind of like I do for God of Thunder in a way. I much prefer the Paul demo of it. It has a cool Kiss Killers-era vibe.

          Good Girl Gone Bad is a great Gene tune from Crazy Nights.

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        3. Didn’t know about the demo! Never heard that. I knew it was a Stanley/Simmons co-write on the album but I’ve always classed it as a Gene tune in my mind! I do consider God of Thunder a Paul song though!

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        4. Actually I heard Paul Stanley’s demo of “Sword and Stone” for the 1st time the other day! It was pretty good. But there was another one after it that was terrible… can’t remember the title. Best Man?

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        5. Ah, see, God Of Thunder wasn’t a Simmons / Stanley co-write, it’s written by Paul alone.
          But I have to disagree with Mike on that one, I think it fits Gene’s voice better. It really sounds as a Gene song.

          There’s also a demo version of Not For The Innocent with Gene and Paul sharing lead vocals. They should have gone with that version on Lick It Up, I think.

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        6. Hi Jon. When I mentioned the co-write I was referring to Love’s A Deadly Weapon. I knew God was Paul tune and I agree with you about it suiting Gene’s voice (and persona) better. I’d love to hear that version of Not For the Innocent!

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        7. Ok. I misunderstood.
          I’m not sure if that version of Not For The Innocent is out on YouTube. I heard it at a friend’s house a couple of years ago. I’m not really sure how he got hold of it.

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  3. Love this album. Even though it’s a deliberate attempt at genre-bandwaggon-jumping. But then this is Kiss…. post Dynasty their whole career was essentially just trying to keep up with the prevailing popular wind. From trendsetters to…..

    Anywho, what I love about this album is no matter how conceived it was, it is the band trying something different, something new (for them). I’ve always loved Gene when he writes about something OTHER than putting logs in fireplaces. When he gets a little esoteric and weird (ie when he disconnects his ego from his writing) it gets interesting. Singer & Kulick shine on this album and I still think it’s a damn shame that that line up of the band was so short lived.

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    1. Thanks John, I agree with everything you said. I like when Kiss go outside the box. They’re a lot more talented than they even really give themselves credit for.

      Plus — this album is heavy as hell, and as you said Bruce and Eric’s playing was top drawer.

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