King Animal review by Soundgarden

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  • Released: Nov 12, 2012
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 8.4 (155 votes)
Soundgarden: King Animal
5

Sound — 8
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.

Lyrics — 7
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.

Overall Impression — 8
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.

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Linkerman
    Brilliant album. It has been blowing my mind again everyday with each new listen. I'm glad to see that Chris got all the "pop-ish " stuff completely out of his system. None of it shows in this album; this is pure, 100% unadultered Soundgarden. And yes, you've been away too long , guys. Welcome back.
    Iommianity
    I'm loving King Animal, but Halfway There is pretty much the kind of Chris Cornell adult contemporary crap I really wasn't looking forward to. It ruins the pacing of the album, and I just plain don't like it. The man has written some amazing pop/psychedelic songs; Euphoria Morning is one of my favourite albums, I love stuff like Seasons, etc but everything since Carry On has been crap, and Halfway There reminds me of that completely. Bones of Birds is almost there, but they managed to do something interesting with it. The chord progression in the chorus might as well have been a Cornell pop song though. Can't complain about the rest of the album though, and I still like tunes like Bones and Black Saturday, but those two and Halfway There are definitely the Chris Cornell pop contributions.
    Linkerman
    I completely disagree. I don't see what you see (or more like "hear what you hear") on those songs. To me, they come from the same place as songs like "Burden In My Hand ", for example, and not Cornell's pop vein . Also, i don't feel they ruin the pacing of the album. At all. On a side note, the only recent Soundgarden song that i feel suffers from "Chris Cornell's pop contributions", as you put it, is "Live To Rise ". I really like the guitars in the main riff and chorus, but the vocals overall aren't quite what i expected from Soundgarden -- but a solo work from Cornell instead. And the verses. My god, those verses are hard to digest.
    Iommianity
    I'm not trying to play the opinion game. I think the song goes nowhere, you disagree. Whatever. But other than that, I'm trying to be objective. Burden in my Hand and Halfway There aren't really anything alike aside from the fact that they're songs by Soundgarden with acoustics on them. If you compare them, one is an open tuning, and brings in influences from Led Zeppelin to an almost celtic folk type sound. Halfway There, however, is structured very similarly to material on Carry On, and the chord progression is extremely typical of Cornell's solo material leaving Soundgarden, i.e psychedelic pop in the vein of the Beatles. Everything about that song down the structure, dynamics, and lyrics could fit nicely next to a song like Scar in the Sky. I mean, if you don't hear it fine, but I don't really think I'm giving you one man's take for another. You said the album was 100% pure Soundgarden with anything that resembles Chris Cornell's solo stuff, and that's really not true. When you compare the songs he's solely credited for to songs like Kim Thayil is credited for (Blood on the Valley Floor, A Thousand Days Before) you get two-three songs that actually have more in common with an album like Carry On, vs 2 solid tracks that represent two different sides of their music. Hell, A Thousand Days Before has more in common with Burden in My Hand than songs that share most of the hallmarks of Chris' solo work.
    L2112Lif
    I think Halfway There comes from Cornell's Pop vein, but Bones of Birds is more reminiscent of Down On The Upside and Black Saturday of BIMH. And Live To Rise sounded like Audioslave with a better drummer. I liked it a bit, but it wasn't a Soundgarden song.
    Iommianity
    I like how I get downvoted for pointing out that Cornell is credited solely for writing Halfway There, Black Saturday, and Bones of Birds, the three undisputed Cornell style pop songs on the album.
    sunburstshredde
    I guess Billy Corgan was wrong. They could have made a mediocre album and toured on the strength of their past hits, but they proved they really do want to continue making great music.
    Hell_March
    This album is pretty damn good if you ask me. I'll admit at 1st it didnt stand out to much for me. But after listening to it a few times I am picking up on alot of the nice under tones. Ben shepherd I must say is probably far overlooked by the majority of people here. His bass numbers on this album is damn good and Ben is certainly on his A game with this album. Turn the bass up and drop the high end some and you will see what I mean. Your right about Rowing sloan. It also has that temple of the dog funk/soul feel. His sweep picking on the bass is very nice and he has to be using some odd tuning. Also a nice blues feel as well. This certainly pushes Shepherd up on my list of best bass players a few notches. Grade A stuff. This album is good but I feel its missing just a little something though. A little more raw aggression is what it needs. It also seems to be missing some of the wonderful guitar harmonics. Songs like limo wreck had. All and all. This is a very solid and well made album and is certainly worthy of the name soundgarden. Hell_March
    Mass_debator
    Heaven and Hell- The Devil You Know was a reunion album totally worth making! That aside, love this album except for Halfway There, which is a blatant leftover from Cornell's solo snoozefests.
    Mr Winters
    I saw these guys live at Sonisphere Spain and even though I didn't know any of their songs, the show kicked major ass.
    biff022
    I usually blast UG's writing and piss poor journalism, but this is a great, accurate review. I'd give Cornell a higher rating, but that's me, and I see the reviewers point about stealing the momentum here and there (particularly in By Crooked Steps). That's nitpicking though, this album is super fantastic awesome (disappointed I didn't see that phrase in the review), and marks the return of one of the greatest of all time, and the start of a great run of 90's based upcoming music... NIN, QOTSA, Tool, in the next year or so. Ps - seeing SG tonight in tiny venue in NYC. Too stoked.
    AiCPearlJam
    I've listened to the album and good five times and while I do love some of the songs, a lot of them either sound very similar to me or haven't really struck anything inside me to say "damn that's a great tune".... But, I do like a four or five songs on the album. I'll even go as far as saying that the song "Rowing" is absolutely one of my favorite songs from the past decade of music. Rowing shocked me because it has an electronic feel with killer solo's and bass lines strewn throughout. I feel like Cornell wanted to conjure up his "Scream" influences for one song on this album while keeping it sounding like a Soundgarden song. Rowing, to me, is well worth buying this album for. It sounds like classic Soundgarden and Cornell's lyrics are great.
    burnsz82
    I think he sounds pretty good for being almost 50. I like this album more and more with each listen. Like others have said, it's a nice progression from Down on the Upside.
    im not mental
    it's growing on me the more i listen to it. taree, worse dreams, and rowing are the best songs on it.
    maidenbridge666
    The thing i like most about the album is that it sounds like a natural progression from Down On The Upside. Its not like they came back after 15 years and are trying to to sound like what people associate with Soundgarden. Loving this album more and more with every listen! So glad they're back!
    Sloan7
    Been away too long is the stereotypical rock song I was afraid of but other than that the album is pretty raw because it sounds like a garage band from the mid nineties. Although I know it's wrong to say because they are not that band anymore, I really wanted to hear some of that heavy metal sounds that come from Cornell's telecaster. I'm really not a fan of Cornell or Dave Grohl using the Gibson Es models, not because they are bad guitars, but because when they do they tone down their sound. The album also doesn't have that catchy riff that guitarists want to learn, such as in Hands All Over, Rusty Cage, Fresh Tendrils, Burden in My Hand, and so many other songs. The best song in my opinion is "Rowing" which should have been a single but obviously if it's not upbeat now it won't sell. So I understand why "Been Away too Long" was the single because people now are very biased in what they listen to musically and lyrically, as in they want a "dumbed down" song. I'm also glad that it happened the way it did because they left with plenty of material for the fans and then Chris formed one of the greatest bands of the past decade and got to do some of his personal goals he had. You can hate all you want on me for saying this too but I actually like some of the stuff on "Scream" as an album, I just wish it didn't have "Chris Cornell" written on the back of it. Overall this album gets a 7 from me and I hope they can come back and make another album with the more metal sounding stuff like "Slaves and Bulldozers", but can also have those catchy riffs and choruses like "Loud Love", "Outshined" and "Pretty Noose".
    Sloan7
    oh and the name "King Animal" was a pretty badass name and not that the album didn't have catchy riffs, it's just that none of them blew my mind like they used to.
    Iommianity
    Paragraphs bro, holy crap. I like how you want riffs, but you picked Rowing over Blood on the Valley Floor for riffage.
    IRISH_PUNK13
    I'm liking "Non-State Actor". That and "Been Away Too Long" are the only ones that I've heard so far, and I don't like "Been Away..." at all. That one sounds like Soundgarden trying to play exactly what's been played alternative/modern rock stations for the past several years. That being said, I plan to listen to this whole album and see what it's like. "Non-State Actor" has given me a bit of hope that this will be another great Soundgarden album...
    IRISH_PUNK13
    Listened to a couple of the others. Seems like it's a pretty strong album. For the most part it seems like they've pretty much picked up where they left off.
    biff022
    They were great last night. Lots of new stuff which sounded fresh and stood up well against the old classics. Ben Shepherd definitely has bodies buried in his back yard. The new album sounds nothing like Audioslave. I like the first two Audioslave albums. This sounds like Soundgarden. The construction of the songs is completely different directionally... I think the Audioslave comparisons are due to hearing Cornell's haggard voice. It's still great in it's own way, but he's a different singer post Down on the Upside... that's the only common theme I hear... maybe a touch where it's obvious it's a Cornell written acoustic part, but that's it.
    Brownbear93
    yeah Ben Shepherd has come along way from "Half", and it's nice to hear Thayil and McCready on one track
    Sloan7
    Yeah mybad, it's just that no one at my dorm or in high school was into 90's music. Honestly I forgot to mention "Blood" but yeah thats a good example of riffs they used, very "Mailman" sounding. I think I liked "Rowing" the most because it had that "Dazed and Confused" feel to it and also the solo was the best on the album. Very original stuff and a killer bass riff.
    biff022
    I like all the comments on here... (just not the Audioslave one... sorry) BECAUSE WE'RE TALKING VITAL ROCK MUSIC AND SOUNDGARDEN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR IT. Instead of trying to explain to a 12 year old why Avenged Sevenfold suck. A dream come true.
    metalfr3ak666
    Loving the album but it sounds very...Audioslave-y (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).
    Sloan7
    I sounds nothing like Audioslave. Brad Wilk is a boring drummer because he has no fills unlike Matt Cameron who has different beats for every song and has a s*** ton of fills. The bass is a lot more melodic as opposed to Audioslave in that the bass plays what the guitar plays and between Kim and Tom, they are just two completely different players. So no this album does not sound like Audioslave because it's Soundgarden and it sounds like a nineties rock band from Seattle.
    FlyingPirahna
    The album is growing on me, but I don't see myself loving it. It's better than what I expected, but it's pretty underwhelming. There's a few pretty good tunes on it, at least.
    slaveskinJACKET
    I know you all like to think that 5 is a bad rating for an album, but that's the middle ground, and it even says right beside the 5 here that it's for an 'average' rating. That's what I feel this is - an average album. I wouldn't exactly call it an average Soundgarden album, though, because it's the first album of theirs that I don't particularly like any one song. With that taken into consideration, I think a 5 might be a little generous, and a 4 would be more realistic. The album overall gets a little boring; the songs kind of blend together and at least half of them are pretty samey. I found the standout tracks for me were the ones that most of you are complaining about (even though they barely stand out among the rest), but I realized a few years ago that all of the Soundgarden songs I like best are credited solely to Chris Cornell. However, I don't even really like the ones that only he is credited for this time around. Strangely enough, I'm not a fan of most of his solo material, but when he writes the songs and the whole band plays them, that's when Soundgarden is at their best. All in all, I wouldn't get mad if this album was playing in the background, but I won't be the one to turn it on.
    morgstar
    I don't think that Cornell's vocal style has diminished, he's just not trying too hard on the record, I saw them earlier this year and he was able to sing 'Beyond the Wheel' as well as he would have 20 years ago.
    Iommianity
    That's nowhere near true. Cornell has never been a consistent live singer, but having seen them twice since they've reunited, I can tell you that 20 years, Cornell could sustain the high notes in Beyond the Wheel, and didn't have to use any reverb or delay. Definitely not the case now, no matter how much I like his voice regardless. You don't go 25 years smoking and drinking, not giving a crap about your vocal technique the entire time, and then through vocal surgery and NOT have your voice diminish one way or the other.
    HighVoltageMT
    That's not true, as optimistic as you are trying to be. Cornell can hit the notes, it's the power that's missing. I like the album and Cornell, but there is no denying that the years have been hard on his voice.
    jayden453
    Good album and I love the closer 'Rowing' it's so sludgy and haunting, and leaves the listener waiting and wondering where the band are going to go next.
    420Tool
    In all fairness I thought Alice in Chains comeback album was very, very good. Also, Stone Temple Pilots had some nice songs on their most recent comeback album.
    slaveskinJACKET
    In all fairness, I'd agree that there were a couple half-decent songs on STP's newest album, but I wasn't a fan of Black Gives Way to Blue, and I was actually disappointed that I bought it. It really isn't even as good as the official Jerry Cantrell solo albums, and most wouldn't dare compare those to the original Alice in Chains albums. It's basically the same band as the first Jerry Cantrell album, minus special guests and plus the occasional backup vocal from 'lead' singer William DuVall (I know he's the lead singer live, but on that album, he was a glorified backup singer/rhythm guitarist. I also realize that Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley commonly shared lead/backup duties, but Jerry Cantrell is indubitably the lead singer on that album). The material just wasn't good to me, as well as having little to no feeling. It sounds like an apathetic version of some leftover ideas for AiC songs that Layne Staley never got a chance to have any input on. To me, he was what made Alice in Chains. He gave the songs feeling. The combination of him and Jerry Cantrell was just excellent - songwriting and performance-wise. William DuVall may be able to do some justice to future material if they give him a chance to shine, but I don't know if his songwriting is up to par with AiC standards.
    ermonski
    BGWTB sounded more like a Jerry Cantrell album than an Alice in Chains album. It's a solid record, nontheless.
    Clarkinator
    I was pretty skeptical about this, but it seems pretty solid from the tracks I've heard. Seems like they've embraced a lot of the things that made me enjoy their older records.
    Ibeanez
    "Been Away Too Long" is the worst Soundgarden song I've ever heard. Didn't exactly make me want to hear more.
    iommi600
    Fucking killer. Good to know that none of them let the ball drop after all these years (especially Chris, after his watered down experiment with pop music).
    Endrue
    Its nice listening new songs but I feeling this is not like songs from old times. There are relative a lot of songs, but anyone doesnt above-average or special. There are a lot of standard songs.