When Soundgarden first got back together many asked, what does this return mean? Having already accomplished what few bands have, what do they have left to prove? That after four presidential elections they can still pick up their instruments and play? No, that's not it. King Animal
proves much more.
Soundgarden fans will notice a new sound in the garden, and while each Soundgarden album broke new ground, King Animal
does to a further extent. They seem more reserved, and yet more masterful for it. In a positive fashion, the maturity of the band is evident, as this album holds tracks that a younger Soundgarden couldn't represent. Down on the Upside
foreshadowed this change in sound, King animal
runs with it.
As a whole King Animal
's style is fresh and new, yet it's details are reminiscent of albums prior. For example, the song progression and echo-guitar effects on "Bones of Birds" may rekindle a certain "Black Hole Sun", and Cornell's abstract lyrics, like those found on "Worse Dreams", might remind some of the lunacy "Drawing Flies" once offered. This connection to their previous work should allow for Soundgarden to venture further without abandoning their fans, often an issue for bands with indistinctive qualities.
Lead vocalist, Chris Cornell, is essentially in competition with his former self. It is hardly a fair match, but 'Twenty-Twelve' Cornell brings a decent fight. Out of the thirteen rounds, the closer "Rowing" is his best fought. Cornell, singing in an old blues style, features his falsetto and makes best use of his what range he has left. There are moments when you can hear that age has caught up with him, namely on "Non-State Actor" and "By Crooked Steps". Despite this however, both are excellent tracks in their own right.
Lyrically, King Animal
stays true to it's album cover, revolving around themes like survival, water, nature, and healing. Chris' vocal delivery throughout the album is notably sincere. A creepy atmosphere is cast after he chants, "Steaming in a line of fire, you're wild and free" in "Worse Dreams". Then on the poetic "Taree", he proclaims the majestic line, "In the ether I sail to you, floating on the fumes".
After listening through this CD several times, it becomes apparent that no stone was left unturned, the album was thoroughly recalculated and edited. As a whole, King Animal
flows well from track to track. This fluidity is partly a by-product of the album's track lengths. No track overstays it's welcome, a misdemeanor Soundgarden repeated in times past. Soundgarden makes a commendable attempt to steer clear of the standard verse-chorus-verse formula, adding exceptional bridges and outros to many of their tracks. One good example would be "A Thousand Days Before"; the outro fittingly captures the melancholic change in tempo before Cornell cries "A thousand to ignore!". Indeed, this album has a tendency to pull the rug right from under you. Tracks like "By Crooked Steps" and "Blood on the Valley Floor" change in rhythm frequently, throwing the listeners for a loop. Ben Shepherd's bass is not buried sound on the album, however his presence is more playful from "Bird of Bones" onward. Meanwhile, the consistent Matt Cameron makes known why he is regarded as one of the most proficient drummers around. Playing for Pearl Jam all these years hasn't changed his style at all returning to Soundgarden.
There is a section of the album (somewhere between the middle of "A Thousand Days Ago" and the start of "Attrition") where the mood darkens from initial vibe. This may or may not bring back nostalgic emotions stirred by previous albums. Overall though, King Animal
avoids the doom and gloom feel. In fact, this album includes back-to-back acoustic gems, "Halfway there" and "Black Saturday". One of which draws from Chris' pop-rock solo work, and the latter, which features some unusual drumming and much-welcomed electric riffs by Thayil. In the end, the variety in moods and reserved approach are what make King Animal
a wholly refreshing album.
Pitted against the test of time, the stakes were high. One slip, and over two decades worth of reputation may have been in jeopardy. Aside from misdirecting the music community with their single featured on the blockbuster film The Avengers
(2012), I would say that Soundgarden bounced back fairly with this release. It is common practice to rank and compare albums to their predecessors. But I don't think we can accurately gauge yet how King Animal
will stand up against the monolith of Superunknown
and the grittiness that is Badmotorfinger
. One thing is certain though, King Animal
is sure to exceed the expectations of the pessimists.
- Rowing, Blood On The Valley Floor, A Thousand Days Before, By Crooked Steps