Review Summary: Soundgarden’s masterpiece “Superunknown” is truly a powerful journey, and one of the most emotionally draining albums of all-time.
You’d be hard pressed to find many albums as emotionally draining as “Superunknown.” Soundgarden’s 1994 release is one of the darkest, grungiest, and utterly fantastic records that I have ever heard. “Superunknown” is considered the magnum opus of a somewhat overlooked grunge band. Soundgarden arrived on the music scene earlier than the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains, releasing “Ultramega Ok” and “Louder Than Love” in the late 1980’s. The band gained even more popularity and acclaim in 1991, with their best record yet, “Badmotorfinger.” At this point, it became clear that Soundgarden was growing with each release, so it wasn’t far-fetched to believe “Superunknown” would continue the trend.
It becomes apparent when Chris Cornell delivers “Stretch marks over my eyes, burn the candles deep inside,” in the album’s first track that this will be a much gloomier record. “Superunknown” is subject to heavily distorted and dropped tuning guitars and soaring and blunt vocals that give it sheer brutality. The slow burning Limo Wreck
directly reflects this, its self-hating lyrics and eerie atmosphere represents the record very well. Trippy single Black Hole Sun
is responsible for a great deal of “Superunknown’s” success, it’s disturbing and absurd music video says everything about the song. Don’t get me wrong, this record does have its lighter moments, but even the more upbeat nature of The Day I Tried to Live
is misleading. In the opening verse, Cornell’s lyrics are distressing, “I woke up the same as any other day, except a voice was in my head. It said ‘Seize the day, pull the trigger, drop the blade and watch the rolling heads.’” Still, the track blissfully carries on, Cornell utilizing his distinct yell, Cameron beating his drums to a pulp, and Thayil wailing on his guitar. Spoonman
also plays along these lines, for it is an excellent track with an unforgettable riff. Spoonman
features disturbing lyrics of its own; “All my friends are Indians, all my friends are brown and red, Spoonman. And all my friends are skeletons, they beat the rhythm with their bones, Spoonman.”
A major underscore of the record is that of Fell on Black Days
which is an excellent ballad that features some of Cornell’s best vocals and Thayil’s strongest guitar work. The song is extremely catchy and utilizes a somewhat simple bass line. “Superunknown’s” gloomiest moment may possibly be 4th of July
, a tremendously heavy track with Cornell hauntingly singing “Cause I heard it in the wind, and I saw it in the sky. And I thought it was the end and I thought it was the 4th of July.” The album’s final song is a perfect closer; Like Suicide
comes to a fulfilling climax with Cornell converting his deep grunge voice to his high-pitched scream. The tribal drumming and slow-burning nature of the track has an amazing effect and at the bridge Thayil just tears the track apart. When expecting the tragic nature of the song the listener isn’t disappointed, the songwriting is as tragic as ever, “She lived like a murder, how she’d fly so sweetly. She lived like a murder, but she died just like suicide.”
Soundgarden’s masterpiece “Superunknown” is truly a powerful journey, and one of the most emotionally draining albums of all-time. You don’t even have to listen to the record in order to get a sense of the dimness. Just look at the song titles, Fell on Black Days
? Limo Wreck
? The Day I Tried to Live
? Absolutely tormented.
Fell on Black Days
Black Hole Sun
The Day I Tried to Live