When Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell unveiled his Timbaland-produced R&B solo album three years ago, he insisted that reuniting the 90s grunge kings would risk "tarnishing their legacy". However, with baffled fans mostly of the opinion that the grunge icon's crunk opus did just that, Soundgarden are indeed back. Still, their first new album since 1996 makes a surprisingly good fist of plugging back into the sound that made them the moodiest and heaviest of the Seattle grunge bands: anvil-heavy riffs, crunching collisions of punk and hard rock, and psychedelic explorations. With storming opener Been Away Too Long sounding like a manifesto, 52-year-old guitarist Kim Thayil reels off blistering solos with a juvenile's glee. Grunge-era nostalgia mixes with classic rock and, on the eerie Rowing, experimental mantras. Cornell's reference to being "born again" on Black Saturday may raise more than an eyebrow, but the rocker-father has powerfully traded twentysomething darkness for middle-aged uncertainty and fear. His confession on beautiful slowie Bones of Birds that "Time is my friend … well it ain't, it runs out" really is quite touching.
Dave Simpson is a Guardian music critic and author