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An Overlooked 90's Metal Album - 82%

JamesIII, January 6th, 2010

When this album was first released in October 1991, I was not old enough to really understand heavy metal. It would be awhile before I inherited a number of cassettes from Overkill, Megadeth, Metal Church, and Dark Angel from my dad before I began to really grasp the concept of it all. Fast forward to my middle school years, when I got a summer job, got some dough and sought out my first musical purchases.

The two albums I picked out were Soundgarden's "Badmotorfinger" and Alice In Chains' "Dirt." I knew little of these bands, but had heard "Outshined" and "Them Bones" on the radio, so I went for it. The musical significance of the latter album often causes this one to be overlooked. It also stands as the lesser of the triumvirate of "grunge" releases in 1991, or so popular opinion in retrospect would have you believe. Considering the rivals to this album for late 1991 were "Nevermind" and "Ten," the musicality of this album trumps both in terms of performance, effort, and all around quality.

Instead of focusing on Nirvana's nihilist dim-wit drivel or Pearl Jam's musically challenged anti-rockstar concepts, Soundgarden instead filtered in a heavier dose of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple into this album. These influences had always been there, even during the somewhat amateur "Screaming Life" EP four years earlier. Yet "Badmotorfinger" watches the evolution of this Seattle band go from a little known and rather immature outfit and grow up into something of a symbol of defiance to popular trends in grunge and early 90's music. This can easily be seen in songs like "Jesus Christ Pose" or even "Rusty Cage," as they both overpower anything the grunge movement could offer in 1991, falling just short of topping Alice In Chains' debut effort a year earlier. Neither band fits the "grunge" label musically, which is why both of them are respected by metal fans and included on this site.

The consistency and maturity of this album comes from the addition of Ben Shepherd into the band. In my opinion, he's a far better musician and songwriter than Hiro Yamamoto was, even though his compositions in "Half" and "Head Down" were two of the lesser songs off "Superunknown." His compisitional writings here, in the song "Somewhere" isn't as far out there and maintains a fairly decent trace of heavy metal that oozes out of the pores of this album.

Though the Sabbath worship is obvious here, particularly in the riffs and song construction, we do get a few other influences. Speed metal pops up in songs like "Face Pollution" and "Drawing Flies," and while the lyrics of the former are rather ridiculous these are both solid speedsters that break up the slow to mid-paced doom 'n gloom going on here. "Jesus Christ Pose" also throws a few faster sections in there, not to mention being one of the greatest, if not the greatest song Soundgarden ever recorded ("4th of July" off "Superunknown" takes a close second.) Chris Cornell, who is in fine form on this album, gives one of his best performances on this track as in those banshee wails that can scare all mallcore and grunge fans the world over and force them into a frightened whimper. You would never heard kind of stuff out of Nirvana, considering those guys usually frowned on anything resembling talent and musicality.

"Outshined" always struck me as one of the better songs here, as it possesses some good ideas and a catchy chorus and melody. Considering its release as a single, its a wonder how "Smells Like Teen Spirit" caught on so fast given these two songs were out there at the same time. "Holy Water" plays around with some more Sabbath ideas, especially in the riffs and slow, inevitable doom atmosphere it gives. The only thing that keeps this from becoming a full blown gloom 'n doom workshop that "Facelift" often tended to be is Chris Cornell. His vocals are more uplifting than Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell's harmonizations were. He also possesses one of the greatest vocal talents to debut in the 1990's.

For all the good things going on here, we do have a few duds. "Searching with my Good Eye Closed" comes to mind as its too damn long not to mention boring. It sticks out like a sore thumb here. "Mind Riot" does as well, as it leans a little heavily in the grunge direction particularly taking on a little Temple of the Dog influence, one of Cornell's bands that I'm not a fan of. Grunge also raises its diseased head on "New Damage," which foreshadows some of the moments that would appear on "Superunknown." If you loved that album, you might like this song. Otherwise, its a bit of a downer to close out an album that gets some good things going but just can't keep it going for its entire duration.

"Badmotorfinger"'s legacy as a grunge album will always follow it in the eyes of many thanks to the media's incessant branding of it as such. Make no mistake, this album possesses enough talent and skills, not to mention the always welcome Sabbath tribute, to smash anything the musically backward grunge scene could offer. This band's only rival came in Alice In Chains, whose "Facelift" is superior to this one in terms of excellence in songwriting though "Dirt" actually takes a backseat compared to this. Its definitely one of the best albums the early 90's here in America had to offer. Anyone who can see past the "grunge" moniker as a blatant lie and see this album for what it is, can surely enjoy the doom atmosphere with Chris Cornell's incredible performance. Now if Cornell could just drop his inferior alt-rock/pop musical nonsense and get back with this old band, the world just might be a better place.