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Soundgarden's metal/commercial qualities have alraedy been discussed at such great length that I don't feel the need to go into it here. However, I feel I do need to mention that I don't consider 'Superunknown' either a metal or a commercial album, since almost every song found in this monster full-length resembles a different aspect of their sound, plus a few drawn from outside, almost turning the album into a tour of the 90s by virtue of the multiple styles. What sets this apart from other rock albums of the same era (and especially those from the Seattle scene that Soundgarden were a key part of) is its tendency to experiment optimistically and freely, so that it often sounds joyful, rather than pensive, pissed, or pleading.
First up, 'Superunknown' is a long album and, by its varied nature, can feel rather like a compilation. This leads to vast disparities in intensity and mood between individual tracks and across the album as a whole. However, it still remains a satisfying listen in entirety due to the lazy feel of the songs and the detailing therein. The pace isn't particularly quick, even taking into account some of Soundgarden's sludge-via-Sabbath roots, so the songs sprawl rather wider than they otherwise might, including spacious clean, attacking distorted, and brooding heavy parts that cover many more musical bases and emotions than most bands do in a career. As such, it's hard to say that 'Superunknown' becomes boring during its 70 minutes, although the stamina of most listeners will be tested by the time the drearily repetitive 'Fresh Tendrils' arrives 50 minutes in. The opening and closing sections of the album actually have fewer great ideas, so the lack of energy and innovation can cause problems in attention span and the overall judgement of quality.
Without mentioning most of the separate songs here, it's tough to give an accurate idea of the sound and style of this release. There isn't so much typical sludge or speed as the band had dealt with in the past, though the idiosyncracies of the four crazies on board are still more than apparent, with plenty of wittily weird lyrics, off-kilter tempos, and art rock noise emanating from several of the songs, even those with an eye on the radio. The title track, for example, gets away with banging out a smooth country rock riff for about two minutes straight before the rampant chorus stomps all over the flow, Chris Cornell declaratively wailing "Alive in the superunknown" until Kim Thayil decides it's time to drench everything in effortless six-string honey. The big ending contrasts bizarrely with the low-key opening of 'Head Down' that lurches unsteadily into a clean groove and eerie lost-child vocals that sound like a more nervous, less bug-eyed version of something from Alice in Chains' 'Sap' EP. And it ends with a drum solo. Duh. Then there's the mellow creeping 'Black Hole Sun' with the growing chorus that everyone and their dog has heard, yet can't seem to forget. Cornell is absolutely pivotal to this one, shrieking out the refrain again and again in the closing minute over otherwise mediocre musical backing.
That mid-section of the album perhaps gives a taste of the general content, but every song has a little surprise that can unsettle the balance of your mood once again. All four musicians are doing something notable in most of the songs, especially Ben Shepherd, whose bass prevents some of the sparser and mellower tracks from losing energy, while he supplies the rockers with a groove and force that instinctively satisfies. Matt Cameron plays around the riffs, rarely settling to keep time, but actually exaggerating the jaggedness of Thayil's guitar by adding extra rhythms. He too comes through strongly at slower moments and his performance on 'The Day I Tried to Live' is worth attending to, as the jerks of percussion provide the whole mood of that song. Thayil is a little bit like Faith No More's Jim Martin in some senses, since his style is much more metal and traditional than that of his bandmates, yet he also knows how to inject the weirdness alongside the classic shredding chops, such as on 'Limo Wreck', which manages to go from a sinister slow-burn in psych/doom style to a belter of a chorus that Cornell once again gives everything to. In fact, Cornell's voice is probably the best reason to listen to 'Superunknown', since he is one of the most dynamic and powerful singers alive, even though his pipes have more in common with some of the 70s rock singers (Robert Plant or Steven Tyler) and certainly are one element that makes me incredibly sceptical about his band's presence on the Metal Archives.
Those talents are all given free rein to create, everyone receiving songwriting credits at some point on 'Superunknown', though they don't hit it off every time. 'Let Me Drown' is a dull opener for such an exciting album, with none of the distinctive features that mark the other numbers, while I'm also left cold by '4th of July' and 'My Wave'. '4th of July' has received much acclaim among the less commercially-minded, yet Cornell's impassioned delivery is the only highlight of the slow-moving song, the riffs staying at a gradual chug for most of its duration. 'My Wave', on the other hand, is just too simple and catchy for an album with this much creativity, suffering by comparison to the weightier and more thoughtful efforts. 'Like Suicide', the sprawling last track, also lacks some direction at times, which is especially a hinderance at the end of such a long album.
To sum up, I'm in agreement with those who believe that 'Superunknown' defiantly transcends the grunge scene as well as the initial conditions that gave it birth, although I don't consider this album to be an absolute masterpiece. It's very deep and subtle for a commercial release and there's enough material here to maintain interest for a while, but the songs are somewhat uneven and some are unfitting for this kind of release. Abundant talent, amazing creativity, merely good outcome.
Soundgarden’s peak came at a strange time – they released Superunknown about a month prior to Kurt Cobain’s suicide and the “death of grunge,” the genre they are widely categorized as and associated with. Superunknown is considered their pinnacle and their most popular album (ironic, with a title like that). And rightly so – though not by far, this is their best work.
Superunknown is a long album. So is its follow-up, Down on the Upside, often viewed as a disappointment, but they manage to hold more attention with Superunknown simply because the song quality is better and the strong tracks are dispersed more evenly throughout the album, instead of lumped at the end.
Chris Cornell’s voice is, as usual, incredible, showcasing his talents: everything from the low crooning of Fell on Black Days to the screeching of Spoonman. His lyrics don’t make much sense (again, typical of Soundgarden), but The Day I Tried to Live stands out as less vague and more relatable (“the words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head”). Kim’s guitar solos have a distinctive, liquid quality to them, and the band produces some monstrous riffs: see Fourth of July and Mailman. Matt Cameron is great drummer, and while his snare sounds slightly off, maybe too much reverb and too high-pitched, he makes up for it. He plays along in uncommon time signatures, like The Day I Tried to Live in 15/16, and even earns a solo on Spoonman (which also features actual spoons).
Superunknown is home to a variety of sounds, generally making it work because the song quality is high. While not as heavy as the previous album, Badmotorfinger, it contains a fair share of metal or at least hard rock. Yes, it is a step in the commercial/alternative rock direction, but they make it work without compromising too much of their earlier sound. The influence of stoner music is present, exemplified in the form of Black Hole Sun, the band’s dynamic and most popular song, with its calm, psychedelic verses and increasingly explosive choruses. Fourth of July is straight up doom metal, with a riff that sounds like it could have been taken from a Sunn O))) song (albeit somewhat faster). A Middle Eastern feel is on here as well, in the songs written by bassist Ben Shepherd, Head Down and the weakest song on the album, Half, which should have been a b-side and can be considered a joke song.
Soundgarden’s style is to start calm, and then by the end of song, enter a chaos consisting of Kim shredding, Cornell shrieking, and Matt Cameron hitting everything on his kit. It’s not an uncommon technique, but when other bands do it, it usually sounds controlled, while Soundgarden gives it the feel of improv, like they get really into the song and aren’t sure when to stop. While more common on Superunknown, the technique began to gain prominence on Badmotorfinger. On this album, it is used on almost every song. It can be extremely effective, giving the track a sense of build-up to a powerful peak – see Like Suicide for a great usage. Mostly, it is used well. Other times, they take it overboard, reaching a maximum intensity and then having nowhere to go from there, so meaningless distortion and disorder will do: My Wave, for example. This is the album’s main problem.
Superunknown is a great album – with a few minor flaws, but overall a great listen and very solid. Though leaning on the long side at seventy minutes, Soundgarden is able to pull it off by offering great songs.
1994 was a great year for music in general. Many, many classic albums were released that year by bands large and small, and the quality of them was so uniformly high that it's hard to pick five favourite records from that year, let alone just one. However, if I had to make such a choice, this album is the one I would nominate. In Superunknown, Soundgarden created a truly spellbinding record of such immense depth, beauty, darkness and sheer songcraft that twenty years on it still towers over the ages.
Musically, the album feels some way away from the heads-down riffing and vocal histrionics that defined Badmotorfinger. Those elements are still there, but a whole range of new textures and tones have been added to Soundgarden's sound. The result is an album with many, many degrees of light and shade. Arguably after this record, Soundgarden went a little too far towards the lighter end of the spectrum, and seemed to lose some of their rawer elements. It is the blend of the newer, more nuanced textures and melodies and the raw, from-the-gut Sabbath-style riffage and their punk/metal roots that elevate Superunknown several levels above anything else Soundgarden made before or since. Parts of the record show a distinct Beatles-style melodic influence, others seem quite psychedelic and tripped out, some sections are basic Sabbath worship and one track ["Kickstand"] is a nod to their punkier origins.
The record is also quite long in its running time. This could be a drawback, especially in the CD age, when bands pad out a decent LP's worth of songs with filler, but Superunknown pulls off the very, very rare feat of being consistently brilliant for its entire duration. While there are a few lesser tracks ["Half" is just a short interlude, and "Kickstand" and "Fresh Tendrils" are of a slightly lesser quality than the songs around them] the overall level of songwriting is just phenomenally high throughout. All the band members contribute songs to the record, and this helps to give variety and interest to the album. Each individual song has its own distinct character and vibe, yet falls seamlessly into place on the record as part of the whole.
The hit single was "Black Hole Sun", a heavy, gloomy slow-burning tune with a melancholy melody and a pleading chorus, but to be honest practically all of the songs here could have been candidates for the radio. Particular highpoints are innumerable. "Spoonman" has a very solid groove that just makes the listener want to dance/headbang intensely to it, the dynamics of the song almost compel one to do just that, and this song is always a highlight of the band's live shows. "4th July" is total Sabbath worship with a very grinding, doomy riff, possibly the heaviest song the band ever recorded. "Limo Wreck" seems to almost drag along languidly until the chorus comes and Cornell opens up and lets fly with his scream.
"Head Down" is a personal favourite. While not overly heavy, or really a metal song, it has a dreamy, somewhat tripped out vibe to it and a chorus which sounds blissful yet somewhat resigned. The effect of this song is to make the listener want to surrender, to let go as the music pushes them under, into another zone.
Lyric-wise, there is a lot to engage with here, although it's not always clear to decipher what Cornell's actually singing about. For example, "Fell On Black Days" [another single and possibly the most melancholic and downbeat point of the album] is self-explanatory and has some very bleak lyrics. "The Day I Tried To Live" on the other hand, is about Cornell deciding to try and engage with the outside world instead of shutting it out and being reclusive, but it takes a few listens to work this out [some listeners initially thought the song was about suicide - it's actually very much the opposite]. "Spoonman" has lyrics that are ostensibly about a street performer the band knew in Seattle, but lines like "All my friends are skeletons" do make one wonder if the song might be about drugs as well.
The vibe this record has is not really possible to describe adequately. It's psychedelic, Sabbathy, heavy, grinding, with lots of melodies and textures. It runs a whole gamut of emotions, and while it does overall tend towards the gloomy/introspective side of things, it's not a depressing record to listen to on the whole. On some songs, such as the title track, Cornell sounds wild and uninhibited, at other times regretful and resigned. It's a dark record, but with so many variations and brighter spots, like a forest dappled with light coming through the trees with the occasional clearing.
It is almost impossible to recommend this record enough. The songwriting is varied, interesting and of uniformly high quality, the production is excellent [and equally as key to the album's vibe as the music itself] the atmosphere is dark at times but not overwhelming or oppressive. Every song has a worthwhile melody or riff, every song is unique and yet part of a greater whole. This is not just the best record of 1994, this is an all-time classic, fit to rub shoulders with Master of Reality, Physical Graffiti and countless other masterpieces. It is songcraft and musicianship of the highest order. Any fan, serious or casual, of rock music in general [hell, music full stop] needs this album in their collection.
Heavy metal fans tend to be a stubborn bunch, especially when it comes to preserving that particular aesthetic they’ve grown to cherish. Despite how embellished and liberal one’s favored subgenre might appear to be, from Progressive Viking Doom to Blackened Etruscan Jazz-Polka-core, you might be surprised how conservative they become when their bands of choice start leaning in a direction that could be construed as commercially-minded. Personally, I don’t mind this tendency a single bit. For me, it’s a rather dependable quality amongst the staunch metalheads; their respect can rapidly lead to derision when they detect the slightest whiff of a once fresh artist starting to turn sour. Whether that tainted “sellout” moment is for the better or the worse from my perspective is mostly irrelevant, as the whistleblowers are not in a position to tell me what I will or won’t enjoy. Instead, they simply and frankly tell me that something has changed. There’s a glitch in The Matrix and these are not the droids that I’m looking for.
All that given, you can imagine my surprise when I was browsing these Archives, an excellent cross-section of the metal community whole, and found that Soundgarden’s Superunknown was held in extremely high esteem. “One of the most impressive releases of the 90’s” I read. “As far away from grunge as you can get” I read elsewhere. To quote the Internet: “O rly?” Have I been listening to the wrong album these last eighteen years? Was this not the third jewel in grunge’s three-prong crown? One of the wildly successful albums that, along with Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten, provided the blueprints to success for dozens of late 90’s rock bands like The Goo Goo Dolls, Bush, and Candlebox? Sure, Badmotorfinger was released closer to the subgenre’s peak and both Alice in Chains’ Dirt and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core were contenders in this department, but was not Superunknown a popular, heavy-selling, textbook example of the “Seattle sound” and its dreary excesses? Despite this unlikely setting, it seems that the metal populace actually agrees with the mainstream consensus in at least this case.
Suffice it to say, I still don’t see what all the fuss is about over this one. First off, we’ve got the hits, the ones that most people familiar with this band have heard on the radio at some point or another and led them to or fro. There’s a reason these tracks got airplay: they’re among the least caustic in the band’s catalogue to this point. The painfully overplayed “Black Hole Sun” is, for all intents and purposes, a power ballad. Sure, it’s got that darker 90’s tint to it, but it’s just as repetitive and accessible as what the hair bands were doing. “Spoonman” is more rock-oriented but it’s downright annoying, reminding me of some generic Stone Temple Pilots B-side. “But dawnoftheshred, they overdubbed spoons in with the rhythm track, you don’t hear that every day.” Ah yes, congratulations, you’ve spotted a gimmick. In half a dozen listens when the novelty wears off, come back and talk to me. Even the likably mellow “Fell on Black Days” is just too damn presentable. Remember when these guys were cheeky noisemongers and couldn’t give less of a shit about writing nice, neat music for the radio people? I sure do. Part of the appeal of their older stuff, even including major label ‘hits’ like “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage,” was the fact that these tracks were likable despite how awkward and uncouth they were. Charming in spite of itself, kind of like an attractive nerdy girl. Maybe I’m alone in this analogy, but I find in that particular chick’s purported awkwardness a window into a unique and desirable personality. The glasses, the shyness, the poor fashion sense; these qualities tend to enhance her beauty for me, rather than detract from it. Soundgarden, among other great, quirky bands like Budgie and Uriah Heep, are the musical equivalent of this nerdy girl, and a fair portion of this album is her trying to fit in at the homecoming dance, trading those glasses for contacts and doing her damnedest to blend in with everybody else.
This leads us to the second-stringers, the songs that might have been hits if they didn’t simply drone along so purposelessly. Accessible enough for the radio, but not held in high enough esteem by the band that created them. Opener “Let Me Drown” is a great example of this. Rather than charging out the door and catching everyone’s attention like “Rusty Cage” did and continues to do, this one lacks the character needed to kick off seventy minutes of rock ‘n’ roll, much less seventy minutes of heavy metal. There’s some bizarre sliding guitar riffs in there if one takes the time to appreciate the band’s subtlety, but the song as a whole still feels like a half-idea fleshed out into a four minute track. There’s more than a few songs like this on the album and from where I’m sitting, they might have combined some of these half-ideas into stronger, more recognizable songs. Again, look to “Rusty Cage” for guidance. It’s essentially two different songs sandwiched together, but what a tasty meal it manages to be. Especially compared to mono-flavored afterthoughts like “Kickstand” or “Half.”
But while a certain portion of the album underwhelms like never before there’s some unmistakable quality here in the jammier Soundgarden stuff that, while second to their metal roots, is necessary to balance out their heavier side. “Head Down” and “Limo Wreck” are a good addition to the band’s spookier side, while the title track is a bit more inclined towards rocking out, essential weirdness in tow. With the exception of Rush, I can’t think of a more popular band that so flagrantly ornaments their tracks. 7/4 and stranger grooves are so common as to be anticipated, even in heavy hitters like “The Day I Tried to Live,” and most of their songs integrate something exotic, be it in rhythm, melody, harmony, or timbre. Some tracks just seem to have been favored more than others. Clearly, intense scrutiny was used in crafting “Limo Wreck” and “Like Suicide” and it shows in their sublime balance of ideas. Compared to these, tracks like “Spoonman” and “My Wave” come off as lazily strung together.
Of course, we couldn’t possibly review this album honestly without admitting that, buried deep beneath the molten grunge and hard alternative tendencies that engulf the surface of Superunknown, a core of solid, unmistakable metal is exposed. The slow and doomy “Mailman” is a favorite of mine: a sweet combination of unpredictable percussive accents, Cornell’s mesmerizing vocal line in the verse, and those lumbering riffs! Pure Pentagram worship presented in a novel way and a great place to hear how good Chris’ voice sounds when he lays off the blasted distortion box, all in one. Everybody with a modicum of good taste seems to recognize that “4th Of July” is also a career highlight for these guys. Many so-called ‘true metal’ bands have failed to achieve the same smoldering, primordial sludge that fucking Soundgarden, “that grunge band,” so effortlessly obtain here. But if you’ve been keeping score, these two plus the handful of serene numbers from the last paragraph only amount to about half of the album’s playtime, the rest isn’t nearly as titillating.
If anyone out there still isn’t getting where I’m coming from, I’m not faulting the musicianship here. What I’m faulting is the songwriting and the “quantity over quality” presentation which always, always fails in musical matters. Superficially accessible in some parts, unfocused and boring in others, a trimmed and reorganized version of this could’ve potentially been the grunge-defying masterwork so many seem to laud it as. As so, it’s simply the first step in a speedy descent that resulted in the band folding a mere three years after this “pinnacle for its time.” Or so I’ve read.
Although mentioning the word "grunge" within metal circles will likely be met by resentment and aggression, the early 1990's did spawn a few notable gems in its time. While I've held nothing but disdain for Kurt Cobain and his disciples of mediocrity, I've also held nothing but love for the works of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. Both of these bands managed to secure varying degrees of heavy metal influence in their work and both carried themselves as respectable musicians who wrote competent albums, even pushing the boundaries of creative development in some cases.
After the powerful Black Sabbath with banshee wails of "Badmotorfinger," Soundgarden would inject a few more influences into their next work rather than running full steam ahead with the nods to doom metal. "Superunknown" contains a good helping of various inspirations and styles, all of which merge well enough together to form a broad creative range for the band's music. Alot of this was brought on Chris Cornell's desire to add more alternative rock elements into the band's work, something that became a little too evident on "Down on the Upside." On the flipside, Kim Thayil sought to keep Soundgarden firmly embedded in its metallic past, hence this varied but excellent work of art was given form.
Some of the songs removed from the band's previous musical styles often follow one of two styles, the first being a more tolerable and less half-assed version of grunge and the other spiking some psychedelic rock influences into the mix. Most of the singles released off this album, including "Fell on Black Days" and "The Day I Tried to Live" are examples of the former at work. The latter comes more into focus with the song "Head Down," but also appears in varying degrees in numerous other songs from the immensely overplayed "Black Hole Sun" (in terms of singles, "Fell on Black Days" is far superior) and the floating "Fresh Tendrils."
Despite the myriad of other styles that come into focus on this album, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the best moments on this release bring the chunky Black Sabbath worship into full swing. The absolute best example of this is "4th of July," whose dark atmosphere and doom metal approach takes my pick for the best song on this album. More good examples of this at work are "My Wave," "Limo Wreck," and the bottom heavy "Mailman," although all three of these have other influences on display as well. I'd even argue that if the guitars on "Mailman" were muddier and chunkier in tone it could possibly pass for a Crowbar song albeit with Chris Cornell's wails replacing Kirk Windstein's bellowing vocals.
For everything good thats here, this album does manage to run into snags. The only two songs I found dismissable were "Black Hole Sun" and "Half." The former is obviously the most overplayed song on this album, and the song most people associate with Soundgarden. Perhaps my aversion to this song in particular comes from such an unwarranted focus on it when there are better compositions to be found here. "Half," on the other hand, has little real keepsake value. The song sounds like a throwaway b-side with its aimless attempt at some kind of psychedelic atmosphere meets alternative rock horror show. Aside from that, both "Spoonman" and "Fell on Black Days" recieve more attention than they should, but both are still good songs which is what music is all about anyway.
"Superunknown" seems to be considered the crowning achievement of Soundgarden and for once, I agree with the mainstream media's perception of a grunge era album. The musicianship as well as Cornell's vocal performance are both still very creditable as they were before but the added musical influences present here only elevates the songwriting talent of the members involved. I havn't heard many bands who could pull something like this off, or even able to merge so many different styles on one album let alone in nearly every song. This album still ranks highly with me, right
alongside "Badmotorfinger" and Alice In Chains' works as the better side of American music in the early to mid 1990's. The fact that these two bands hailed from Seattle and managed to upstage Nirvana and Pearl Jam and their legions of musically backwards followers is all the more reason to sit back and enjoy this album.
Of all the Soundgarden albums, this is easily my favorite. Badmotorfinger got me into the band, but this album draws you in like no other, regardless of what music locale you’re coming from. Something about it tastes so bittersweet and the stench is so alluring. The uniqueness of this album has withstood history; I can hardly think of anything that sounds so distinct on such a level. The album is so dynamic, enduring, rich, and deep without going overboard – it has its own character and personality, flawlessly tripping you out every time you hear it. The band is at their creative peak with this album, I feel, and was unable to replicate it in their short career post-release.
Superunknown encompasses many styles that make listening to this a spiritual journey as anyone’s ever going to get. There is this essence that transcends merely hearing songs; it reaches in and pulls you into Soundgarden’s blazed world. While the last output stood well on its own as a heavy metal album, this one goes more into the alternative territory (“grungier,” if you so happen to be yelling that at this point). The bass is at its grooviest, the tone is squishy, and the vibe is psychedelically chill. It’s quite a comforting, warm approach to such music and makes it standout well amongst its peers.
Many people have heard the staple “Black Hole Sun,” and while I think its pretty good, I dismiss it in the face of the other tracks, which I believe excel way above it. Many people miss out on the surfer-esque “My Wave,” the anthem / epic title track, and the hauntingly gloomy “Head Down.” Superunknown is packed with pieces that truly have a life of their own; so many personalities running wild make this a dreamy experience like no other. The main effect comes from the guitars, which morph between brisk, muddy, pensive, and overall colorful and friendly, despite the overall dark tone of the album. Thayil, that bearded bastard, is the real deal behind the fun factor, though Cornell and him don’t fuck around when it comes to the more raw tracks like “Spoonman.” You want a throwback to Badmotorfinger, then “Spoonman” is your call sign. Aside from the inclusion of spoons, the song is a balls to the wall beat-em-up with a skullcrushing riff and a brilliant, soulful performance on Cornell’s part. Everything you’d expect from him shines here and elsewhere: expressiveness, lucidity, articulation, and just flat-out hellish wailing with that pissed-off attitude behind them.
Alice In Chains may have been fucked up with their realistic portrayal of drugs on their Dirt album a couple years before this release, but Soundgarden portray such substances in a more positive, philosophical light. The concept of duality is alive and well as your soul surges through each song, for your body doesn’t need to be along for the ride to get a once in a lifetime experience. It’s difficult to really nail down a track for giving this album a bad rap, since the experience is collective; they all must team together to whisk your mind off into another world. You can easily choose a song at random and still have a jovial time, but if you want to achieve enlightenment without becoming Buddhist, then you must hear this from start to finish. It’s a long album, but not one moment you’ll feel out of touch from metal – only reality and all of its associated evils.
Drumming I’d say is relentless without going into any extreme territories. Matt Cameron is a beast in a wolf’s body, I’d say, because he can pretty much compete with the best of them. He takes on a jazzier style, much like the music, but that won’t stop him when the music takes a nosedive (which it often does). Crashing cymbals and bobbing double bass never had so much power behind them, and you can literally picture him in your head playing them; you damn well know it’s him behind the kit. He definitely has the right patterns going on, really helping you to take the music all around without going berserk or pummeling you non-stop with blast-beats. If there’s one thing I’ll rag on, it’s the hollow sounding toms, which even then is like stabbing Euronymous in the back right after Varg finished – you just don’t do it. It’s very noticeable and although I hate it, I can’t help but love it, but only because the music benefits all-around (hollow toms / snares would never pass in my book for an extreme metal band).
One track I’ll praise wholeheartedly with all the life in my body is “4th Of July,” a track that offers more than all the singles from this album combined. The guitar ruptures forward, falling leisurely with a luxuriously sludgy tone. The atmosphere is otherworldly dark, brooding alongside Cornell’s haunting opening lines. It’s the darkest song on the album, which protrudes as its lifespan shortens with every passing second. It’s an unforgettable song that captures the best of all the instruments and will cause the hairs on the back of your neck to cower. The bass, like on most of the album, is particularly bludgeoning and crisp, truly adding another layer as it crushes any unmoving moments.
It was a monumental achievement when an album like this managed to become number one in the US, especially considering the content. All the yuppies care about “Black Hole Sun,” but we know there’s far more magic to be found. If you see the opulent cover art as it sits proudly on the face of the booklet (behind the jewel case, of course) chilling on the shelf of the nearest music store, then you better cough up all you have (if that’s what it takes) in order to get it. Superunknown is really the masterwork of Soundgarden and will live happily amongst the rabble of our collection, as it does in my own.
As I've written many reviews for bands spanning from genres such as grindcore, black metal, and death metal..I've decided I need to review more things that had actually gotten me into metal. Soundgarden was one of the bands I listened to when I was younger, and I still avidly do. This band is a very nice mixture of grunge and hard rock. They aren't an intense band, but I love them anyways. This is just really interesting music which is widely accessible.
'Superunknown' is probably Soundgardens gateway album. Everyone knows the song 'Black Hole Sun', even if they aren't Soundgarden fans. Due to the radio constantly playing it, people only really get a small taste of Soundgarden. Though, Black Hole Sun is a good song, it isn't the reason I listen to it so much. 'Superunknown' is filled with variation, the kind that keeps me interested. There's a ton of upbeat, happy-go-grunge style songs such as 'My Wave'. These songs are plainly fun as hell, and are the kind of break you need from the rest of the album. There's also some slower, more depressive sounding songs like 'Head Down'. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I get that depressing vibe from this song with every listen. You really get a lot of different worlds of music when you give the entire record a spin. You can hear that stoner doom vibe in 'Let Me Drown', and the other attributed I have already stated. To be honest, I'll probably be listening to this band when I'm forty.
What sets Soundgarden above other grunge acts? Well for one, there's more than just fast power chords. If you think Nirvana is the most innovative grunge band, you live under a rock. The guitar writing style varies a lot, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly how they play. There's a ton of soloing, it isn't show-offy but it's great. There are thicker riffs, but there's also a lot of single-note picking. There's a lot of groove in the riffs, which is a grunge attribute. The bass guitar is also poppy, and stands out in the mix. The bass does it's function quite well in this music, as it makes the music more 'full', as well as its use for a melodic filler every now and then. The drum work is quite interesting, and I've never had a chance to talk about a style like this. Usually, it's blast beats and super fast fills I have to speak about. Though here, there's more variation. The typical grunge sounding jungle beat (which is a floor tom and snare combo), is used quite often. There's just a ton of steady rock beats going on, but a perk thrown in to make it interesting. Musically, 'Superunknown' is just great.
Another thing that sets Soundgarden above many 90's grunge rock bands is Chris Cornell. Damn, he's such a great vocalist. His voice is so powerful, and he's able to hit a lot of high and low notes. His range helps Soundgarden hit new heights. Also, his voice is very distinguishable. A lot of people can hear his singing, and note who he is. I've followed his work for a long time, as I'm an Audioslave fan. There really needs to be more clean singers like Chris Cornell. If there were, maybe newer bands of this type would sound that much better.
Well, Soundgarden is one of the bands that had gotten me into the music world. Soundgarden is an important band to me because they helped me along, as well as Alice in Chains. This is a pinnacle for its time, and anyone who still loves that 90's vibe will really love this. The only 'Superunknown' thing about this album is that you don't have it!
Oh, Lord! If I could give it a 101% then I would! This has got to be one of the records I've listened to the most in my entire life. Since the day I bought it it's been with me and I know I will never grow tired of it.
Before I start dissecting the platter song by song I'd like to underline something: anybody out there still thinks that this is grunge? I am asking this because I'd like to hear someone's opinion on the matter; if this is actually grunge, then what's Nirvana? And Pearl Jam? And if those two are grunge, then what's this?
For far too long Soundgarden has been tagged a grunge band but the title fits them as that of political refugee fits Tony Montana.
So, in my opinion, this is as far away from grunge as you can get. Meaning that the songs on here being melodic and somewhat radio-friendly and at the same time finding throughout the whole album 9 or 10 different guitar tunings and barely a 4\4 is totally due to the fact that the musicians involved are of the highest level possible in both creativity\song-writing and inclination towards experimentation.
So, here's the songs the way I see them:
The opening track, "Let Me Drown" is the quintessential Soundgarden: mammoth riffs, high-pitched/abrasive screams opposed to more melodic and quite memorable relaxed vocals. A slower mid-part that breaks into the most terrifying scream in Cornell's whole repertoire takes you slowly to the crescendo that is the solo (and a great solo it is!) , all backed by the most creative and talented rhythmic section of the '90 (Sheperd and Cameron, bass and drums, respectively). Songs like this, the punk-ish “Kickstand” (barely two minutes of pure ass-kicking rock), the spaced-out title-track and the funk-tribal-hard-rock of “Spoonman” form the heavy backbone of the album.
All the other songs reference the same level of intensity while sensibly departing from the hard- rocking approach in favour of a more contorted, oddball type of song-writing.
The 5/4 of "My Wave" (with it’s outro being a neuron-killer with Kim Tahyl's guitar comfortably warbling undefined extraterrestrial sounds), the unstable structures of “Mailman” and “Fresh Tendrils”, and “Limo Wreck” referencing Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed And Confused” are a perfect example of this.
"Fell On Black Days", is possibly the quieter, more MTV friendly song of the lot, along with “The Day I Tried To Live”. These songs show how Chris Cornell’s creativity has evolved over the three years since the release of “BadMotorFinger” and how much his voice has matured. Michael Beinhorn’s production needs a special note regarding these tracks, because without his wizardry they wouldn’t probably sound as good as they do.
The three most unique songs of the lot and also the most creative: "Head Down", trippy, contorted, irregular, psychedelic, unusual, unexpected, undeniably beautiful. Penned by Sheperd and interpreted by the band in a truly masterly fashion (especially Cameron's drum job with all those odd signatures is jaw-dropping).
Then there’s "Black Hole Sun": everything about this song is pushed to the limit, the concept, the execution, even the imagery of the video, and it's a song that nobody will ever touch, something that was completely new at the time of it's release and still is now. I wish somebody nowadays was capable of something like this!
Another “song” by Sheperd, “Half" is an eclectic collection of sounds coming out of a wide lot of instruments all played by him, with April Acevez and Justine Foy backing him with their strings. The result is another trippy and unusual, yet easily enjoyable tune that gives us an idea of what Sheperd's twisted brains are capable to elaborate.
These songs are the most daring and experimenting songs of the lot.
Later on the album Chris Cornell gives us two more unforgettable masterpieces, two songs that nobody, in my opinion, will ever even come close to: "4th Of July", panzer cadence (or better, in this case, decadence), the most beautiful lyrics and most effective vocals on the whole album. The verses guitar riff beautifully espouses Cornells amazing voice leading to the chorus in a crescendo of emotions that makes my goose-bumps wanna explode and bleed! Then there’s the masterful, haunting ballad "Like Suicide", a final dark ride into his deepest emotions It's unbelievable how a musician can create such musical beauty based solely on a single event of his life. This song in fact, is dedicated to a bird that Cornell, let's say, "mercy-killed" after he found it, wounded and agonizing, in his room; but, reading the lyrics for the first time and not knowing the little anecdote behind it, I bet anybody would think what I thought: that this song was depicting some important woman or, anyway, a person, in Cornell's life. But no, a fucking bird! As for the song, this is just as perfect a ballad as it can possibly be. It's got everything it needs: the usual set of amazingly beautiful vocals that just match perfectly with the music, an incredibly haunting bridge and an even better chorus, a powerful mid-section that backs-up a brilliant and masterful solo... you can't possibly ask for more! It's just pure perfection!
The album closes with "She Likes Surprises", part funk, part metal, part blues, all Soundgarden. Again odd times, again great vocals and the weirdest break in Soundgarden's discography make of this tune a little jewel that functions as the perfect cherry-on-top of a great album.
An album that marked a decade, that marked the zenith of a band and that is, to me, the highest point ever reached by an alternative rock/metal band. A piece of history, a must have!
Soundgardens crown jewel, Superunknown, is not only their best album but possibly one of the greatest of its era. On Superunknown they perfectly make the sound they have been searching for since Ultramega OK and nearly found on BadMotorFinger. Most of the tracks on Superunknown are rock, but some contain an indefinable sound such as “Half”, while not losing any heaviness. It is truly one of the greatest complete pieces of work ever put together.
Superunknown starts off with the metallic “Let Me Drown”, which is a BadMotorFinger-esque, head-banger. The vocals on this track have an echo-ing effect, which is really cool! A great track to start off with.
Following is “My Wave”. “My Wave” is pop-punk-ish song that really could have been a single. It has radio play written all over it. It has a mostly straightforward rock sound, a rarity for Soundgarden.
Changing pace, “Fell on Black Days”, slows the tempo down. But it doesn’t ruin the flow of the album at all. It is comparatively slow and soft to some of Soundgardens other songs, not only on this album but overall. However it is menacingly heavy.
“Mailman” follows quite nicely after “Fell on Black Days”. It has a similar feel, it’s dark and menacing. Not a weak track by any means, but is not on the same level as some of the other songs on this album. Though has a pretty cool, distortion filled, guitar solo.
The title track (“Superunknown”, DUH!) is a very cool song that sounds like it could fit in perfectly on BadMotorFinger. Is more fast paced than most of the tracks on Superunknown.
Following is the majestic “Black Hole Sun”, which is amazing in all sense of the world. It encircles you and doesn’t let go. It’s no surprise that this song became a hit. Also, Kim Thayil has one of the coolest guitar solos of all-time.
The next track is the other radio hit, “Spoonman”. “Spoonman” defines originality; think about it, HOW MANY BANDS USED SPOONS IN A HIT SONG?!? The percussion part is really cool, shows the originality that Soundgarden possessed
“Limo Wreck” follows and once again the albums pace is changed, along with the mood. It is immensely heavy and the lyrics convey distinctly dark images.
“The Day I Tried to Live” is without much question about suicide. It is dark, heavy, and mildly remmeniscent of their early song “I Awake”. Ben Shepherd provides the driving, deep, bass line, which besides the early guitar chimes, is the riff.
Once again changing pace, “Kickstand” is a minute and a half, punk song. It is somewhat regressive from the rest of the album, though it fits fine.
“Fresh Tendrils” returns back to the slower nature of the rest of the album, and as with most of the other songs it is still no doubt heavy.
“4th of July” is a highly distorted, depressingly heavy song that seems to put its boot on your head on not let up. The vocals are nicely distorted, with both Chris Cornell singing lead and backup, along with Matt Cameron.
Next is “Half”, a which is distinctly Indian sounding. Also, Ben Shepherd provides vocals, guitar and bass on this track, albeit the vocals are highly distorted and barely recognizeable. In “Half” it seems as though Soundgarden has added a Sitar to their arsenal of instruments.
Wrapping the album up is “Like Suicide”, which is slow, like most of the rest of the album, but the slowness is lighter. Ironically, this version is not their best, the 12-string acoustic version on “Songs from the Superunknown” is better.
And for those lucky enough to pick up a copy with “She Likes Surprises” is an excellent song. For those of you not so luck it is available on “Songs from the Superunknown”.
In total, Soundgardens masterpiece “Superunknown” is full of originality. It is Soundgarden finally putting everything together and making something amazing. It is one of the few albums by an artist that can sum up their career as much as a “greatest hits/best of”. At 70 minutes it’s a long listen, but one of the reasons of its greatness is the fact that it is a complete album, not 2 or 3 hits and filler. This is not only a great album by its comteporaries standards, it trandscens that to become one of the best albums ever!
You must hear this for yourself!
I haven't gotten a Soundgarden album since they released Superknown. I got it the year it came out. I'm not saying Soundgarden is bad, I just lost interest in them. That doesn't mean they suck. Neither does it mean Superunknown sucks.
This is Soundgarden's groundbreaking album. They were at the peak of their career with Superunknown. This is probably the album that made Soundgarden famous. Black Hole Sun was a song to be reckoned with back in 1994. I really love that song. It's got a really melodic intro. Chris Cornell's vocals are really impressive on this track. Especially towards, the end of the song. He shines on Black Hole Sun.
This is more of a rock album than a metal album. It does have some metal influences on this, but it's more rock. It is heavy, yes indeed. The guitars sound more rock than metal. Thayil has his moments and they are pretty good. The drumming doesn't sound so metal at all. If you really listen closely, it sounds more rock.
I really like the song Kickstand. It's a fast catchy song with great lyrics. It's not the standout track on Superknown, but it's really great. It's a short and sweet song. I enjoy this song a lot.
The standout track on here is, Spoonman. It features an extremely catchy riff and good vocals. I have no idea what the lyrics exactly mean, but they're pretty good as well. There's also some good drumming on this song.
I haven't had the oppurtunity to listen other Soundgarden albums, but I think Superunknown is fantastic.
After the release of the classic Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden had the unenviable task of trying to make an album that could possibly match or even top it and they have done just that. Once again, the strength of the album lies within Chris Cornell's stellar singing. Very possibly his best effort, although every album since Badmotorfinger Cornell has possessed vocals many vocalists could only dream of matching. One thing that leads me to believe this as one of the most impressive grunge/metal albums of all is how catchy and consistent the entire album is. From Let Me Drown all the way to Like Suicide this album is filled with tons of memorable hooks although not quite as flashy as some of their previous material ( ala Jesus Christ Pose).
For metal standards, the rhythm guitar is quite simplified, but heavy and catchy. They have played more complex riffs on previous albums but none really come close to this effort. You could almost call it a stoner groove at times although their is more than enough variety of styles blended to make this CD not sound like the same song repeated (ie Kickstand, Fell on Black Days, 4th of July, My Wave). Kim Thayil's lead work is once again top notch, the best grunge/metal guitarist many will never know about. Most metal fans would probably laugh at this drumming although for the scene, Matt Cameron was more than a competent drummer. Overly complex drumming is not necessary for this style of music anyways. Bass work is decent but not that impressive, just like almost every other album in existence! The strength of the album lies in Chris Cornell's amazing vocals and Thayil's solo's. Without either, it doesn't feel the same (see Audioslave).
It feels criminal giving standout tracks because after a few listens because you'll notice the vast majority of the song's on this CD are very well done! Highlights include Fell On Black Days (one of their most melodic, emotional and beautiful songs ever), Black Hole Sun (If I have to explain this undeniable classic, you need to hear more music :P ), The Day I Tried To Live(one of the most memorable intros and choruses on the album) , 4th of July (fans of doom or heavy riffs must hear this keeper), Like Suicide (vintage Cornell, all that needs to be said). Then I'm leaving out My Wave, Spoonman, Kickstand, title track etc... too much impressive work on here. I consider this to easily be a top 2 grunge/metal album and one of the most impressive releases of the 90's! Do yourself a favor and check this album out if ya havent already!!!
Ok, so we have perhaps the best rock/grunge album of all times here, or certainly one of the best. SuperUnknown is a fucking brilliant album, and a standard. What you get here is complete musicianship. Perhaps the best vocal performance ever done by a singer. Chris Cornell really stamped his authority after this album, and made Kurt Cobain look like a kid. SuperUnknown was released in 1994, and was an instant hit, and made Soundgarden a big success. All the songs on SuperUnknown are an absolute must for any rock/grunge fan, and Soundgarden never believed in fillers. The album starts off with LetMeDrown, which is an excellent opener. Matt does some great work on the drums, and some great singing. MyWave is the next song, which just owns. The intro to the song is perhaps the best ever to a Soundgarden song. I love the song writing here. The next song is the best fucking song Soundgarden EVER DID. It's called FellOnBlackDays, and man it kicks serious ass. It's got an excellent compilation, outstanding lyrics, and a great melody. This is the strongest point of the album, and maybe the highest point of Soundgarden's carrier. Mailman is a bass-oriented song, and perhaps the second heaviest track of the album. It's a great song, with some fine guitar-work. The title track is the noisiest/heaviest track of the album, and just simply owns. Cornell shows his true colors here, and screams like hell. The leads done by Kim are excellent. The song is a great rocker, and must be played LOUD. HeadDown is probably the weakest song here, as compared to the other songs. It's basically a mid-paced track, and has a nice tune. The next track, BlackHoleSun was the song that made SuperUnknown such a huge success. It remained at top in the charts for a long time. It was an instant hit. It's a great track, and Kim steals the show here with his lead guitaring. Matt also does some nice work with his drums. SpoonMan is another fucking AWESOME song, and the second best ever Soundgarden song behing FellOnBlackDays. It's an excellent track, and has a great tune. It just OWNS! The next track, LimoWreck is yet another fine performance. The album's level never decreses. Cornell was such a fucking elite singer, and had so much variety in his singing, it's almost unbelieveable. LimoWreck is another example of that. He starts with a mellow voice, and then does the trademark screaming in the chorus. TheDayITriedToLive is the 10th track on the album. It's very good. The song-writing is a bit weak here, but that doesn't affect much. KickStand is a fast-paced track, and is an interesting one. It's something different to the previous songs. The next track, FreshTendrils is yet again, an excellent song. It starts off really fine, and has an excellent tune. Cornell's singing is the highlight here. 4thOfJuly is another KILLER! It's just a brilliant track. The song-writing, the guitars, the vocals, everything's great here. Half, the next song is a really interesting track. It's different than any other of the tracks on the album, and i really like it. The album finishes off with LikeSuicide, and there couldn't have been a better ending to an outstanding album. The song's outstanding. The song-writing's outstanding. The singing of Cornell just continues to grow, and the guitars back it up really well. Matt also does a fair job here.
So that was SuperfuckingUnknown. If you've got an inch of rock/grunge taste, SuperUnknown would be the album you'd love to have. GO BUY IT, and see for yourself what a great band they were. I won't name a best track here, because almost all the songs here are amazing. SuperUnknown was a benchmark, and a masterpiece!