Review Summary: 'King Animal' is a modern take on vintage rock and a natural progression for Soundgarden, rather than a fancy comeback album.
It's difficult to write an objective review when your favorite band returns with an album after 16 years of absence and it sounds this good. To make it perfectly clear, King Animal
is not a throwback to past glory. It's not 'Superunknown', nor is it trying to get anywhere close to that even if it could. King Animal
is a natural progression from 'Down on the Upside' and is not a drastic change in direction. It combines various elements from the band's previous albums while adding a few extra layers on top.
Everything that Soundgarden have been known for has returned. The odd time signatures and excellent drumming are back. By Crooked Steps
is basically a jackhammer single riff with Matt Cameron pummeling those drums at random until you don't even realize what's going on. The same goes for A Thousand Days Before
, an instant psychedelic classic in the form of Zeppelin, that dictates an odd tempo and features plenty of twists and turns. To serve as a beautiful contrast, the ferocious Blood on the Valley Floor
recalls heavy and sludgy riffs in the style of Mailman
that lead into a trippy chorus: And the smoke lies on the valley floor as the blood dries while we spill some more
The moody and melancholic Taree
sounds like it's ripped straight from the 90s, while the dark punk driven Attrition
resembles a more focused 'Kickstand' with Mark Lanegan-style vocals: "On the cliffs over stormy waves, can't decide to climb or drown"
King Animal also has a few slower gems in its inventory. The acoustic Black Saturday
sounds a lot like Alice in Chains mixed with late Zeppelin material. The sludgy chorus takes it back to Soundgarden territory though, as Chris sings Promise me you'll kill me right away if I start to get slow
. Chris also pulls out a bit of solo material in Halfway There
, a little mix of Euphoria Morning and Carry On (unfortunately). Initially, the song doesn't seem to fit on this album but after a few listens you will notice that it's a much needed track after and before the riff bombs and killer drumming that patiently wait for you in Worse Dreams
. The song draws a groovy bass intro in the style of The Doors, but as soon as it gets to the chorus and solo, it's pure Soundgarden. A dog reference is inevitable, of course.
There is one song on the record that mixes every possible sound that characterizes the band: Eyelid's Mouth
. It goes back to Badmotorfinger's 'Mind Riot' with a trippy guitar lick dominating the first verse. A bluesy chorus follows with a completely different second verse incorporating "An Unkind" style heavily reverbed vocals. Kim Thayil's solo melts your face as the song fades out.
Can't see the sky, nothing's on the horizon/Can't feel my hands, as the water keeps rising
as Chris Cornell drowns in the Tom Waits inspired Rowing
. It's another example of pure experimentation. Sounds fresh and nothing like any other song by this band, yet it has that certain Soundgarden vibe once it builds up to an explosive riff. The song ends with a huge solo accompanied by a stunning Cornell falsetto as he "keeps on rowing". It's at this point where he erases any doubts that he can still belt a high note like no one else.
'King Animal' sounds like what Soundgarden should sound like. It's a modern take on vintage rock, resurrecting the likes of Zeppelin, Sabbath and The Doors. More importantly, the solid musicianship, the creativity and the energy of their youth is still there. Chris Cornell may not be able to belt those high notes like in the 90s, but halfway through the album you won't even care. It's the presence of their unmistakable signature sound that will shock you. It's still there and it still blows your mind to bits. Soundgarden haven't lost a step. They kept on rowing.