Review Summary: Trash metal.
By the mid-90’s, the concept of KISS had once again started to be associated with makeup and the original lineup of Stanley/Simmons/Frehley/Criss. A successful reunion tour had allowed the group to, once again, milk their old hits and regain most of their lost momentum. However, the previous formation, with guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer, had never been officially disbanded, and in fact a whole album had been recorded, only to be shelved when the reunion became a reality. In 1998, that album was finally released under the name Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions
. However, much like the “Farewell Tour” didn’t really bid farewell to anybody, neither would these Final Sessions
mark the end of anything, except maybe of KISS’s unmade-up phase.
But I digress. What does the album sound like, you ask. Well, to put things in context, here’s a quote from Gene Simmons (who else!?) about the band’s state of mind right after Revenge
had been released:
”We felt that Seattle grunge bands had killed all the fun in Rock’n’Roll. There were no more lighting shows, cool clothes or effects. The musicians dressed like beggars. That’s why hip-hop gained so much space. At least the artists were talking about women and money, not about what a drag life was”
Five years later, KISS released Carnival of Souls
. And it was a grunge album.
That’s right. Never ones to shy away from sounding hypocritical or jumping on bandwagons, Stanley and Simmons tried to ride the grunge gravy train. The problem? It was 1998, and nobody gave two sh*ts about grunge anymore. Everyone had moved on to new-metal, and the main grunge bands had either shifted their style or were dead. KISS were riding a bandwagon which had long since derailed, crashed and burned, which made their stylistic exercise entirely pointless, basically negating Simmons’ initial goal in undertaking it.
However, even if grunge hadn’t been entirely redundant at the time, this album would still have been irrelevant, quite simply because it sucks. Hard. The stylistic change sounds blatantly, completely fake, and the songs are directionless, drab, and the complete anthitesis of what KISS were all about. The first hint of this is given by the cover. It features neither kabuki makeups nor glammed-up pretty boys. Instead, we get four fugly bearded guys, in a washed-out photo, accompanied by generic font, that just screams “bootleg”. Once we pop the record in, things don’t get much better.
KISS were a party-rock band with some decent hard rock riffs and mindless, fun choruses. That’s all their fans wanted from them. Certainly, nobody wanted an album that would make Bleach
sound cheerful and light-hearted. And yet, that’s what Carnival Of Souls
is. Gone were the breezy, punchy riffs of yore, and in its place were murky, relentlessly heavy, but also drab exercises in feedback. Gone were the party-on lyrics, replaced by insurmountably depressing reflections on life, whose only common trait with the past is the often laughable lyricism (”cardboard boxes filled with hate/in my head”
). In short, this is one downer of an album.
The funny part is, initially it doesn’t seem like it will be that different. Hate
basically sounds like a downbeat version of Unholy
or God Of Thunder
, with some nu-metal riffs thrown in (surprising, since at the time of the album’s inception, nu-metal was still to be made popular, by first Sepultura and then Korn). However, second track Rain
sounds exactly like what it is: second-generation Soundgarden cloning, right down to the vocals, whose high-pitched whining would make Chris Cornell proud. In fact, the song sounds just like Audioslave, which in itself is nothing but…well, you get my point. Often, in this song as well as in other moments throughout the album, Paul Stanley’s vocals also sound a bit like Ozzy, except, you know, worse.
To be honest, though, this part of the album isn’t so bad. Master & Slave
brings some interesting bass by Simmons (!!) and Childhood’s End
is as close as this album comes to a standout, a radio-rock ballad with sweeping orchestral arrangements and an attractive chorus. Unfortunately, it all goes downhill pretty fast, as the album takes a turn for the boring. To call the next few songs “chorusless” or “lacking riffs” would be to pay them a compliment; they’re nothing but seemingly interminable blank spaces which barely register in your mind. Your attention is only recaptured much further on, when Seduction
comes through sounding like those sitar-infused tracks George Harrison wrote in the hippy-trippy phase of The Beatles. Even though this song eventually shoots itself in the foot by featuring a totally uninteresting chorus, I will nonetheless award it standout status, however begrudgingly.
Make no mistake, though: this album is atrocious. Even the standouts are only so in context, much like in Carnival Of Souls
’ spiritual cousin, Music From: The Elder
. However, not even The Elder
or its main competitor, Animalize
, were this bad. At least they gave us something to point and laugh at. This, on the other end, is just drab from beginning to end, to the point where I barely made it to a fourth listen. It isn’t even KISS’s St. Anger
; it’s more like their Load
. If you want to see some grunge done right, go get some Soundgarden, Alice In Chains or Nirvana. Or even one of those generic radio-rock bands that populate the radio these days. Even they are sure to be better than this piece of crap. Mythologically awful. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Like the plague.