Soundgarden – King Animal
By Jamie Wolfert
It's true, Soundgarden has been away too long. The band split in 1997 over creative differences, giving vocalist Chris Cornell the time and opportunity he needed to visit a number of embarrassing musical travesties on an unsuspecting world. Presumably to put a stop to these senseless crimes against good taste, the members of Soundgarden reunited Voltron-style in 2010 to make some more weird, heavy rock music and keep their golden-throated frontman in check. The result of this reunion is the newly released long-player King Animal. No Timbaland production credits on this one, friends. I looked.
King Animal starts off a little slow - “Been Away Too Long” and “Non-State Actor” aren't quite throwaway tracks, but they're certainly Soundgarden at their middle-of-the-road best. Luckily the third track, “By Crooked Steps” will erase the first two from your mind. This is the Soundgarden of olden times, the Soundgarden that could take an odd meter riff in some wacky tuning and forge it into an apocalyptically heavy groove. (Thanks Matt Cameron!) Tracks like “A Thousand Days Before” and “Blood On The Valley Floor” are reminiscent of the heavy weirdness of Badmotorfinger goodies like “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and “Mind Riot”, with lots of colorful, menacing guitar work from Kim Thayil. “Halfway There” is not unlike Down On The Upside's lighter moments...not necessarily a great thing, but not offensive. The last track, “Rowing”, has the Ben Shepherd stamp all over it. Shepherd is responsible for some of Soundgarden's oddest and deepest moments, and it wouldn't be a proper Soundgarden record without his distinctive contributions.
King Animal isn't perfect, but it seems to pick up just about where Soundgarden left off in 1997. There are definitely a few tracks that will get skipped, but there are many more that you'll want to go back and listen to again. A handful of these tunes are right up there with the band's best work, enough to make it clear that this reunion isn't the nostalgic snoozefest or phone-it-in cash-grab it could have been. Soundgarden sounds like a band refreshed and ready to bring the weird and heavy.