Soundgarden

King Animal

Written by: AP on 09/11/2012 12:38:11

Interesting how the posterity of the grunge genre is marred by so many nightmares. Kurt Cobain sealed Nirvana's fate with a shotgun blast, Pearl Jam are infamously remembered for arguably the worst disaster in festival history, and Alice in Chains were forced into a hiatus as Layne Staley became a recluse and eventually succumbed to a heroin and cocaine overdose. Yet the role of these cruel circumstances in wrapping each of those bands in legendary veil cannot be ignored. Ironically, the only band to emerge from the Pacific Northwest in the early 90s that was not grazed by death and tragedy, Soundgarden, also became the most unsuccessful of the four, disbanding in 1997 as lead guitarist Kim Thayil refused to acommodate vocalist/rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell's desire to push the band in a less heavy direction - supposedly in order to find a remedy for the band's relative lack of prosperity. Fast forward 12 years, and the band finally felt ready to sort out their differences, annoucing a much anticipated reunion in 2010 and laying the groundwork for what would become their first new album in 16 years: "King Animal".

For all intents and purposes, this album needed to happen. Surprising as it may sound, "King Animal" is the band's best work since the breakthrough "Superunknown" in 1994, its composition and style suggesting that when they broke up, Soundgarden packed their music in a time capsule and buried it, with the intention to one day dig it back up and unleash its contents in original, untouched format. Indeed, as the aptly titled, powerful opening track "Been Away Too Long" proves, nothing much has really changed during the 12 years of downtime. It restores the odd time signatures, crushing riffs and excellent drum work of old with a bang and sets the stage for one of the most formidable comebacks in memory. It needed to happen, because it remembers the essence of what rock music is all about - an all but lost art in the current musical climate.

"King Animal" is a rock album in the truest definition, classically arranged to reel the listener in with a trio of storming singles in "Been Away Too Long", "Non-State Actor" and "By Crooked Steps"; introduce an element of intrigue by varying the approach with a soulful, psychedelic take full of twists and turns that recall Led Zeppelin at their best in "A Thousand Days", the downtrodden stoner sludge of "Blood on the Valley Floor", and dark, poetic Americana with a political undercurrent in "Bones of Birds" and "Taree"; and then reinvigorate him/her with another shot of adrenaline in the punk driven "Attrition". From then on the album descends into heavier and darker territory that is so characteristic of this band, toying with influences ranging from The Doors in "Worse Dreams" to Alice in Chains in the long drawn groove of "Rowing", and culminating with the fierce "Eyelid's Mouth", which is basically the entire span of Soundgarden's career condensed into a single, brooding song.

But while the individual strength of nearly every song on "King Animal" is indisputable, it has another asset that cements it as the quintessential rock album this year. There is a classic, unfiltered feel to the proceedings that sounds like a novelty in an industry growing a little too fond of neat production tricks. Much like classic rock revivalists such as Graveyard and Witchcraft, "King Animal" is a modern take on vintage rock, resurrecting the idea that imperfections can be excused as long as the music sounds like it's flowing directly from the heart of the musicians. Thayil reels off blistering solos with a juvenile's glee - but that's just the icing on his and Cornell's telepathic unity that drives the album forth in a constant barrage of riffs, melodies and textures. The two have a real appreciation of the guitar as an instrument for expression rather than simply a means to an end; and the strong presence of Ben Shepherd's groovy bass licks and Matt Cameron's highly unique drumming in the mix gives the album a magnificent punch.

It was not without some skepticism that I regarded "King Animal" ahead of its release, given the propensity of reunion albums to grossly disappoint fans expecting retrospection and nostalgia. However, with Soundgarden achieving just that on this album with a youthful fire in their hearts, it has been difficult to contain the breath of life that an album like this blows into the scene. So few rock bands exist nowadays without excessive frills and theatrics, where the focus in on delivering authentic, heartfelt music that oozes passion, emotion and attitude. By catering exactly to those needs, "King Animal", for me, is a very strong contender for Album of the Year - and at the very least, one of the finest comebacks of the decade.

9

Download: Been Away Too Long, Non-State Actor, Bones of Birds, Taree, Attrition, Eyelid's Mouth
For the fans of: Alice In Chains, Graveyard, Pearl Jam
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Release date 13.11.2012
Seven Four Entertainment / Republic Records

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