Happy Halloween, first of all. And, now, let’s talk about an album that was the last before the makeup came back for KISS. Almost as polarizing as Music from ‘The Elder’ was but for slightly different reasons.
True Long-Time KISS fans have always been on the fence about it, some think it’s a great departure while others feel it had nothing to do with KISS. KISS fans who kind of kept themselves in the perimeter mostly gave it nary a thought and newer KISS fans thought that it was groovy but probably didn’t get that it was KISS. This album, of course, is Carnival of Souls.
Gene, Paul, Eric and Bruce went back to the studio in 1995 after their successful release from 1991, Revenge. KISS started off as a trend-setter but after Dynasty and on, really, they were really followers. They did show some folks how to still party whilst creepin’ on their turf, though. Grunge and heavier rock was the thing at the time, so KISS decided it was their turn to do that, too. Really, Gene was already there with “Unholy” and “Spit” from Revenge. (which included some Vinnie Vincent songwriting).
I’ll be honest, here. I like this album, a lot, but I really don’t know much about it. I have listened to it only slightly more than Sonic Boom and Monster. I am listening to it as I write this to refresh my memory.
I’d say first, that there are a lot of “drop D” tunings on this album, even further if you consider that KISS (except on Dynasty and Unmasked) did almost everything a half-step down. It’s heavy, the heaviest they ever did. It certainly is the darkest-themed they have ever done; almost Black Sabbath-like. It also has a lot of odd time signatures. It’s “grown-up” songs, too. Not a lot of sex and party. It’s probably their most intellectually advanced album. Does that make for a good album? Probably not to most KISS fans. Someone once said, “where’s the f—ing!?” So, again, probably not to most KISS fans.
There were rumors of this album right after it started. This was right when everyday folks were starting to get and get onto the internet. BBSs were dedicated to KISS. Online chat boards were, too. I was part of a few of those. It was also about this time that I got hooked up with David and Bobby from Heavens Sake. David was a collector of KISS bootlegs and when the “leaked” bootlegs of this album dropped, David and I sat in my office above where the band rehearsed and listened to it. We weren’t quite sure what to make of it. But, I don’t think either of us disliked it. I don’t remember what Bobby thought when he showed up as we listened. The bootlegs didn’t really sound all that great and there was stuff missed with some of the songs misnamed.
The album starts with “Hate,” a Gene song. So, that makes three KISS albums (this being the last) where he gets to go first. I don’t know why I’m so hung up about that. Anyway, it was co-written by Gene with Bruce and Scott Van Zen, a commercial songwriter. Gene uses his “Unholy” voice here. A great, heavy groove sets this song on fire.
The only thing I don’t like about “Rain” is the lack of any effect on Paul’s voice. The whole thing is really dry which, I am not sure that it brings it out as dark as they wanted. But, it could be that it highlights the songs, but the vocals part is dry. Bruce played bass on this.
“Tell Me” is next. That’s not true. It’s actually called “Master and Slave” but the internet folks called it “Tell Me” probably because it sounds like it would be in the chorus. Oddly enough, this is the only non-Gene song on which Gene plays bass. I don’t know if he and Paul were having a spat or if he just didn’t do a good job (he’s not the most prolific bassist alive) or was he off doing something else? Who knows, I just find it interesting.
The next two are more melodic and ballad-like. “Childhood’s End” is named after a book by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s not autobiographical as many folks have said. The song is basically talking about when we’re born we don’t know hate; we haven’t killed anything or know a lot of bad. We grow into it and are taught those things. The subject matter, according to the box set’s liner notes, is “Two friends, one of whom died before his time, and the other one who lived and reminisced about his missing friend.” It was co-written by Tommy Thayer (who is now Spaceman in the band) and songwriter Curtis Cuomo who collaborates with Paul and Gene throughout the album.
“I Will Be There” is an acoustical ballad with heavy orchestration and allows Bruce to show off some serious acoustic guitar/classical-riffed solos. It’s dedicated to Paul’s son, Evan.
The only song to really be considered a single was “Jungle.” It did reach #8 on the Billboard US Mainstream Rock charts (not to be confused with the Hot 200 where the Top 40 comes from) beating the previous best, which was “Heavens on Fire.” That’s a heavy-hitter, too. It also won Metal Edge Readers’ Choice Award for Song of the Year for 1997. It’s probably one of my least favorite tunes on the album but I still like it.
Gene recruited help from Van Zen and Black ‘N Blue’s Jaime St. James for “In My Head.” It’s heavy and mean. It’s weird but I feel that fits the scene for Gene’s head, indeed.
“It Never Goes Away” is Paul’s dragging tune. I like it but it drags on at like 4 beats a minute. Not really, but it seems like it. It’s more around 88 BPM. Continuing on the “kind of crazy train” that this album’s lyrical content provides, in, from what I can tell was a podcast called KISSaholics (#13), Paul says “(“It Never Goes Away”) Is a pretty cool song that says basically there’s all kinds of evil stuff that goes on and misery in the world but there’s really not a whole lot I can do about it. It never changes.” Well, okay, then. Bottom of the list for me.
I love the exotic beat happening in “Seduction of the Innocent.” It’s one of the more laid back Gene songs on the album and I dig it. Gene had announced this was being worked on as a follow up to Revenge. Co-written by Van Zen, who co-wrote seven of the tunes (out of 12) on the album.
My favorite tune on the album is “I Confess” which was co-written by Sammy Hagar’s cousin and Christian songwriter (how’s that for contrast?), Ken Tamplin. I love the deep darkness that the song puts forward, both musically and lyrically. The reverse swells and orchestration, along with the melody are amazing. I love this song.
“In the Mirror” is still grungy but still is kind of previous-KISS-like. Another thing this and other songs from COS have going on are some great vocal harmonies. That’s really all I have for this song.
Bruce finally gets his vocal moment. He sings the closing track, “I Walk Alone.” I think it’s interesting that both he and Eric Carr were in the band for a long time and both of them finally got their vocal debuts on their last album with the band. Now, I don’t think Bruce has a great voice, but I think Bruce’s voice was great on this song. It fit perfectly, in my opinion. This song is also the second longest song on the album, over six minutes. I’m a fan of this song, too.
So, the recording of this whole album, as I said, started in 1995. It was also in 1995 that KISS did MTV Unplugged and that led to the original lineup getting back together. That roller coaster hit a crest and was on its way, which we’re still experiencing. The monster (no pun intended) that thing became put COS on hold. It was released on October 28, 1997 which means it turned 19 this past Monday. Next year… wow, 20 years! Jeez.
Overall, I think it’s a great album. I just don’t think it is a great KISS album. Just like ‘The Elder,’ and Unmasked before it, if you take it out of the KISS context or at least what you expect from a KISS album, it can stand on its own. Okay, I’ll admit it, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not a great album, but I think it’s a really good album. It has many fantastic songs. Songs that I feel Gene outdid Paul on. These songs fit Gene’s voice and musical mindset better than it did Paul’s. If you listen to Gene’s solo album, Asshole, you’ll hear more evidence of his heavier styles.
If you decide to give COS a listen, again, keep in mind that it’s not what you’d think a KISS album would be, but it’s experimental and I think worth listening to, more than once. I’ve listened to it three times whilst writing this post. Happy listening!
Until tomorrow, Keep KISSin’…
“When I look into the mirror, just can’t believe, what do I see. There’s no wakin’ from this nightmare and you’re lost in your reality. So you tell me all your secrets. And you tell me that you’re innocent. There’s something in your eyes I can see and my face keeps looking back at me. You Confess. You can’t help yourself. This living lie that you can’t go on. You’re possessed. You can’t fool yourself. You’re the crime and you can’t go on.” – “I Confess” (Simmons/Tamplin)