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To defy grunge once more - 92%

JamesIII, March 18th, 2010

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.