Soundgarden ‘King Animal' (Seven Four Entertainment/Republic)
When Chris Cornell's insistent rhythm guitar fades in like an unstoppable train coming over a distant hill roaring straight at you, and lead guitarist Kim Thayil's stinging riffs start stoking the engine's fire, and drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd start the ground to shaking beneath your feet as Cornell wails brawnily that he's “Been Away Too Long,” some of us are inspired to shout back with a heartfelt “Right on!”
“King Animal,” this steaming Seattle grunge machine's first album in 16 years, has indeed been a long time coming and it's a pleasure to climb back on board, because the second track — the Black Sabbath-like “Non-State Actor” — just picks up the momentum and keeps the blood pumping.
Then a full forward throttle is achieved on the locomotive heavy metal mindbender “By Crooked Steps” and the journey is all but coming off the rails. The Thayil-penned “A Thousand Days Before,” with its swirling tamboura adding trippy spices of India, creates a meditative kind of metal manna, while the bass-heavy midtempo mesmerizer “Blood On the Valley Floor” sounds like a lullaby for giants.
Cornell may have made a few missteps since Soundgarden's 1996 “Down On the Upside,” recording solo and with Audioslave with mixed results, but it sounds here like he's come back to his senses, creating a new, metallically melodic Soundgarden album that is easily the band's best work since 1994's “Superunknown.”
— Gene Triplett