By at 12:14 PM Wednesday, November 14th 2012

 

Soundgarden Come Screaming Back to Life With ‘King Animal’

Soundgarden, Reviews

 

They’ve been gone too long. They’re back just for the money. They can’t alchemize the magic of the glory days. Their singer made a really shitty record with Timbaland. The reasons the new Soundgarden record should fall short are in ridiculous plentitude. Every sign points to a cash-milking rehash set to spoil the sacred memories of everyone who remembers the magic of Seattle before the turn of the century.

Rest easy, Rock purists. King Animal defies the odds.

With an outrageous 16 year gap between Soundgarden‘s last studio release and their return, the band is no longer in a landscape of sound they were central to creating. Rather than cower in nostalgia or pander to the bandwagons, however, Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron have returned with a progressively demanding, wide-reaching power play of reestablishment. The framework is unfiltered and undeniably Soundgarden – moody, thick with riffs and vortexes of rhythm – but with the kind of evolution mandated by the progressive state of Rock today.

Listen to King Animal in full

Radio-bait Been Away Too Long has an AC/DC mischievous-muscle air, through a rather innocuous sonic design. The first-single choice for the opener track is an odd pick, as it’s barely at all indicative of the avenues the band travel through the rest of King Animal. Regardless, the goosebumps rise on Cameron’s cymbal count leading into Non-State Actor, and with Cornell’s trademark howl riding Thayil’s spiraling guitar and Matt’s tom-punch (Pearl Jam has kept him sharp as ever), the trap-door rhythm shifts are an indulgent body-rocking delight.

Cornell’s voice leaves nothing to desire, a stellar wail with consistency that defies his age and eliminates any concerns of sonic continuity in the band’s catalogue (something the other members never left open for question – there was only one Scream, after all). What makes Soundgarden’s return legitimate is more than the seasoned musicianship, whirling time signatures and signature wail, however. There is an atmospheric history to the band that constructed a mountain range of powerful roaring rock domination across two decades, pulling metal, grunge and psychedelia into a dark vortex: Drawing Flies. Loud Love. Room a Thousand Years Wide. Fourth of July. It returns on King Animal, and within the space of songs that don’t swing for the rusty-bullshit of FM radio fences we find an entire new world to get lost in.

Producer Adam Kasper’s contributions are invaluable, establishing a depth and rounded warmth to the Seattle heroes’ return and packing the album to the rafters with nuance and repeat-listen gems of subtlety. The man worked the knobs for QOTSA’s Songs For The Deaf, Pearl Jam’s self-titled & Riot Act, Foo Fighters’ One By One, among others, returns to the Soundgarden fold and adds another remarkable gem to his sonic crown.

A tab hits the tongue for the jittering psychedelic slam of By Crooked Steps, the intro to the song perfectly capturing the onset of a powerful hallucinogenic hijacking: a distant ringing Thayil riff builds around a rising drum march, ushering in the first nervous sensations of perception deviation to confirm that the chemicals are working – that feeling creeping up your spine that something unpredictable and powerful is imminently arriving. Just as you begin to find familiarity and comfort in the new groove, it doubles back on itself in a shuddering, amplified burst. The chemicals have shifted, and an uneasy excitement has only a moment to register as Shepherd’s low end wraps a new, tighter riff-wrap around the pulsing rhythm, before the entire thing explodes into its full, thrash-jittering groove.

It’s immediately overwhelming, and Cornell makes no effort to console as he welcomes you inside.  “I’m addicted to feeling / Stealing love isn’t stealing /  Can’t you see that I understand your mind?” You bought the fucking ticket, the ride is now yours to take. “Not looking for a brighter side / Crooked steps will take me higher / I don’t care if you want to cry“.

At times a middle-flowing brightness comes in without much teeth, as in Halfway There or Black Saturday, the latter redeemed through a disparate psychedelic breakdown semi-solo. They come across as the Cornell solo tracks that they are, and though harmless aren’t likely to survive many album replays.

Ben Shepherd’s prominence on King Animal is a pure delight, whether through the complete overhaul of his own track on Taree or his ownership of Attrition. His anchor lead inspiring the melody on Worse Dreams gets the head nodding immediately, Thayil’s guitar countering with a variation. The dissonant-collision collapse of the song at the end forgives its overtly poppy chorus, and we meet Shepherd again leading the onset of the rooster-strutting, layered apocalypse of Eyelids Mouth.

The Waits-inspired grind of Rowing is a perfect conclusion, leaning into the wind with a popped-collar trenchcoat. Justin Chancellor of Tool seems to have influenced the bass riff, a rapid-rolling exploration of submerged peaks and valleys as Cornell burns through the mantra: “Don’t know where I’m going / I just keep on rowing / I just keep on pulling, gotta row“. It’s a swirling industrial quicksand that opens up in a screaming Thayil solo that hits as darkly and deeply as any in the band’s history.

However shaky the peace, whatever the motivations, the reunion we first saw signs of backstage at a Pearl Jam show two years ago has come to full fruition, and the results are worth celebrating.

 
 

Soundgarden

King Animal

Soundgarden_KA_Album_cover
Released: 13/11/2012
Label: Seven Four Entertainment
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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13 comments
  1. Brendan says:

    Fucking great review, fucking great album. Those last two tracks are truly amazing.

  2. Matt says:

    agreed. best album since Them Crooked Vultures. I was as skeptical as anybody… but this album has exceeded anything I could have hoped for. my faith in rock is restored! long live soundgarden!

  3. Rob says:

    Great album. Saw them in NYC last night (Irving Plaza) and it was magical. Alot of songs from Ultramega Ok.

    Gratitude for the good music.

  4. Matt Black says:

    The album is a masterpiece

  5. Just picked it up today. Really solid effort that continues to grow on me after play 10. Seems like they are all in good places and feel good to be playing music again. Heading to see them at the Hammerstein in Jan in NYC with my old lady. They cancelled a show in 96 and we missed them, it’ll be good to get out for that!

  6. jsun says:

    Damn, good albums from both Soundgarden and the Deftones in one week. Are Stone Temple Pilots gonna show up next?

  7. jsun says:

    It keeps saying I have to log in to rate comments, but I think I am logged in if I can post comments…either way, consider this a big middle finger to the guy who said the Them Crooked Vultures album was bad. Fuuuck that.

  8. Mike Lerman says:

    Another great review from JF-
    Funny no mention of ‘Bones Of Birds’ the best song on the album IMO, and also the song that produced the most intrigue at The Fonda last week

  9. Paul says:

    Great album terrible review. I’m not going to kiss your ass Firecloud, your write up was the funniest dribble I’ve read in ages. The album isn’t an evolution but a play it safe record that will please fans and gain no new listeners. Do you have a random word generator for these write ups? You must be running out of things to say, maybe time to hang up the gloves like half of the bands you review. You’ll probably wipe my comment here, my guess is you can’t take crit.

  10. niki avataria says:

    No secret that I love this band. On top of that, they are better live than ever before. Irving Plaza FTW. So, I actually think Black Saturday rocks but is totally knocked down a bit due to leading directly into the only SKIP! on the record: Halfway There.

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