So I have decided to do an occasional monthly post dedicated to a single artist I have either grown up listening to, have become fond of over the years, loved in the first listen, has influenced me in any way possible or is simply of some nostalgic value to me. I would also do a list of some of my favorite albums from that particular artist, just in case.
This month, it just felt natural to choose a band that involved the late Chris Cornell; the high-strung rocker, a fine grunge vocalist with a four-octave vocal range and a songwriter/guitarist for multiple bands, whose untimely death on the 18th of May, 2017 has left a massive void in the world of rock n’ roll that can’t be filled for long. I personally love “Soundgarden” the most of all his projects because it has that essential Sabbathy, eerily heavy sound and that edgy hard rock energy making them one of the most distinct grunge bands of the 90s that reinvented the varied dynamics of the genre in question.
These grunge giants are all about the oddly tuned guitars, intense vocals and dark lyrics. Highly influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, their signature sound is an eccentric dichotomy of the trademark punk rock/post-punk and the grave, greasily tardy metal sound. The band had been through certain rocky patches and was disbanded in 1997 which then later reformed in 2010 after a 12 year gap. Still they managed to produce seven brilliant studio albums, a few live recordings and a couple of EPs under their belt. Together with the other three grunge maestros i.e. Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana they helped invent and refine this specific sub-genre of alternative rock.
Time to list my favorite Soundgarden albums so here goes.
Released in 1991, Badmotorfinger is a smashing record which is why I declared it their finest work. My favorite number “Rusty Cage” with that mesmerizing opening riff has that dissident essence of a nonconformist’s anthem and the hard-rock wholesomeness with a main chorus comprising of verses like “I’m going to break my rusty cage… and run.” is so provocative. The record features Kim Thayil’s dirty guitar riffs with mid-paced drone that trails back to Sabbath’s signature sound and not to forget, Cornell’s screams that are full of angst and agitation. What is there to not like about this record, in all honesty? Especially if you’re into rock/metal and find yourself questioning religion, your existence and politics, it’s a quality pick for sure! Songs like “Outshined”, “Searching with My Good Eye Closed”, “Stray Cat Blues”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Holy Water” and an on-point cover of Black Sabbath’s “Into The Void” are a perfect musical and lyrical depiction of the themes they like to play around with an air of sarcasm & aggression. You’re basically in for some seriously heavy grunge rock with an overtly funky vibe and an unremitting frenzy of sludge/doom. A great pick for someone in his or her teens to battle it out with their sense of individualism and the relative catalytic chain of contradictions.
If a record truly defines the standard sound of Soundgarden, it is this album, most probably. “Superunknown” was released in 1994 and still sounds profound with an outburst of an impending doom. It is loaded with crass riffwork, drab & tuned-down guitars evocative of Black Sabbath’s heavy sound and the melodic ballgame of Led Zepp’s blues rock accompanied by a swampy bassline. Cornell’s vocal range overlapping between the tenor and baritone is well-suited to sing the blues behind the veil of grunge rock that’s undeniably coarse and gritty. Lyrics basically focus on the pessimistic side of things which isn’t hard to tell. Bitter verses like “Times are gone for honest men and sometimes far too long for snakes.” in “Black Hole Sun”, “If you don’t want to be seen you don’t have to hide, if you don’t want to believe you don’t have to try to feel alive.” in “Superunknown” or “With an ounce of pain, I wield a ton of rage. Just like suicide.” sound expressive more than ever now that the songwriter is no more. Nevertheless, “Superunknown” might as well be one of the best grunge albums ever recorded. It’s full of back-to-back breakout singles with not even a single mediocre song making it a powerhouse of a rock record which is introspective enough to deliver an impact that doesn’t wear off over the years.
3, Louder Than Love
While I would totally agree that 1990’s “Louder Than Love” doesn’t showcase their coherent musical genius but still it’s an accomplished record that highlights the punk side of grunge/alternative rock which is plain raw and you can hear some major “The Stooges” worship somewhere in there. You have a vigorous blend of grunge, hard rock, psychedelic and alternative metal at the end of the day driven mostly by a sluggish bass, slithery riffs and spasmodic drumming. It’s not all that dark and thought-provoking rather just these lads trying to have some fun. “Hands All Over”, “Get On The Snake”, “No Wrong No Right” and “Gun” are really groovy tracks. It’s one if their earliest albums and the crude energy it emanates is typically old-school and heavy. Cornell’s multi-octave vocal quality is unique and impressive. However, they’ve made it pretty clear how they can’t part ways with their well-tamed Black Sabbath influence.
While rest of their studio albums (Ultramega OK, Down On The Upside and King Animal) are worth a mention, still do not come close to the aforementioned flawless releases.
Soundgarden revived grunge on so many levels and successfully churned out some of the most unforgettable hard rock riffs by hitting a nail on the head with their overflowing ferocity and musical creativity by being true to their roots of rock/metal. No wonder in no time they worked up their way to become one of the most acknowledged grunge bands of the 90s. You’re in for some serious nostalgic blues if already a fan and if not, you’re definitely missing out. Give the records a spin and you’ll know why they’re one of “The Big Four” grunge bands.
P.S: Farewell, Chris!