Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 8: Soundgarden, "Superunknown"

Artist: Soundgarden
Album: Superunknown
Year: 1994
Label: A & M

Both before and after Nirvana, there was one band that defined the true "Seattle sound." Taking heavy influences from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and a host of other metal and punk bands, then glazing over it with a good measure of anger and angst, Soundgarden remain one of the most powerful bands in history. Though they never made a bad album in their seventeen-year career, their 1994 opus, Superunknown, presents the band in perfect form.

When Superunknown first his record shelves, long-time fans were shocked as the band seemed to have completely changed their image. They had...CUT THEIR HAIR!!! At the time, it was hard to envision ANY "grunge" band being able to keep their "street cred" without long hair to headbang. However, the album was so solid that the world forgave them for this unexpected faux-pas. Superunknown takes the high speed, grungy-heavy-rock sound that the band had been playing for a decade and perfected it. The in-song tempo changes are still there, yet the band as a whole seems more together than they had ever been on a studio recording. In many ways, Soundgarden was the metal bands for fans who hated the normal, predictable lyrics (read as "alcohol and women") and sound of the genre.

As a group, Soundgarden had an amazing talent for turning everything "up to eleven," and somehow molding overwhelming noise into amazing musical textures. Walking the line between heavy metal, punk, and rock, they created some of the most crushing songs around. The driving, wailing guitar of Kim Thayil embodies everything that is great about hard rock. Steady to the point where he almost falls by the wayside is the well traveled Matt Cameron. Whether drumming with Pearl Jam, Temple Of The Dog, Soundgarden, or many other bands, Cameron remains one of the most well respected drummers of the past two decades. Obviously, one of the high points musically is the spoon solo by Artis (the spoonman) on the mega-hit "Spoonman." The fact that this seemingly out of place instrument blends in flawlessly with the rest of the music is a testament to just how great a group there was in Soundgarden.

When it comes to singers with unmistakable voices, most of the Seattle "grunge" singers are high on the list. Along with Eddie Vedder, Layne Staley, and Kurt Cobain, one must note the elder statesman of the Seattle vocal scene, Chris Cornell. With what seems like an endless vocal range, Cornell shifts from singing to pseudo-screaming in the same note. The energy and soul behind his vocals are second to none. Cornell's vocals are mixed perfectly, at the front of the music, and they are able to float atop the organized musical chaos behind him. Lyrically, Superunknown contains one of Cornell's most soul-bearing songs ever in "Like Suicide" (a solo, acoustic version of the song can be found on the soundtrack to the movie S.F.W.)

The "grunge" explosion of the mid-1990's catapulted a handful of bands into the musical stratosphere. While Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled as Kings, the fact was, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden had paved the way and shown them the ropes. To this point, you can see cameos from both groups in the film Singles. Taking heavy metal styles and polishing it to a more accessible gleam, Soundgarden remain one of the most important bands in music history. Their 1994 release, Superunknown is as good as hard rock gets and should not be missed!

Standout tracks: "My Wave," "Spoonman," and "The Day I Tried To Live."

1 comment:

CasCbus said...

I wasn't sure about this album when I first got it. I loved Badmotorfinger, but this one took a little to grow on me. It definitely became a staple of my collection.