Released: 1997, Mercury Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
After much deliberation, Kiss and Mercury FINALLY decided that CARNIVAL OF SOULS was worth releasing. The album was recorded in 1995 but due to a shift in musical tastes and the less-than-stellar sales figures of its predecessor, 1992’s REVENGE, the label decided to shelve it. Once the original band reformed for the reunion tour in 1996 and Kiss fever was at a pitch, Mercury decided they could make some money back by releasing CARNIVAL OF SOULS to a public riding the Kiss wave. As those of us who had a bootleg copy of the album before the "official" release, we knew that it was a killer record. The band was trying for a new image and enlisted producer Toby Wright (Alice In Chains, Slayer, Sevendust, Korn, Soulfly) to give the album a more modern sound. Gone are the songs about sex and partying. This is a more mature Kiss singing about “real” issues swathed in dark, brooding songs.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS opens with the heaviest song Kiss has ever done—“Hate”. The down-tuned guitar and feedback coupled with Gene’s screams, growls, and snarls show that they mean business. With lyrics like “All you martyrs and saviours/ Go through the same door/ Listen all you butchers, saints and sinners/ We've all been here before”, we know that this is not the same Kiss who used to “Rock and roll all nite and party every day”! “Master & Slave” is one of the best songs Paul Stanley has ever done. It's got a great rhythm to it and his vocals are spot on. The song has a killer bass line and the scream that Paul does about 2/3 of the way through...WOW!! Very cool song and easily the best on the album! “Jungle” is another excellent outing from Paul and was the only single released from CARNIVAL OF SOULS. It’s got a great riff and some strong lyrics about street life. The album is not without its lighter moments but even they are dark below the surface. “Childhood's End” is a touching song from Gene that deals with the suicide of an old friend, while “I Will Be There” is an ode from Paul to his son, Evan. “Seduction of The Innocent” is another great song from Gene where he displays his vocal talents. It deals with the sexual molestation of children by priests and is a real change of subject matter for the band. “I Confess” continues on with the grudge the band has against organized religion: “Dip your hands in holy water/ Try and wash away the shame/ Cuz all you've got is your father's name”. OUCH!! “Rain” and “It Never Goes Away” are solid outings from Paul, but his “In The Mirror” is one of the weaker tracks on the album. “I Walk Alone” is a pleasant surprise from Bruce Kulick. Not only is it his first chance at a lead vocal on a Kiss song (after 13 years in the band?!?!) but he does a damn fine job. Cool intro, too.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a serious departure for Kiss. Instead of 90% of the songs being about laying pipe, Kiss explores some new territory with their lyrics and honestly, it’s a refreshing change. Even though REVENGE is a great album, hearing Gene and Paul (who are both in their mid-40's at this point) talking about nailing strippers and leering after underage girls just doesn't have the same effect as it did 20 years ago. Working around more serious subjects as religion, fatherhood, suicide, drug addiction, homelessness, sexual abuse and other cheery topics, Kiss showed that they were well on their way to writing a new chapter of the band. Both lyrically and musically, CARNIVAL OF SOULS is Kiss’ strongest album to date...BY FAR!!
Unfortunately, CARNIVAL OF SOULS was not the great success for the band as it should have been. Possible reasons include the rather rampant bootlegging of the album for 2 years prior, the interest in the reformed band overshadowing the Kulick/Singer lineup, or the very poor marketing and packaging of the album. Any of these are attestable since, to me anyway, they are all true. Unfortunately, I guess we'll never get to see what would have come out of this new direction since Eric and Bruce are out, but CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a great swan song for the post-makeup KISS.
I have only one fault with this album: that dreadful cover!! For such a historic release as CARNIVAL OF SOULS is, you'd think Mercury could have come up with something more original than a rather grubby-looking photo of the band standing around looking bored in the studio. The fan-designed "zipper head" cover that was circulating the internet for a while would have been much, much better. The limited liner notes and lack of lyrics is also a big letdown but with Mercury counting the dollars that a reunited Kiss in makeup was bringing in, I guess the figured they’d put their advertising and marketing dollar where it would count. Too bad this album got lost in the shuffle.