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Soundgarden, “King Animal” (Loma Vista)

It’s only a few seconds into “Been Away Too Long” before any longtime Soundgarden fan, particularly any Seattle one, will shout “Yes!” “King Animal” is the first studio album from the band since 1996, but Kim Thayil’s meaty guitar riff on this song’s start reminds us no grunge band had a more distinct guitar sound. Thayil was the least active Soundgarden member during its 15-year hiatus, but he does not miss a lick here.

And no ’90s Seattle band had a singer with pipes like Chris Cornell. It isn’t until this album’s second song, “Non-State Actor,” that he lets out a scream, but it’s satisfying. Throughout Cornell seems more at ease than on his solo efforts, enough so you wonder why the band broke up.

“A Thousand Days Before” has a “Kashmir”-like feel, while “Halfway There” is a power ballad. Yet most of this album, like the best Soundgarden from its first era, is about thud. And while nothing here matches the majesty of “Black Hole Sun” (what does?), “King Animal” is nonetheless an adept return to form for a band that has been away too long.

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Charles R. Cross, Special to The Seattle Times

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