Soundgarden's inevitable climb to primacy in the new-metal realm continues right on schedule with its second major-label album. In this visceral, wide-ranging panorama, the heavy stomp competes with an impulse to soar, stretching the musical architecture into taut, fanciful shapes.
Introducing more progressive and psychedelic elements, humanizing the music with a bluesy undercurrent, the Seattle quartet displays more playfulness than on last year's "Louder Than Love." A looseness in the joints keeps the monster riffs from being self-important, and the spontaneity lets you sense four guys pushing and playing off each other instead of laboring for a formal effect.
This music doesn't elicit the kind of astonishing technical display singer Chris Cornell applied to the dramatic, blues-rock songs of "Temple of the Dog," the album he made earlier this year with other Seattle musicians as a eulogy to a late colleague. Though Cornell sings commandingly--his bending, high-pitched wail is becoming the signature siren call of this metal generation--he's more a role player here.
"Badmotorfinger" isn't the soul-baring effort of "Temple" either, but it lays out its imprecations, introspections, and cries of defiance with generous and genuine emotion, in images that are rich in religion-soaked symbolism ("Jesus Christ Pose," "Holy Water") and funny in an an offhand way rare in hard-rock territory ("I'm looking California/And feeling Minnesota"). And in "Rusty Cage," Soundgarden taps into blues giant Robert Johnson's intense, elemental grandeur as fittingly for the '90s as Cream did for the '60s.
New albums are rated on a scale of one asterisk (poor) to four (excellent).