Soundgarden are back on their own turf

Fifteen years after their separation, seeing a band like Soundgarten getting back together was bound to make people talk. Those who have followed the band from the very beginning expess their disappointement – and, in the case of Soundgarden, the singer’s electro-pop transgressions didn’t make matters easier – or denounce the come-back as a purely mercenary stunt, fearing the new music would sound like something fished out from the very bottom of the recording studio. But for the youngest music-lovers, it might be a good opportunity to discover a band that was among the most influential from the 90s grunge generation of Seattle. So what are the risks of giving King Animal a shot?

The song “Been Away For Too Long” is an allusion to these years of absence and easily opens this new album, clearly stamped with Soundgarden’s signature. Chris Cornell’s voice obviously has a lot to do with that. Kim Thayil’s riffs purr as much as ever. The atmosphere adapts to the band’s heavy, aggressive or melodic moods. The musicians’ various experiences have a huge influence as well: Chris Cornell, the one member who remained most active and in the spotlight, within Audioslave and with his solo career; Kim Thayil and his short-lived punk project No WTO Combo and his small contribution to Dave Grohl’s Probot project; Matt Cameron, Pearl Jam’s current drummer and active in various other projects, like Harrybu McCage; and Ben Sheperd, with his solo project recorded in 2010.

Therefore, we perfectly understand Kim Thayil when he states, as he did to the journalist from Consequence Of Sound on November 12th, regarding the differences between the work the band put in this album and the previous years: « There’s these slightly different approaches and elements added. Chris’ vocal style may have grown and evolved through his solo work, maybe a bit more croony or balladeer-like. » As a result of all this flirting with styles that don’t belong to a strictly rock sphere, Thayil explains that many new musical elements were added to the new songs, while remaining close to the fundamental Soundgarden sound. They’re pretty obvious on the mid-tempo song “Taree”, on the ballad “Bones Of Birds”, on the blues lament “Rowing” or on the more experimental “Eyelid’s Mouth”.

King Animal goes from the grunge reminiscences of “Been Away For Too Long” and “Non-State Actor” to a more hushed, blues-tinged, ballad-heavy atmosphere. The second half of the records basks in clear melodies with well-tailored groove. The sonorities on King Animal go well with the colors of the album’s wintery artwork, which evokes a certain morbid melancholy and revisits the theme of vanity: just like all others, the king of animals and of the wood is subjected to time and death. Could that be some sort of hidden metaphor?

The members of Soundgarden are well aware of the double-edged situation their reunion places them in. Kim Thayil explains to Consequence Of Sound that he himself was a bit apprehensive, and details his approach of an album delivered after a band’s reunion. However, he did not forget that there are different ways for a given audience to welcome this record. For his part, on November 2nd, Chris Cornell clearly told Spin: « If we’re writing and recording new and vital music, it’s taking care of itself » A simple yet sensible statement, that sort of raises the overall level of the answers the band has given in interviews so far (with NME, for example). But that might just hide their weariness at answering the same questions over and over again, just like it could be a lack of true artistic motivation behind the reunion.

You might want to put aside the usual “when we play together again, we hope everything going to come back to us, like in the past”, and other meaningless memories. Forget the rantings of professional critics and their more or less well-founded forecasts regarding the band’s future and the real motivations for the reunion. Put all that behind you and focus on the essential. Because, even if some fans are bound to be disappointed, even disgusted by all the promotional hubbub around the band, King Animal has enough substance to give any enthusiast what they’re looking for in a rock album: energy, emotion and a chance to escape.

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