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Grunge icons, or a metal band in denial? - 90%

hells_unicorn, June 5th, 2019
Written based on this version: 1989, CD, A&M Records

Contrary to what the music media would have people believe nowadays, most of the early efforts of the so-called grunge scene were generally lumped in with the still dominant metal/rock scene of the day, and not without good reason. This was particularly the case with Soundgarden's first foray into the mainstream with the backing of A&M Records, a rather surprising eventuality considering the generally schizophrenic character of the material that they had previously released through Sub Pop and SST, let alone the continual insistence of the band themselves that they wanted nothing to do with the heavy metal scene. Be all this as it may, the mechanics of Soundgarden's sound during what could be dubbed their middle era (i.e. 1989 through 1992) is possessed of a heavily metallic character, largely informed by the utterly obvious influence of Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and even some elements of the somewhat stoner/doom leanings of their former SST label mates Saint Vitus. Combined with a more polished production and an obvious abandonment of the band's punk sensibilities and oddball eclecticism that were all over Ultramega OK, their 1989 sophomore effort Louder Than Love could perhaps be best understood as an early stoner metal classic, without it losing any degree of its obvious uniqueness and stylistic adventurism.

Unpacking what exactly a stoner metal album would sound like circa 1989 when fellow pioneers Sons Of Kyuss (later Kyuss) were getting their first demo out and most of the bands exhibiting traits of said style were more closely associated with the doom metal traditionalism of Trouble is a difficult undertaking, and it could be argued that this album is atypical even within said context. There are elements of spacey progressive rock and even a hint of psychedelic atmospheric that play into how the guitars are layered together, but it is tempered into a fairly typical late 80s production where the drums have more of a forceful character to them that lends itself to a mainline late 80s metal/rock character. This forms a rather curious synchronicity that plays into a fairly similar area as where Black Sabbath might have gone had they stuck with their signature 70s sound after Ozzy had left, and Chris Cornell's banshee-like shrieks that are often compared to Robert Plant actually come off as more of a raggedy hybrid of Osbourne's higher-pitched wails during the mid-70s and the glass-shattering mayhem of Ian Gillian when at his peak. Nevertheless, the oddball timing of the rocking, 80s sounding anthem "Get On The Snake", the quirky psychedelic doom nightmare "I Awake" and the dreary doom turned thrashing meandering of "Gun" essentially run the gambit of possible interpretations of metal while staying mostly within the Sabbath paradigm.

Yet perhaps the most overriding factor in this album's uniqueness, not only within the broad context of 1989 but also within the narrower one of Soundgarden's career, is that it strikes a perfect balance between the band's more humor-driven past and their overly serious and depressing future. There are a few moments of overt comedy like the Sabbath-infused rocker and parody of glam band innuendo "Big Dumb Sex", to speak nothing for the brilliant speed metal infused tale of friends getting it on with friends' moms "Full On Kevin's Mom", but the overall picture drawn here is one of nuanced seriousness that plays well to their doom-leaning sound, yet also ironically puts them into similar territory to contemporary acts in the heavy metal scene such as Skid Row and Guns 'N' Roses, at least from a lyrical standpoint. Perhaps the most socially aware offering of the pack is a heavy-thudding nod to Sabbath's Vol. 4 sound "Hands All Over", taking a critical look at human impact upon the environment with a correspondingly dense musical backdrop and Cornell wailing in the polluted stratosphere. Meanwhile, there is a sense of horror that paints over the slow-crawling Sabbath-worship of "No Wrong No Right" that hearkens all the way back to the early 70s sound of said band, ditto the slightly less slow and more tuneful yet sorrowful sounding "Loud Love".

Though it may prove an unpopular position among those who follow Soundgarden's career religiously and lean more into the mainstream grunge narrative who point to Superunknown as this band's magnum opus, as well as more metal minded folks who will tend to point to Bad Motorfinger as their crowning achievement, this album represents this band at their absolute best. Ironically enough, the masterful balance of seriousness and humor that is struck here is ultimately the result of a compromise between Soundgarden's ideological opposition to the goofiness of the 80s L.A. scene and the somewhat more measured yet still steeped in 80s slickness that defined a number of late 80s entries into the rock/metal world. It mostly manifests through the production quality that resulted from pressure from their label to put something together that would still be marketable to a 1989 audience, even though musically it was more indicative of a 70s mindset. It doesn't outright eschew virtuoso musicianship when looking not only at a few shred-happy solos out of Kim Thayil, but also the progressively tinged songwriting, but it avoids any indication of showboating as well. In essence, it's a metal album by a band that was in denial about what they were writing, and has only a tangential connection with what made them a commercial success years later. It's only a grunge album in the way that Sanctuary's Into The Mirror Black would be considered grunge, because it came out of a band from Seattle.

Sludgegarden - 78%

Insin, May 9th, 2015

Love does not have a volume or make noise. It is an abstract concept. So, by default, this album is in fact louder than love: an improvement upon the mediocre Ultramega OK, but not yet at the level of later albums Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Soundgarden adopts a sludgy feel, much of the album slow and driven by Black Sabbath worship with the inclusion of punk influences. The song Gun demonstrates exactly what the album is about. It’s doomy and slow, gradually building in speed until the punk-driven bridge, with a solo that has not quite yet taken on Kim’s trademark sound but still kicks ass.

Louder Than Love features solid instrumentation, albeit nothing special, and the production is raw. The band plays in various unusual time signatures, typical for them throughout their entire career (despite not being associated with prog or math rock/metal). There are a few memorable riffs here, especially Gun, Loud Love, Hands All Over and Big Dumb Sex’s funky, catchy riff. Loud Love shares an almost floating, spacey vibe with Searching with My Good eye Closed from the following album. I Awake is despairing, beginning with the lines “woke up depressed,” and it descends into Cornell screeching “I love you!” over and over, no doubt helping the band earn the nickname “Frowngarden.” Hands All Over is the album’s best remembered song, though it might have done better if it had been shortened instead of plodding along for a total of six minutes.

Cornell’s voice was still developing at this point, not yet reaching the peak of versatility and fullness found on later albums, though he unleashes some great screams. This is exemplified by Power Trip, and more notably the way the guitar transitions flawlessly into his voice at the beginning of Loud Love. The lyrics, usually vague in the band’s case, are clearer on this release, mocking and immature, in reference to Big Dumb Sex and the punk-driven Full on Kevin’s Mom (but who could hate that mommy scream?). (Okay, BDS is fairly entertaining and catchy – the fucks change ears if you listen with headphones. It was meant to mock hair metal bands that only sang about sex, but Guns n Roses clearly didn’t get the message when they covered it.)

Louder Than Love is not a widely varied album; it’s sludgy, guided by Black Sabbath and to a slightly lesser extent punk rock. It bridges the gap between their early sound and Badmotorfinger, the albums prior to their experimentation with the alternative rock sound. Though it varies from song to song, the tracks generally tend to be dark, primitive, and creeping; or quicker and punk-influenced, or a combination of the two.

Recommended album. Highlights: Gun, Loud Love, Big Dumb Sex.

Getting there but not quite. - 66%

wallernotweller, December 16th, 2012

In late 1989, Soundgarden entered London Bridge Studios in Seattle to record their second album for their new label, the massive major A&M Records. Although by no means a commercial record, the band smoothed out the rough edges that ran throughout Ultramega. OK, but they still hadn’t reached their potential to my ears and would have to wait until 1991’s Badmotorfinger for that.

The first thing that you notice is just how many heavy metal tricks the band use. The likes of Power Trip and album opener Ugly Truth hark back fifteen years to the days when Black Sabbath were kings of the scene with their slow, brooding, down-tuned and stomping thick riffs. Not that this is all together a bad thing, but it is obvious that the group were still finding their feet, although there are hints of the future throughout. Hands All Over is the second single taken from the album which lays down the grunge template in full in its six minute running time. In fact, I would go as far to say that Pearl Jam stole major parts of this epic track when composing their own Even Flow. Would it be safer to say borrowed? Nah, call it as I see it.

Bassist and sometime songwriter Hiro Yamamoto left the band shortly after the album was completed and went back to college, some say he felt pushed and others that he left on his own accord. What is clear is that Chris Cornell had pretty much taken over the majority of the songwriting duties, leaving Yamamoto with just three songwriting credits on the album; Power Trip, No Wrong No Right and the stunning I Awake that leads off with some great use of harmonic playing from Kim Thayil. In the long run this didn’t affect the band at all but on a local level, fans thought this was the beginning of a downward spiral for the guys. How wrong they were.

A prime example of how good Soundgarden could be at this time is the track Gun. Here Cornell yelps out some awful Yeah’s and pens some ridiculous words “I got an idea of something we can do with a gun, sink load and fire ‘till the empire reaps what they’ve sown.” It's childish mucho posturing from a then twenty-five year old that we know now could do a whole lot better, but that doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the song in any way. The dumbness adds to its greatness. The riffs are massive and the groove is so powerful that it’s difficult to believe the band didn’t break through based on this track alone. I love it.

The reception was lukewarm upon Louder Than Love’s release, a fact that I put down to the clichéd lyrics and the inclusion of Big Dumb Sex. Whilst as a band ‘in joke’, I am sure it created hours of giggles within their ranks, but this dig at the hair metal scene just doesn’t cut it in anyway and comes across as petty, making Soundgarden come across as no better than the bands they are trying to lampoon. This aside, Louder Than Love was the first crack of lightning before the ferocious Badmotorfinger storm.

The lost Soundgarden album - 85%

Milo, February 21st, 2010

Louder than Love” is the least remembered album by Soundgarden. Maybe for being too focused in heavy metal, slow tempos and atmosphere for the mainstream, people can’t seem to remember any song off it except “Hands all Over”. However, like in other Soundgarden albums, there are a few worthy items here, in dire need of exposure. Perhaps a fan may provide a good description of these twelve tracks lost amidst the band’s trademark hits from other albums.

Louder than Love is hardly an accessible album. The production is pretty murky when compared to most mainstream rock albums (although the band wanted to murk it up even more), slower tempos abound and for the most part, Chris Cornell doesn’t seem to care much about pretty vocal lines and easy melodies. The music is dirty and oppressive. The thing is, “Louder than Love” is an album for those who enjoy cryptic music and appreciate guitars, even if they aren’t catchy in the most obvious sense of the word, which is not really the case with mainstream listeners. However, I can admit there are a few debatable tracks here, regardless of the public. “Power Trip” has this interesting, mangled-yet-catchy guitar line for a chorus but it’s too bluesy and that might not click with everyone. However, it’s hardly a bad song. I really like its forays into the bassier, gloomier ends of the spectrum. “No Wrong No Right” is a bit too thin instrumentally and Chris’ vocals don’t carry any remarkable melody. Probably the worst track of the album. “Get on the Snake” is a solid track that will please the rock-inclined but it’s definitively overshadowed by stronger material. “Full On (reprise)” is not needed. However, there are plenty of highlights scattered all over the album.

An interesting track here is “Ugly Truth”. Absurdly non-catchy, creeping and atmospheric, it doesn’t sound like the most appropriate album opener for the average listener. However, those who appreciate a good off-kilter, irregular riff are in for a nice treat. This song shines for maintaining a peaceful yet sinister mood, which is much like prowling through an urban wasteland at night. Although it’s all quiet now, something dangerous might happen. All of that because of that riff, which shows Chris Cornell’s gift for atmosphere (yes, he is not only the vocalist, but also composed much of this album). “Ugly Truth” has that dawn-like atmosphere which makes everything even more awesome and different from other bands. Other songs in the band’s catalog that employ this technique are “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” (both from Badmotorfinger) and their definite classic “The Day I Tried to Live”, from Superunknown.

If “Ugly Truth” is ambivalent in its atmosphere, “I Awake” is distinctly somber and unnerving all the way. Its introduction is pretty twisted and the riffs are too creepy and heavy, almost descriptive of a nightmare, or even worse. Chris Cornell wailing “I love you, I love you!” over the chainsaw guitars makes me think of some kind of dysfunctional relationship reaching its limit… with things getting really tense. It’s a great overlooked track with remarkable development of moods around a simple riff. The same could be said about “Uncovered”, which is reminiscent of Mind Riot, from Badmotorfinger. Employing melody in a more straightforward manner, this song evokes a more organic, comforting atmosphere, which is a welcome and needed change of pace.

The heavy metal crowd has a probable favorite here in “Gun”. Another menacing, malevolent song, it alternates medium pace and speed to develop a full-blown assault full of huge riffs and muscular attack, showing good understanding of what a true metal song needs to have. The highlight of the song, however, is the well-done doomy section and its looming riffs, result of the ever-present Black Sabbath influence. The build-ups and the way the riff arrangement are also flawless and manage to keep the listener on his toes. The punky “Full on Kevin’s Mom” is the fastest song on the album, complete with D-beats and all. It’s more lighthearted than most songs in the album, with a bit of hard rock sleaze and lyrics about some dude getting his mom plowed by a douchebag friend. That “mommy!” scream is pretty funny.

And then we have the most famous songs on the album. “Loud Love” is a heavy rocker that oscillates between medium and slower pace (although it can’t be considered an oppressive song like “I Awake” or “Gun”), but has nice vocal lines, solid riffs and a good chorus which justify its choice as a single. One thing I really like about this song is the intro and its mysterious, floating guitar line. It’s the most serene moment of the album. Soundgarden really has a knack for writing memorable songs which doesn’t rely on speed. Sometimes heavy, sometimes peaceful, a few melodic touches, all of that unfolding slowly and coordinately. All of this goes on in “Loud Love”. “Big Dumb Sex” is a catchy rocker with the infamous, massive chorus: “I’m gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK YOU!” These purposefully silly lyrics (the whole song, actually) are a parody of the “hair metal” bands of the 80’s and the poor metaphors for sex in their lyrics. Apparently, Guns n’ Roses didn’t really get the joke and actually made a cover of the song, configuring delightful irony. Not an excellent track, but making Axl Rose shoot himself in the foot awards it a few extra points.

And finally, we have “Hands all Over”, the jewel of the crown, one of the best songs ever written by the band. It’s so masterful, fluid… Another atmospheric masterpiece, it rumbles at a placid medium tempo, laden by beautiful eastern-influenced guitar work which evokes intense imagery of forests and oceans, as if we were gazing at them from above, not in a noisy helicopter or airplane, but just floating in the air, such is the peace summoned by the riffs. The lyrics are actually a bitter environmental plea discussing the treatment dispensed by us to our mother nature. A really beautiful song that deserves a listen in case you’ve never gave it one.

So, this is “Louder than Love” for you, and you should give it a listen if you have at least a bit of affinity with rock. In fact, I believe this album has a better chance of success in the hands of metalheads than straight rock fans, because we are more accustomed to darkness, slower tempos, rawer production and emphasis on atmosphere and guitars. Trust me, your reaction to this album won’t be “oh, there are a few metal riffs in here too”, but probably something in the lines of “man, these guys can really write good heavy metal, good rock and it rules”. Don’t trust those who say the album “drifts along without focus or variety”. It might need a little time to sink in, but it’s worth it. It’s not that far from Badmotorfinger and Superunknown in my Soundgarden tier list.

Classic Early Soundgarden - 80%

erickg13, August 3rd, 2006

Louder than Love, Soundgardens' major label debut, is a near classic. If Soundgarden was never to release another album, this would still be a quirky, cool album, thats worth finding. But alas, they did release more albums, and this is looked as a stepping stone to better ventures. A few plusses of this album are; Chris Cornells voice, which is great; Kims blossoming signature guitar style, Hiros fluid bass lines, and Matts time signatures start to become more complex. A few minuses are its production, its not like its bad (*cough*...And Justice For All*cough*) everything is audible and mixed good, it just has a overly metallic sound.

Also, this is an overly ironic album which is not for everyone. A good example is "Big Dumb Sex" which is meant to be a satirical take on hair metal. Also "Power Trip" contains lyrics that sound concieted, but they are, again, another take on hair metal.

Louder than Love, does however, contain some very strong songwriting in "Hands all Over", a enviromental plee. But even this falls victim to misunderstood lyrics with lines like "you're gonna kill your mother, yeah, kill your mother...and i love her". Out of context this is extremely controvercial, in reality it's a reference to "Mother Earth".

Another good song is the creeping "Gun". Which starts slow and builds to a speeding rant. "Get on The Snake" is also a foreshadow of future Soundgarden to come. The strongest track is more than likely the title track ("Loud Love"), though has a creepy overtone.

Overall this is a strong release from an awesome band. While not as strong and cohesive as BadMotorFinger and nowhere near Superunknown, this a great listen.

Explosive, dynamic, angry... Soundgarden - 93%

Psychedelia, April 6th, 2005

I exactly remember the first contact with this band. I got this album, and had the high expectations. After first listen it was something like: ''wtf is this ?''
Through the whole album you will be flogged by aggressive, psychedelic and loud metal, somewhere between atmosphere of Pink Floyd and energy of stoner rock (or grunge if you want).
Music is very dynamic, with interesting and original guitarwork by Kim Thayil, and one of the best vocals on alternative scene - Chris Cornell. There are moments, when you will don't know which attitude against this singer you could employ.
But back to the music. Band use only one guitar, and I personaly think it's the best thing they could do. Because of only one axe, sound is not so heavy and close, and this is making sound more and more strange, psychedelic, aggressive and with space for high pitched screamed Cornell's vocals. Band is well working with energy, and they know that faster and heavier doesn't mean better.
Cornell uses frustrating vocals through this aggressive mass, and effect is something, that will change your thoughts, and your mood.
You will feel that overpressure in your head. This is what band filtrate through their music and give it to listener.
Hand in hand with lyrics, this will start your small personal culture revolution.

This is not typical review, because this is not typical release. Soundgarden is unconventional psychedelic attack on your mind, thoughts and views.
With every listen you'll get more into this release, band, to their genius. This album is good to start with them.