It’s been a long break for Seattle-based grunge rock band Soundgarden. After nearly 16 years since their last album, “Down on the Upside,” the band regrouped and released “King Animal.” If this album is an indication of anything, it’s that the group has lost none of its dramatic guitar riffs and hard-hitting vocals. In fact, it has perhaps refined its borderline-grunge sound in the decade-and-a-half break.
The first track, “Been Away Too Long,” provides an excellent introduction to the rest of the album. It sets up lead guitarist Kim Thayil’s incredible, hard and fast guitar riffs that are constant throughout the album.
While most songs are fast and powerful, they manage to keep the same intensity in slower power ballads like “Black Saturday,” where acoustic guitar and quiet drums make room for front man Chris Cornell’s crisp vocals. While the ballads on the album only seem slow and sweet when compared to the other songs, as far as these almost-ballads go, the next track, “Halfway There,” does nearly the same thing but creates a mellower, softer tone, with a longer acoustic guitar feature and more melodious vocals from Cornell.
The group’s one downfall is its tendency to occasionally muffle Cornell’s voice with a screeching guitar and pounding drums, which can sometimes be a good thing. While Cornell’s voice is far from annoying, his nasal crooning is often much less captivating than Thayil’s shredding guitar.
All in all, the album is at least as good as, and maybe even better than, the older albums that were its claims to fame. There’s not a lackluster track in the bunch, which is no easy feat in a record that’s 13 songs long.
With “King Animal,” Soundgarden has proven that they have been away too long, yet they returned sounding like they never truly left.
Overall rating: 3 1/2 stars