Through The Past Darkly I: Carnival Of Bruce

When KISS entered Music Grinder Studios in Hollywood, CA, in November 1996, there must have been mixed emotions about the album which they were about to record. Not only had they recently performed with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley on MTV's Unplugged, but there must have also been doubts about the material they were going to record. The band had been woking on material for the studio follow-up to 1992's "Revenge" since late 1993, so now, more than two years later, the material was finally going to be done. But how closely should it follow the experimentation with a heavier and alternative sound that the band had expressed on Revenge? Some might argue that KISS should have gotten back to basics with the less than sterling performance of that album. Though it debuted high in the charts it quickly disappeared and sales were disappointing as was the tour which followed. Now Gene and Paul's dilema was even greater: The vibe from the Unplugged show made it clear that the Reunion was going to happen, and happen soon, but the recording of an studio album left them with material "in the bag" should things not go according to plan. Carnival Of Souls, as we now know, will finally be released in the United States on October 28th 1997 (and elsewhere around the same time or soon afterwards). But it was almost the album that never was. Moreover, it can be considered to be Bruce's album, as you shall find out as you continue reading this! Whatever your opinion of the album, KISS made sure that they could still follow popular trends as well as set them. Carnival Of Souls is a confused album, a bit like the band which created this monster!

Once all of the delays were over by November 1995, KISS was finally ready to record again. According to Bruce Kulick, "it did take time before we got into the studio because we were constantly doing other things like touring in South America and doing KISS Kons". There might also have been some apathy in getting back in gear after a quiet few years, both 1993 and 1994 had seen little action, and 1995's Konvention Tour was hardly massive. According to Paul the amount of material demoed for the album could easily fill 2 CDs. Yet in December 1996, demo titles were starting to circulate: Hate, Childhood's End, Vengence is Mine, Carnival Of Souls, Seduction, Closed Doors Welcome No One, Sleep Until You Die, Liar, Save Myself, In My Head, Rain, Dead In Your Tracks, It Never Goes Away, Blister, I Confess, I Can't Forgive What I Can't Forget, and I Walk Alone. It was reported that Paul's songs included Dead In Your Tracks, Blister, It Never Goes Away, I Can't Forgive What I Can't Forget and Rain. Initially it was thought that KISS would once again work with Bob Ezrin. Indeed, some preliminary work was done with him before KISS decided to produce the album with Toby Wright, who had assisted Bob in the past. Immediately it became evident that KISS were moving even further down into the alternative grunge sound. It was pure experimentation in an attempt to stay "current" and imporve on the performance of previous albums. Some unconfirmed reports indicated that Bob Ezrin had completed about half of he recording period with the band, but left because the band was progressing too slowly (!) and he had other obligations. It has also been suggested that the mixes of the songs were vastly different than those which later appeared. Initially, KISS were aiming for a summer release, but plans were unclear at this point due to the initial negotiations of the full Reunion and the progress of the MTV video and album. At the same time plans for the "Monster of Box Sets" became public, providing yet another deviation from all of the other KISS news circulating at the time, rumours also abounded that Carnival Of Souls would only see release as a part of the Box. By December 1995 recording was pretty much complete. Infact, the recording of "Carnival Of Souls" had seen KISS work at a pace reminiscent of their work ethic of the 1970s. Full recording of the album took around six weeks, probably helped by the long period most of the songs had been ready in a complete demo form. One change made was too the track, "I Walk Alone", was that Bruce redemoed it featuring his own vocals on it to show Gene a new possible arrangement. Gene liked it, and when Bruce asked if he could have a shot at it, Gene agreed. Unprecedented. Bruce was to make his vocal debut! Once fans heard about this it built interest up in the album just for the curiosity factor alone. That track in particular became Bruce's "baby". The work put into one song was quite complex with the recreation of the reverse-guitar track and the extensive soloing. By May 1996 the track listing of the new album was well known, the only thing unknown was the release date. And then rumours started about some of the unreleased tracks featuring on movie soundtracks. "Master & Slave" was slated for release on the Escape From LA soundtrack, and negotiations were in hand for the inclusion of two tracks on the Spawn sountrack. Nothing ever came of these. By October 1996 Gene was making it clear that the decision to release (or not to) was completely in the hands of the record company, as KISS' input had ended when they handed the finished product to the label. However, PolyGram was reported earlier in the year, to have not been too interested in the material the band had done. Gene was very clear about the album options being completely up in the air. At the same time he gave some background about one of the tracks, "Childhood's End", of which he said he'd started writing it when he was 14 (1962)! Paul echoed the opinion about Carnival Of Souls in a interview, saying, "I want to see that album out in the worst way, it's just a matter of when and how it's gonna work best for everybody involved. I don't want to compromise that album or this tour, and since the two are only connected by the fact that they're both KISS, although different lineups, it doesn't make sense to put it out now."

Carnival Of Souls is definately Bruce Kulicks album. Not only did he cowrite a vast amount of material (9 of the tracks he cowrote end up on the release version of the album), but he provides most of the guitar on the album. Having recorded many of the rhythm sections Paul was happy with them an left them rather than add his own parts. Gene definately appears to be back in song-writing mode contributing numerous tracks while Paul's tracks take a harder edge. The influence of Bruce results in the album being very riff based and Bruce's guitar work is very evident. Songwriting wise the album brings in some old names and new faces including Tamplin, Van Zen, St. James, Curt Cuomo and Tommy Thayer.

So why has Carnival Of Souls been released nearly two years after it was completed? There are several possible explantions to this: The first is kindof logical, but the details are rather vague. In 1989 KISS signed their new contract with PolyGram/Mercury which specified, "that included studio albums, greatest hits, "Alive III" and Paul and Gene solo albums" (CW), by now most of those conditions have been met, with the exception of the Gene and Paul solo albums. Alive III (1) was released in 1993, studio albums were released in 1989 & 1992, and then there have also been MTV Unplugged, You Wanted The Best, and Greatest KISS (3). That's six albums. The release of Greatest KISS in the USA was probably also a way of fulfilling the contract so that KISS could renegotiate for future Reunion material. Releasing Carnival Of Souls brings the number of KISS releases since 1989 to the required 7, possibly clearing their contract obligations. The position of KISS My ASS in all of this is unclear as to whether or not it counts as a "KISS" album, but I doubt it. Some sources suggest that KISS resigned with Mercury/PolyGram in September 1996 for a further five releases to include two further studio albums, a further live and compilation album, and a box set. Whether the previous contract was nullified in 1996 for Greatest KISS and Carnival Of Souls to count towards this new contract is unclear as it is not the sort of information which is publicized! A second major reason for the release of the album now is that the album has been heavily bootleged. It has been circulating in fan circles since March 1996, though who leaked it is unknown. The record company and band will want to recoup the costs involved in recording the album, and make any profits which are otherwise going to those illegally reproducing the material. It's that simple, Gene and Co. were losing money while it remained unreleased as there were at least 5 different bootleg CDs avaiable containing the material, plus a bootleg picture disc, not even to mention the number of fans trading audio copies of it and the electronically stored versions available on the internet. There has also been a heavy fan "push" on the record company to release it. I doubt that this has been too influencial, but the reaction the album seems to be getting more than justifies the albums release. Finally, there's the possibility that all the badgering of the band about it has finally meant that they given in and allowed its release. Bruce Kulick has always been extremely keen to see it released, for obvious reasons, but whether or not he put his persuasive poweres to work on Gene or the record company is doubtful. Luckily the comment, "It's in the can alright, the garbage can...", has been proven wrong, and those who like it can soon rock to it properly.