Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Soundgarden are not a grunge band. Sure they came from Seattle, sure they were about the same time and sure they did their fair share of moping, but through and through Soundgarden are an awesome metal band.
On previous album Badmotorfinger Soundgarden established themselves as followers of the Zeppelin school of rock, embracing heavy riffs and brutish rhythm sections. These aspects returned on their next album with vengeance, but the band’s sound had expanded to incorporate power ballads, psychedelia and vaguely Middle Eastern instrumentation and timing. “Superunkown” is Soundgardens sprawling 70 minute magnus opus where they take their solid foundations and explore new styles creating a unique monster.
First and foremost the most astounding thing about the album is its tightness. The band all put in unbelievably good performances and although a long album there isn’t an ounce of fat or a bad track anywhere. This is much more impressive considering the huge amount of ground covered. The record neither feels jumbled though and clever and unique themes hold the sprawl closely together.
I always felt the album sounded oddly religious. Maybe it’s the Middle Eastern sounding instruments, or the pentatonic scale guitarist Kim Thayil uses that gives the songs an otherworldly feel or just the primal pounding of drums. The lyrics and themes reinforce this. “Head Down” instantly connotes prayer while Chris Cornell (lead singer) chants “we see you laugh, we see you cry” in a scary, omnipotent way. “Black Hole Sun” is a huge, hypnotic power ballad praying for the end of the world. “4th of July” name drops Christ; “Jesus tries to smile under another shovel load” and “Spoonman” pledges allegiance to a man who controls rhythm.
Away from this heady stuff Soundgarden fucking rock. Cornell is a gifted with an all-powerful voice and takes every opportunity to scream and howl. This is more Roger Plant than Corey Taylor though, and while it sounds appropriately threatening it never grinds or becomes annoying. On “Limo Wreck” he howls the chorus louder and louder each time becoming more and more intense. “Superunkown”, the awesome title track, is cleverly written to allow him to yell the last words of each line before exploding into a fantastic chorus. Elsewhere he croons aptly on songs like “The Day I Tried To Live” where he mocks the routine life expected of him. Like any good frontman Chris knows where to apply pressure and where to lay off and the balance between gunning furiously and sticking in a lower gear allows the band to shine.
This is not Cornell’s album at all though. It belongs to the entire band, no track contains anything less than perfection from all involved and across the long running time everyone gets a distinct moment to shine. The drummer Matt Cameron absolutely steals the show on “Spoonman” with a tight and impressive drum solo, this isn’t the indulgent overlong stuff and fits excellently with the theme of a God of rhythm. Thayil rocks out everywhere with some great riffs but his solos are fantastic too, for example he stirs a frenzy up on “Fell on Black Days”. A lesser band might leave this solo where it ends but the rest of the gang pounce onto it, using its energy to push up to an even higher level. Even the bassist stands out sometimes; on “My Wave” Ben Shepherd bends his bass strings and jams creating a fantastic psychedelic theme.
For all the doom and gloom the sheer strength and craftsmanship make this album an easy listen. No matter what genre you’re into this a must check out and is a perfect example of metal done properly.