Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions


Mercury/Polygram, 1997

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Somewhere in between KISS's 1992 entry into the Grunge Rock arena with Revenge and the 1998 "reunion" album Psycho Circus, the band recorded this angry collection of sludgy tunes with the Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer lineup still intact.

The album is a mixed bag -- none of the songs are particularly outstanding but as a whole, it is a more consistent and hard rockin' take on the early 90s rock sound than Revenge was.

KISS have always had a knack for emulating the latest in pop music trends, from the disco themes of Dynasty to bringing in more shred-oriented guitarists during the 80s to ditching the makeup for a jolt in publicity. They haven't always put out good material for the time, but to their credit, Simmons and Stanley have had their fingers on the pulse of the music industry for 30 years.

Carnival Of Souls sounds a lot like my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Revenge, minus the lingering sounds of 80s production values. The opening track, “Hate,” sets the tone for the bulk of the album -- angry lyrics, slow, distorted, chugging guitar riffs and gruff vocals. It's sort of like KISS meets Alice in Chains. Is it a skillful adaptation of a new sound, or a sad attempt by aging rockers to fit into a genre that they helped create? A bit of both.

“Rain” is very much in the same vein as “Hate,” but with Paul on vocals instead of Gene. The pace picks up slightly for “Master And Slave,” one of the better tracks. It sounds like vintage 1994, with quiet verses and loud, heavy choruses.

The first of the ballads is “Childhood's End,” a Gene tune with a slick sound and nice vocal. It's a decent song, but the downbeat lyrics start to grate a bit here. Where's the rock n' roll? Where's that party vibe we've come to know these guys for? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy hearing artists change things up. But when it's a bunch of established, 40-something millionaires growling about life’s trials and hardships, trying to ape a genre started by a folks like Kurt Cobain, the message is lost.

The highlight of the album is “The Jungle.” A solid seven-minute romp with a good vocal from Paul, a tight rhythm section and catchy guitar riff propel the song, which has more groove and energy than most of the music here. Things quickly revert back to mediocrity, however, with a string of monotonous, slow-paced efforts that vary between chugging riff-rockers and mini-ballads. The closing number, “I Walk Alone,” offers a nice change of pace, with Bruce Kulick taking on vocal duties and delivering some nice guitar playing. It’s easily the best of the softer numbers on this disc.

Carnival Of Souls has a few good tracks, but as a whole, it is a fairly bland affair that succeeds in capturing the grunge sound via KISS and not much else. Most of the songs are forgettable, lacking both the catchy hooks and the sense of fun that dominated the early records. If KISS had taken half of the songs from Revenge, and the stronger numbers off Carnival Of Souls, they could have made a pretty solid grunge album, on par with the younger bands of the era. Instead, Carnival is at best a curious footnote to the band's tumultuous career.

Rating: C

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