After a ridiculously long hiatus of over 15 years, Soundgarden is back once again to play an epic show Friday at Milwaukee’s Eagles Club. The band released their first proper record since 1996’s Down On The Upside in 2012, titled King Animal. Soundgarden had called it quits around the time the ‘grunge’ era was in its autumn days. While fans were disappointed to see the group hang them up back in 1996, perhaps Soundgarden had reached a point where it made sense to take a break. They had done nearly everything they sought to do, career-wise, and unlike some bands from the same period (looking at you, Alice in Chains), Soundgarden decided not to carry on without crucial pieces or as a sideshow a la Smashing Pumpkins. Soundgarden bowed out with grace and other than a hilarious article from The Onion years ago, one never heard too much about a potential reunion.
Then in 2010 came the compilation album Telephantasm, which featured some previously unreleased tracks, and in 2011, a live album. After a long period of silence, things were happening with Soundgarden again, albeit nothing promoting brand new material or a tour. That started to change when the band reformed for Lollapalooza in 2010 in Chicago. Since then the band has toured and recorded a new album, and they are back at full force once again, to the delight of fans worldwide. I saw the band perform in Chicago in 2011 and it was a fan’s dream, a thunderous set that featured songs from all parts of their back catalogue. They appeared not to have missed a step in their time away.
King Animal is a new breed but the same species. It’s not terribly experimental but it reinforces what Soundgarden does best: create amazing, booming soundscapes and blow your socks off in the process. The album kicks off with the appropriately titled ‘Been Away Too Long’, which exercises the classic Soundgarden formula. The track is reminiscent of the Superunknown album and features singer Chris Cornell’s guttural barking. ‘Non-State Actor’ and ‘Worse Dreams’ highlight the band’s Black Sabbath influences, while the swirling ‘A Thousand Days Before’ and the existential ‘Rowing’ bring a contemplative vibe to the album. There are also a number of true stompers, including ‘Eyelid’s Mouth’ and ‘Blood on the Valley Floor’. ‘Bones of Birds’ sounds like the obvious single, but it is only one of many standout tracks on King Animal. The band flexes its muscles and knocks off the rust, and as a fan I couldn’t be much happier with the album; I can only hope they make another one.
In April of 2011, I had the pleasure of seeing a Brewers game and then catching a cab to the Eagles Ballroom to see the Pixies on the same night. Friday’s show marks the return of the mighty Soundgarden to Milwaukee, and it will be a welcome distraction from winter woes as we long for the magic of the baseball season to begin.