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Audioslave: Audioslave ***

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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AUDIOSLAVE: Audioslave
(Courtesy of Detroit Metro Times)

Fans still mourning the dissolutions of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine can take heart; after seventeen months of legal wrangling, internal strife and one well-publicized breakup, Audioslave has broken out of its rusty cage with a debut that almost justifies the wait.

Wisely, the band plays to its strengths. There is a natural chemistry between singer Chris Cornell, whose thunderous howl helped make Soundgarden the heaviest of the Seattle grunge bands, and guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, whose fierce, unrelenting chops made Rage a well-oiled Machine. And while the temptation to reproduce Rage's rap-metal sound must have been great, common sense prevails: Cornell, a gifted vocalist, makes no attempt to mimic that band's departed frontman, Zack de la Rocha, and Audioslave's eponymous debut is better for it.

If anything, Audioslave could easily pass for another Soundgarden record, were it not for Morello's distinctive licks and the absence of guitarist Kim Thayil's soaring hooks. Otherwise, the ingredients are there: Cornell's primal wail set against a backdrop of screaming guitars, crashing power chords and dense, Black Sabbath-inspired riffs.

The most obvious difference, of course, is Morello, whose guitar wizardry once helped separate Rage from the rest of the rap-metal pack. These days, he's up to his old tricks, combining his own bludgeoning riffs and electrifying solos with rhythmic special effects that consistently push the envelope. It's no surprise that Morello is the driving force behind the album's finest cuts ("Cochise," "Gasoline," "What You Are"), intertwining his pounding licks with Cornell's vocals in moments of sonic bliss that recall Soundgarden's heyday.

It's when Morello takes a back seat to Cornell's psychedelic noodling that Audioslave breaks down.

After Cornell revealed his fondness for mellow alt-pop with his delicate contributions to the 1992 Singles soundtrack and a 1999 solo effort, Euphoria Morning, it seemed possible that the man who wrote grunge anthems like "Outshined" and "Spoonman" might be ready to abandon his metal roots altogether.

Audioslave proves that Cornell and company are still more likely to headline Ozzfest than a revived H.O.R.D.E. Tour. So it's disheartening that the album sputters to a close with "Getaway Car," a meandering blues number, and "The Last Remaining Light," a slick sliver of psychedelia that would have sounded right at home on Euphoria Morning. Here, it's just buzz-kill. -- Rossiter Drake

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