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Arguably the heaviest Seattle group to rise from Sub Pop cult status to major-label stardom, Soundgarden may be one of the few modern rockers on the airwaves with any real power left in their power chords. The reason is simple: At heart, Soundgarden is a metal band -- not a "grunge" group -- with a proto-punk attitude. Jumping off where early Black Sabbath started going wrong, they've got more raw bad-boy smugness than a barrel full of Mudhoneys, Tads, and Fastbacks. They've bucked dope trends, subverted smarmy expectations in rare MTV appearances, and singer Chris Cornell even chopped his beloved locks to foil the poseurs and to prove that it's the music (not the hair) that makes a band heavy. The group's fairly complex, syncopated odd meters and Cornell's balls-in-a-vice vocals similarly defy the norm by going against predominant three-chord vamps and whiny singing. OK, their new CD, Down on the Upside, does sport its fair share of overproduced power ballads (far less memorable than "Black Hole Sun"), but every band's gotta try to make an ASCAP buck, right? Expect loudness along the lines of "Fuck you all!" (from "Ty Cobb") at tomorrow's mini-arena concert. Stars or not, Soundgarden will defy, and like good punks, perhaps despise us all along the way.

-- Sam Prestianni

Soundgarden plays Thursday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium, 10 10th St., Oakland. Rocket From the Crypt and Pond open. Tickets are $18; call (510) 238-7765.

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