Soundgarden – King Animal


Artist

Album

King Animal

Label

Mercury

Year

2012

For Fans Of

Pearl Jam - Stone Temple Pilots - Alice In Chains

Summary

More than a nostalgia trip.

Rating

79 / 100

A lot has happened since we last heard from grunge pioneers Soundgarden. After the Seattle outfit broke up in 1997, frontman Chris Cornell formed Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine, drummer Matt Cameron took up a spot behind the kit in Pearl Jam, and guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd both pursued multiple creative outlets. While these offshoots were met with varying degrees of praise, none surpassed the highs achieved by their previous band. It looked like Soundgarden were finished – until two years ago when they emerged from a lengthy hibernation, bringing with them their first studio album in 16 years, King Animal.

It should come as little surprise that King Animal picks up where 1996’s Down On The Upside left off: this is Soundgarden reminding us that they were there, playing alongside Kurt Cobain and co. when grunge was in its infancy and yet to be flogged to death by MTV and major labels. Like Metallica on Death Magnetic, Soundgarden channel the spirit of their heyday on album number six (in this case, the alternative rock movement of the mid to late nineties). All those muddy drop D riffs are back in force, coupled with Cornell’s raspy howl, Thayil’s blistering lead and the study rhythm section of Shepherd and Cameron. While they’d hate to be referred to as a nostalgia act, it’s hard to shake the allusions to times gone by that King Animal elicits.

Although first single ‘Been Away Too Long’ will prove uncomfortably poppy for older fans with its radio-friendly chorus tucked into a neat three-and-a-half minute package, the opener is not indicative of what’s to follow. ‘By Crooked Steps’ is a classic downtrodden Soundgarden romp, riding an off kilter groove and Cornell’s signature croon. An early highlight, it’s followed by the equally impressive ‘A Thousand Days Before’ and ‘Bones Of Birds’, the latter slipping into slow-burning, hazy psychedelia, complete with Ben Shepherd’s earth-shaking bass and Cornell’s introspective musings on parenthood. Breaking up the distorted fuzz is ‘Black Saturday’: a quirky acoustic jam that could be mistaken for a Gomez B-side with its flourishes of trumpet and swaying rhythms. While these are some of the highlights, other songs miss the same sonic snarl that made albums like Badmotorfinger and Superunknown classics. It’s still Soundgarden – but this time they’re a little safer and softer around the edges.

Despite some of the dust still being blown off, it’s comforting just hearing Soundgarden again. Sure, they sound diluted in comparison to years ago, but they’re staying true to their roots by not just latching onto the latest trends or including a whole bunch of meaningless guest musicians. King Animal has its weaker moments (‘Taree’ plods along somewhat aimlessly, while ‘Halfway There’ borders on throwaway acoustic pomp) but the majority the album shines with the same tight-knit dynamic that made the band so memorable in the first place.

Conclusion

Like the relics of the past that adorn the album artwork, it’s as though Soundgarden have emerged from some snowy cave after years in hibernation, reinvigorated and ready to rock again. King Animal may not reach the same peaks as previous albums, but it’s a solid start to a new chapter in Soundgarden’s career.

Tracklisting

1. Been Away Too Long
2. Non-State Actor
3. By Crooked Steps
4. A Thousand Days Before
5. Blood On The Valley Floor
6. Bones Of Birds
7. Taree
8. Attrition
9. Black Saturday
10. Halfway There
11. Worse Dreams
12. Eyelid’s Mouth
13. Rowing

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