Album of the Week 47-2012: Soundgarden – King Animal


Still I can hear guitarist Kim Thayil say it in an interview which took place shortly after Soundgarden’s return to the stage: “If we make another album, it will probably sound different than we’ve done before.” In the meantime, ‘King Animal’ was released and it sounds exactly like you would expect from Soundgarden. Maybe even slightly better than expected; it surpasses 1996 farewell album ‘Down On The Upside’ in every possible way. To these ears, ‘King Animal’ sounds like the album Soundgarden could have done between ‘Badmotorfinger’ and ‘Superunknown’. The Seattle rockers still sound fresh, inspired, powerful and open to the odd surprise.

Every element that made Soundgarden so good in the first place is still firmly intact on ‘King Animal’. Say what you want about Chris Cornell’s dubious solo carreer, his strong Rock voice with just the right amount of rasp is still among the best in the business. Matt Cameron hasn’t ceased to inject his grooves with the force of Rock and the technique of Jazz, Ben Shepherd still knows how to make his presence known, even during passages in which he plays fairly standard stuff and Cornell and Thayil once again weave their guitar lines into an irresistable, psychedelic tapestry.

Although Soundgarden has recorded a bunch of kick-ass straight forward Rock tunes for ‘King Animal’ – the appropriately titled opening track ‘Been Away Too Long’, ‘Attrition’ and ‘Non-State Actor’ are quite brilliant in that matter – it isn’t until the band hits that semi-psychedelic mode when the album really hits its peak. It’s probably not a coincidence that the three songs Thayil wrote or co-wrote the music to are among the album highlights; ‘A Thousand Days Before’ has a hazy atmosphere with great guitar work reminiscent of the nineties Stoner scene, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’ has a monstrous groove underneath pleasantly dissonant riffs and the heavy ‘By Crooked Steps’ deliciously stomps through odd meters, which is also a hint of Cameron’s involvement.

That’s not where the fun stops though. Cornell’s slow and introspective ‘Bones Of Birds’ has an inescapable atmosphere, Shepherd’s ‘Taree’ has a bunch of amazing, Black Sabbath-ish riffs, ‘Worse Dreams’ has some killer unexpected twists, Cameron’s ‘Eyelid’s Mouth’ works towards multiple amazing climaxes and features a stellar performance by Cornell and the hypnotizing closing track ‘Rowing’ has a somewhat Delta Blues-like atmosphere, slightly reminiscent of John Lee Hooker, and a killer, fuzz-laden guitar solo near the end.

Okay, that’s a lot of tracks I mentioned, but the truth is that almost every song here is a direct hit. There’s nothing as crushingly heavy as ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ or as vicious as ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ on here, but ‘King Animal’ quickly became one of my favorite Soundgarden records. It’s just barely short of the brilliance of ‘Badmotorfinger’, but it’s at least on par with breakthrough record ‘Superunknown’. It’s good to hear that this group of musicians can still create something magical together; an album that isn’t a delight to listen to based on nostalgia, but on the amazing music created right now.

Recommended tracks: ‘A Thousand Days Before’, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’, ‘By Crooked Steps’, ‘Bones Of Birds’, ‘Non-State Actor’, ‘Rowing’

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