Review Summary: Chris Cornell at his best; Soundgarden at their heaviest and most eclectic. A true titan of alternative rock and heavy music.
It's baffling that Soundgarden doesn't get more consideration as possibly the best band of the 90's. I know that they're a member of the Seattle grunge scene's "big four," and everybody likes "Black Hole Sun," but let's look at the facts here: Soundgarden released two absolute musical beasts in the first half of the decade (this album and Superunknown
), had arguably the greatest vocalist in rock history, and sounded like nothing made before or since. Yet they are the least talked-about of the big four. 1991's Badmotorfinger
was the sound of a solid band coming into their own with unprecedented force.
Chris Cornell - Vocals, rhythm guitar
Kim Thayil - Lead guitar
Ben Shepherd - Bass
Matt Cameron - Drums
The definitive element of Soundgarden's music was the voice of frontman Chris Cornell. On their first two albums, Ultramega OK
and Louder Than Love
, his delivery was powerful, but raw and unpolished. Here, he demonstrates incredible tone and an absurd vocal range. If you are new to Soundgarden, it is absolutely necessary that you listen to "Jesus Christ Pose" and "Slaves & Bulldozers." Not only are these two of the best and heaviest songs the band ever wrote, they are two of the most remarkable performances of Cornell's career. The former is a vicious assault on televangelists, with Cornell's angry lyrics screamed with utmost conviction over a repetitive bassline, chaotic riffs, and excellent drums. The latter is the band's heaviest song, and shows the full extent of Cornell's vocal range during the chorus. "Slaves" also has a crushing bassline and a true guitar freakout in the middle.
Guitarist Kim Thayil is a master of unconvential tunings and tones (for example, "Mind Riot" is tuned to CCCCCC). He can bring heavy riffs (see "Rusty Cage" and "Holy Water") and nice melodic lines ("Somewhere" and "Mind Riot"). His solos are expectedly unique and bring an interesting lead element to a band that is very strong rhythmically.
Bassist Ben Shepherd is not loud on record, but he brings a very thick tone and heavy groove to every song. Most of the band's metal elements are evident in his bass style, but he also can play higher, more melodic bass parts like on "Somwhere." Rhythm section partner Matt Cameron is a very talented drummer, but only plays fills when absolutely necessary. His timing and precision is perfect, and he is a good fit for any style of music. The only song where he really shows off, though, is "Jesus Christ Pose."
The band shows some diversity on their short, punkish numbers, such as the excellent "Face Pollution" and "Drawing Flies." Both of these songs feature sparse saxophone and Shepherd's most fun bass playing. These songs show off the bands ability to unleash raucous garage-band fury as a complement to their long metallic behemoths.
produced a few quality singles as well. Besides "Jesus Christ Pose," which I believe is the second-best song the band ever wrote, there was the hit "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage," which would be covered by Johnny Cash. Despite "Outshined" being one of Soundgarden's most famous songs, it is actually one of the weaker ones on the album. Although it does have a great chorus, the performance from everybody is not up to the standards set by most of the album cuts. Opener "Rusty Cage" is very upbeat for half of the song, before slowing down to a muddy Sabbathian riff that brings the listener back to their first two albums.
has taken a backseat in music history to it's poppier successor Superunknown
, it is of equal if not better quality. This album and Temple of the Dog's self-titled are Cornell's ultimate performances, and it serves as a bridge between the riffy stoner rock/metal of their first two albums and the more radio-friendly and eclectic sound of their last two. This is a must-buy.