BY BASIL SALEH
When I first heard the news that the first new Soundgarden album in 16 years, King Animal was hitting shelves, I was immediately excited. As a fan of 90’s alt rock groups such as Nirvana, I had an appreciation for the impact which Soundgarden has had on music, and had even heard some of their songs.However, it is important to note that since I had not before listened to a full Soundgarden album prior to Animal, I was free to enjoy and evaluate the album’s merit without comparing it to any of the band’s other significant works.
The first, and appropriately-titled track, “Been Away Too Long” begins the album with a really solid rock song that draws listeners in immediately with tight riffs and a sound band dynamic that remains evident throughout the entire album. The song serves as a really great introduction to the rest of the pieces contained within the album.The second track, “Non-State Actor” is more of the same, with guitar interplay forming a tight riff, accompanied by Chris Cornell’s compelling vocals. Similar to the introductory, the bass is hardly audible in the mix, but I realize that this is because the bass is playing the same notes as the guitar, and thus the instrument’s own independent frequency might be mistaken for the guitar’s deeper end frequencies. Upon listening to this track it starts to sink in how tightly-knit of a group Soundgarden is. They have a great dynamic, which is evident in their songs, and the manner in which each individual member contributes to the sound fits in perfectly, with nothing ever seeming out of place.“By Crooked Steps” follows the same general trend as the previous two tracks, yet is even more precisely executed.
“Thousand Days Before” is a bit of a change-up, as the individual components of the band really shine and it showcases the brilliance of each piece. This song is definitely the best piece up to that point in the album because it most readilly demonstrates the band’s alternative flavor stylings.
“Blood on the Valley Floor” is back to the more straight-forward rock theme of the first three songs, except much, much harder. It is here where the differences in the song writing techniques of Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil truly become apparent, in the guitar characteristics and dynamics that so dramatically change between the songs each of them writes.
The sixth track “Bones of Birds”, is one of this reviewer’s favorites of the album, and is an interesting piece with musical shifts and mood that I would usually tend to associate with more experimental bands like Radiohead. The seventh track introduces another flavor to the mix with the song “Taree” written by bassist Ben Shepard. The result is brilliance. “Attrition” the next track, also written by Shepard, is in the same vein.
“Black Saturday” switches things up with an acoustic guitar and a brilliant bassline, with faint background horns that add another layer of audacity to an already remarkable song.
The next piece, “Halfway There” is brilliant, and another one of my favorites on the album, although, admittedly, it doesn’t sound much like the other songs-some parts even sound more indie-rock, such as the background electric guitar picking. It attests to the ability of the band that the album is hept as consistently fresh as it is, a fact due largely to the numerous transitions emplyed in the songwriting styles of the album.
“Worse Dreams” leads us in with ticking drums and a grabbing bassline, that light the fuse that explodes into a catchy chorus, evoking comparisons to Foo Fighters, only better, much better. Dave Grohl, take note! The song goes off into a psychedelic jam and fades off and into a chill introduction to the twelfth track, and penultimate track,”Eyelids Mouth”. “Mouth” features rhythmic guitar work which serves to invoke a very grunge-like feeling, perhaps to a greater extent than any other song on the album. Finally, the song “Rowing” beautifully wraps up the album with a wandering, industrial feel offset with a scorching guitar solo and powerful vocal performance by Chris Cornell.
In summation, King Animal is an exciting beast to encounter in 2012, where well-orchestrated hard rock has nearly disappeared from the mainstream, which is currently saturated in cut-rate alternative rock and heavilly-commercialized, here-today, gone-tomorrow pop “icons”. With their latest efforts, the members of Soundgarden have served to smoothly introduce themselves to the 21st century, with a competent and altogether dynamic release.