Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Superunknown - 94%

Insin, April 25th, 2015

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.