Shelved for almost two years and recorded with a lineup of KISS that no longer exists, Carnival of Souls could be seen as a curiosity, a dusted-off relic from the vaults, but it's more than a collector's item for diehards. This is one blast from the past that packs megawatt power. And taking away nothing from the revered original and present lineup, it underscores the many strengths of the penultimate KISS incarnation featuring guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer.
Recorded in November, 1995 and co-produced by Toby Wright, COS is not an unknown quantity. It has been widely bootlegged, though often incompletely, but its style still may surprise fans who know the band by pop-metal anthems like "Rock & Roll All Nite" and "Detroit Rock City." This is a darker KISS, closer to the heavier elements of predecessor Revenge, and songs like "Unholy," "God of Thunder," and "Parasite," but at times decidedly experimental.
"Hate" gets the album off to a dark and rumbling start, with Gene Simmons spewing venom over a grinding groove that takes Revenge's "Unholy" to unholier depths. The Bat Lizard is in similarly evil mode on "In My Head" distinguished by relentless chunka-chunka rhythms and some great guitar work, but I prefer Gene on the edgily heavy but melodic "I Confess," with moody verses and slamming choruses that make it one of Carnival's best.
Another Simmons vocal, the midtempo "Seduction of the Innoncent," is a trip to left field, with an appropriately seductive eastern flavor (does KISS want a "Taste of India" too? sounds like it, but this, of course, predates Aerosmiths's Nine Lives). The most alternative-esque and atypically Gene offering, it has a nice wah-wah solo from Bruce. But the most memorable track featuring Gene's voice may be "Childhood's End" a hearfelt personal, melodic rocker about the bond of friends who took different paths.
Paul Stanley's lead vocal songs are equally diverse. "Master & Slave" is a kickass rock tune with a cool groove and memorable "Tell Me" chorus that make it one of the highlights of COS. Another is the gritty, funk-flavored foray into the "Jungle" (the urban, not tropical one); it's nearly seven minutes, thanks to an extended instrumental jam. In "Rain," grungy, chugging rhythms drive home a darker-than-usual effort from an angier Paul, who wails, "Tell me what you want me to be / I can't stand my self anymore...I can't find my way off the floor." He's equally moody and intense on "It Never Goes Away," another different-from-the-norm song from Paul that effectively shows his range.
More typically Stanley-esque but more eloquently stated than another rocker's recent fatherly dedication, "I Will Be There" is an edgy, soulful ballad Paul wrote (with Bruce and Kurt Cuomo) for his son, Evan. It features a beautiful acoustic solo by Bruce. "In The Mirror," an uptempo rocker, is not as special, but the guitar and drum work are stellar.
Axmaster Kulick really gets the chance to shine on album closer "I Walk Alone," his recorded lead vocal debut (and a song generally missing from bootlegged copies.) "I've got myself to lean on / I got both my feet on the ground...everything I've dreamed of being is me," sings Bruce in the song he co-wrote with Gene (who comes in with Paul on vocals towads the end). The lyric proved to be unwittingly but fittingly prophetic, given the subsequent turn of events. (Stick around for a few second after the track ends to hear a few short instumental last licks).
While Carnival od Soulsmay not be an indication of the future of KISS, it's a revisitation of the past that's worth the trip! -- Gerri Miller