On November 13th I get my wish as a reunited Soundgarden release King Animal, their first studio album in sixteen years.
From the outset of "Been Away Too Long", the record shows promise. The grimy guitar groove and tumbling drums make you nod and say 'yes, yes you have been away too long'. That's reinforced by the renewed passion of the hustling, Dead Boys-esque "Attrition".
It seems like old times again with "By Crooked Steps". The reins are off Cornell and he is given leave to wail until his heart's content...or until his throat can't take it anymore. The Kim Thayil-penned "Non-State Actor" is free-flowing metal reminiscent of the Louder Than Love era. The lead single, "A Thousand Days Before", features complex Middle Eastern rhythms woven into the arrangement.
The most remarkable quality of King Animal is how is reminds me of how under-rated Ben Shepherd's bass work is. It's hard to stand out as a bassist, but time and again he manages to add a little flourish here or an unexpected run there, which brings an incredible richness of texture to the songs.
The problems that plagued Down On the Upside rear their ugly heads again here. There are too many filler tracks, and too many uninspired cuts. "Blood On the Valley Floor" is a generic grinding hard rock song. An awkward flow makes "Bones of Birds" difficult to listen to. Cornell sounds downright whiney on "Black Saturday", then gloomy, but never threatening on "Taree".
It's great to have Soundgarden back. They fill a gaping hole in the musical landscape right now. However, King Animal needs to be a bit tighter and a bit more concise to be declared a true triumphant return.
Soundgarden play The Phoenix in Toronto on November 16th.
Best tracks: "Been Away Too Long", "Attrition"
Track listing for King Animal:
- Been Away Too Long
- Non-State Actor
- By Crooked Steps
- A Thousand Days Before
- Blood On the Valley Floor
- Bones of Birds
- Black Saturday
- Halfway There
- Worse Dreams
- Eyelid's Mouth