Released: Nov 12, 2012
Genre: Alternative Metal, Psychedelic Rock, Grunge, Alternative Rock
Label: Seven Four Entertainment/Republic
Number Of Tracks: 13
Stop the press: Soundgarden's first album in 16 years might just have been a reunion album worth making.
UG Team, on november 17, 2012 6 of 7 people found this review helpful
Sound: Grunge pioneers Soundgarden surprised a few people when they decided to get back together, but probably surprised many more when they announced they'd be getting off the festival circuit to write and record again. It's been a while and I'm not convinced there's ever been a truly great reunion album, so the aim for the Seattle veterans on "King Animal", their first studio outing since 1996, is to avoid a flop and reassert themselves as artists before setting their sights higher. Scepticism can be excused given some of Chris Cornell's solo work since the 90s.
Truth be told though, it doesn't take long at all to get back into the swing of listening to one of their records and this is a strong release. Opener "Been Away Too Long" has all the hallmarks of a big Soundgarden single and from start to finish the album is littered with little moments of inspiration from guitarist Kim Thayil. The exotic flavour of "A Thousand Days Before" is a particular highlight and follow-up single "Non-State Actor" is a perfect reimagination of the "Superunknown" era.
Broadly speaking though this is a more moderate (or is that mature?) effort; we're not talking soft rock here but energy levels peak very early and the focus on melody over riffing becomes more and more clear as the album goes on. Those hoping for a big bang to finish will also be disappointed but the band have traditionally closed with a mid-paced jammer, and "Rowing" plays to type. This is actually their shortest album since 1988 debut "Ultramega OK" but without some of the rockier numbers in there later on this requires a patient and dedicated listen. Worry not, though, the substance is there and it hardly takes a scholar to pick it out. // 8
Lyrics: The passage of time has inevitably impacted upon Chris Cornell's ability to soar up to the really ball-clenching highs of days gone by, but the permanent class of an experienced songwriter and iconic frontman shines through. There is a typical whiff of cynicism and pessimism in the lyrics, though it's cased in conservative language and the adventurousness of the melody is dialed down a few steps since Chris can't shriek and wail like he used to. Occasionally Thayil will move into esoteric guitar territory and disconnect with the song; when Cornell does the same it leaves the song lacking for impetus but these moments are the exception rather than the rule on a well put-together record. // 7
Overall Impression: What's most refreshing about "King Animal" is that it sounds like the effort of a band who really wanted to make new music and felt like they had something worthwhile to say with it. Cornell and co could have easily half-arsed it and toured for a few more years on their incredibly strong catalogue before calling it a day, but on the evidence of this record it looks like they've got wind behind their sails again and will be pushing on as a fully functional recording and touring machine. This is no "Badmotorfinger" but the potential for more top drawer music from Soundgarden is greater than it has been at any point since their reunion. Highly enjoyable stuff.
unregistered, on november 23, 2012 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: The first Soundgarden album in 16 years and what an album it is! A fitting follow up to "Down On The Upside", it's like Soundgarden never left us. From start to end, this album sounds distinctively Soundgarden yet fresh at the same time. The band members have maintained that "King Animal" will still sound like Soundgarden and well, they certainly weren't just saying it! Songs like "Taree" or "Eyelid's Mouth" would not be out of place on any of the previous albums (ok, maybe besides "Badmotorfinger" but that's a pretty unique album).
But not only does it sound like old Soundgarden, they are taking their music to new places. "Rowing" is a great track that sounds unlike anything they have done before. Even "Been Away Too Long" is quite unlike previous Soundgarden; having a more rock than grunge/alternative sound. If I have one thing to criticize, I think the mix could be a little more dynamic but I guess that was always going to be expected with a modern rock album. I'm sure it would sound much better on vinyl. I used the CD to review. If I had to use one word to sum up the sound of this album? Soundgarden. And don't say that's two words! // 9
Lyrics: Cornell still has it for sure. He may not be writing such aggressive lyrics like "Slaves And Bulldozers" anymore but his lyrics are still top notch. All the classic Cornell/Soundgarden lyrics are there, from the catchy simple choruses to the deep verses. And more importantly in my opinion, the vocal melodies are outstanding. "By Crooked Steps" and "Worse Dreams" are standouts for this for me. It's also quite interesting to hear some new topics that Cornell has never covered before in Soundgarden songs, such as parenting in "Bones Of Birds".
In terms of singing ability, obviously Cornell doesn't have that god-like, bone crushing voice of "Black Rain" or "Jesus Christ Pose" anymore but he's nearing on 50 years old and has been singing his out heart for the past 25-30 years so it would be wrong to expect those kind of vocals again. In parts, his vocals do sound a bit too 'thick' or strained but I can't really say that this detracts from the songs. Although, the album has many classic screams and long sustained notes. On this record, Cornell really shows that he is still one of the best vocalists/lyricists in active rock bands today. // 8
Overall Impression: For me, I think this is the best new album I've heard all year. It is on a different level to the albums released by Testament, The Sword, The Offspring, Van Halen etc. This year and I would say it even blows AiC's "Black Gives Way To Blue" out of the water for a comeback album, though Alice in Chains has a large disadvantage in losing their lead singer (R.I.P. Layne).
This album really is a perfect follow up to "Down On The Upside" and wouldn't be out of place if it was released only 1-2 years after that. For me, the standout songs are "Worse Dreams" (probably my favourite so far), "By Crooked Steps", "Bones Of Birds", "Eyelid's Mouth", "Non-State Actor" and "Been Away Too Long".
I wouldn't go as far to say that this album can compare to "Badmotofinger" or "Superunknown", as those are ridiculously good albums that few bands can manage to make albums as good as. However, that does not take away from the fact that this is a great album that is better than 99% of rock put out today or the fact that this album is indeed a Soundgarden classic already. If you like/love Soundgarden and have the teensiest tiniest bit of an open mind to accept the modern-ish sound, you should love this album. // 9
Oldbear135, on january 22, 2013 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: The release of "King Animal" marks 16 years since Soundgarden's last album. The band were famous in the 90s for their grunge rock which was as influenced by 70s Zeppelin riffing and Hendrix psychedelia, as it was by the sub-pop sound under the gloomy Seattle skyline. In the space between then and now, the music scene and industry have radically changed, and so have the men in Soundgarden. Now middle-aged, they re-unite to re-establish their sound, while simultaneously updating it to ensure Soundgarden is still relevant in this new world. Three chords into the opener, and "King Animal" already starts to deliver.
"Been Away Too Long" roars the album into life with the duel guitar attack of Cornell and Thayil. Cornell's rhythm drives the song forward with Thayil free to riff with him or embellish where he sees fit. The lead guitarist has a seemingly endless originality with his licks, and as the cascading riff of "Non-State Actor" spills out of the speakers, fans can rest assured he hasn't lost his chops. "King Animal" feels confident and realised as "Non-State"'s frantic solo gives way to the smart rocker "By Crooked Steps". There's a brilliant space to this song that allows the listener time to think without stagnating. It's a result of Soundgarden's classic riffing supplying impetus and direction, combined with a psychedelic swirl of noises that cast a dreamy spell on the brain.
"A Thousand Days Before" features the same psychedelics and rock, but with a slower-tempo that creates a nice change of pace. Cameron's busy drumming is a highlight here as we're reminded of the brilliance of him and bassist Ben Sheppard. Their ability to anchor Soundgarden songs that seem on the verge of falling apart shows their musical chemistry which has endured 16 years later. But the "Badmotorfinger"-style mosher "Blood On The Valley Floor" sees them switch from anchoring Thayil and Cornell to riffing up front with them, and the entire band harmonise to perform the brilliant "Bones Of Birds". This ballad drifts along beautifully into a "She Likes Surprises" style chorus, and combines the best of their 90s work with a more subdued, mature style evident of Soundgarden in 2012.
The second half of "King Animal" is a different story, however. "Taree" begins as a promising track with a verse that takes the listener on a wandering mid-tempo journey to the chorus. However, the destination is wholly forgettable with the chorus offering little melody or punch to the song. This is a missed opportunity to keep up the momentum - a similar story to the next track. As the guitars and drums kick in, "Attrition" promises to be a song to play on full blast driving through a hurricane. But lacklustre singing and too little development leave the song mediocre and repetitive. Worse yet, Cornell's solo sensibilities emerge on "Black Saturday" - a song that neither works with the band's style and or hooks the listener - and while "Halfway There" starts off sounding like a "Burden In My Hand" style hit, the chorus chews on too much pop-schmultz. "King Animal" stumbles until a strong close rescues it. "Worse Dreams" has some nice psychedelics, but "Eyelid's Mouth" and "Rowing" deliver some heavy punches in the final round, as both tracks groove towards ripping guitar solos. // 7
Lyrics: Cornell's lyrics on "King Animal" are the efforts of a seasoned song-writer. "Been Away Too Long" aptly sums up the reunion with a brooding opening verse: "You can't go home, no I swear you never can/You can walk a million miles and get nowhere." Cornell knows it's impossible to go back to how the band was in the 90s. Like a man returning to his hometown after 16 years, things are familiar but a lot has changed and he has to change with it. This is a central theme to the album; the songs sound like Soundgarden songs, but they're different. "Bones Of Birds" has a "Black Hole Sun" vibe, but no word play in the lyrics as a mature Cornell acknowledges being a father. With his children in mind, Cornell examines the world they will inherit, and the 16 years since Soundgarden broke-up has brought both war and hope. The former is interrogated as Cornell explores international relations on "Non-State Actor", and laments continuous conflict on "Blood On The Valley Floor" - a song with imagery evocative of war-torn Afghanistan. But the swan-song "Rowing" offers hope as Cornell implores perseverance: "Rowing is living and living is hard/But living beats losing all that we are."
As "King Animal" deals with the effects of time, so has Cornell with his voice. No, he can't reach glass-shattering highs of "Jesus Christ Pose" anymore, but he'll still rip through the mix of a song with vocals that kick up gravel. A great example is "Eyelid's Mouth", where we hear the band give Cornell the perfect platform to launch his assault. The power and passion of Cornell here is nothing new, but the style he uses to convey it is fresh and adds to the maturity of Soundgarden's new vibe. This is seriously awesome stuff, and as Cornell sings, screams and whispers his way through the album there are few instances where vocals are lacking. "Attrition" is one in particular, where Sheppard's vocals are poor and Cornell is low on energy, but even on the pop-style tracks like "Halfway There", Cornell's raw vocals hit home. When these are combined with quality songs on the album, like "Blood On The Valley Floor" and "Bones Of Birds", the effect is tremendous. // 9
Overall Impression: "King Animal" shows that Soundgarden have plenty to say and the will to say it. The result is a high-octane, yet densely-realised album that will rock the casual listener and give hours of replay value to the fan. It captures the essence of what made Soundgarden great, but with some fresh sounds that result in an album looking forwards into the horizon. Even the album's weak points can be commended as its apparent the band were trying out new things, and this attitude is what will make Soundgarden fans genuinely excited for the future. // 8