Soundgarden were one of those grunge bands that really just "got" it. Unlike bands like Nirvana who put their desolate life imagery in front of their music, Soundgarden was always musical first, attitude second. Without question, vocalist Chris Cornell portrayed a lot of pain and passion in his soul, but he also was quickly regarded as one of the best vocalists of the era. While they were always pretty good musically, they were a band though that was erratic at best in the live setting. I saw the band at least 12 times, and I'd say they were 50/50 good to bad live. They played masterfully at the greatest concert of my lifetime (Day On The Green '91 with Faith No More, Queensryche and Metallica), and they played absolutely horribly at times (most notable - Lollapalooza tour). Still, even when they went away, their albums BAD MOTERFINGER. SUPERUNKNOWN and DOWN FROM THE UPSIDE have stayed in fairly recent rotation in my iPod.
And now they are back. Years away where the bulk of the band went silent and Cornell dabbled musically with solo projects and Audioslave, the guys have found their way to bring it back. While not the best effort in their catalog, KING ANIMAL has proven that the fire did not die when the band was originally put down. Instead, it just quietly smoldered in limbo awaiting re-ignition. It has definitely happened here. Most interesting to me is not how good the band sounds now, but how similar to the past they sound. Certainly, it's not surprising as it's the same group of guys writing and performing their new songs, but given that it's been around 15 years since their last effort, you would expect everything from different playing styles to different tunes to change the vibe of the band overall. That's simply not the case. Guitarist Kim Thayil in particular sounds remarkably similar to the player we last left. His ambient playing on songs like "A Thousand Days Before" would fit perfectly on any of the past records. Drummer Matt Cameron sounds great as well. He was a powerful part of the galloping rhythms that made songs like "Spoonman" so great in the 90s, and he's every bit as important a player now. Songs like "Attrition" find Cameron moving the song with his rollicking beats as bassist Ben Shepherd brings the thunder along with him. To say the least, the new album SOUNDS like classic Soundgarden.
The real question mark was Cornell coming in. While he was a once masterful singer, his singing style and the decades of doing it have given him what I call "Brian Johnson Syndrome"; a condition where the vocals are not quite as strong and sound a little bit phlegmy when he reaches for high notes. This started during the Audioslave years, and to be perfectly honest, it's still here from time to time. That said though, Cornell sounds stronger than he has in a lot of years on KING ANIMAL. Songs like "Black Saturday" have that similar sound that people often mistaked for Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder in the Temple Of The Dog days. Other songs like "Non-State Actor" and "Been Away Too Long" are rockers where Cornell powers the song with his patented sound. He sounds good, and along with the rest of the band powers KING ANIMAL like the old days.
PITRIFF RATING - 84/100 - Considering the time away, and the fact that these guys were one of the more "inactive" hiatus bands of the last decade, it's surprising how well they have brought it all the way back. Powerful, solid comeback from Soundgarden, and quite a fine release to have in your collection.