Posts Tagged ‘ Kim Thayil ’

Release of the Week Extra 30-2019: Soundgarden – Live From The Artists Den


Since I am trying to reserve the album of the week spots for studio albums as much as I can, Soundgarden’s ‘Live From The Artists Den’ seemed like a poor fit. However, it is easily my most anticipated release of the year so far and there has been a series of Chris Cornell-related reviews, so it seemed appropriate to cover this one in a slightly unconventional capacity.

‘Live From The Artists Den’ was filmed for the eponymous PBS program six years ago, on the last date of the American leg for the tour promoting Soungarden’s excellent comeback album ‘King Animal’. About an hour of the show was aired, but nearly two and a half hours of music was recorded. Some of the recent tracks surfaced on the ‘King Animal Plus’ re-release, but apparently, the fan base was requesting the entire show to be released. At least, that is what the sticker on the front of the releases suggests. Understandable, because Chris Cornell’s suicide rules out the possibility of them ever professionally recording a concert again. Fortunately, ‘Live From The Artists Den’ is excellent.

If you buy the Blu-ray, the first thing you will notice is how good the whole thing looks. The production team behind the television program records everything in high definition audio and video and that certainly shows. Sonically, the release is great as well, although I think Kim Thayil could have used a fuller guitar sound during the songs on which he is the only guitarist. In addition, the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles has an atmosphere that adds to the experience. Certainly more than the festival shows that have popped up on YouTube through the years.

What counts in the end, however, is the performances of the songs. And those are generally very good. The video of ‘Black Hole Sun’ that popped up about a week before the release is a tad misleading, as it feels somewhat obligatory; the rest of the show is mostly very good. Cornell’s voice suffers from slight bolts of end of tour fatigue at some points, though surprisingly less so later in the set than in the first few songs. Out of the Soundgarden live recordings that have been officially released, this might just be the most stable of his vocal performances.

The ‘King Animal’ songs in particular sound fantastic. And the set is built around those, as 10 out of the release’s 28 songs – the brilliantly titled outro ‘Feedbachhanal’ does not really qualify as a song – are from that particular album. ‘Non-State Actor’, the quasi-psychedlic ‘A Thousand Days Before’, the stomping 5/4 rhythm of ‘By Crooked Steps’, the hypnotizing ‘Rowing’, the somber ‘Bones Of Birds’ and especially the stomping ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’ and the gorgeous ‘Taree’ are all incredible in their performance. All of these songs are further evidence of how big a hole Cornell’s suicide left in the world of music.

Out of the other songs, it is notably the more obscure material that sounds best. Sure, ‘Spoonman’ and especially ‘Rusty Cage’ are executed fantastically, but long-time fans will be pleasantly surprised at how good the live premiere of ‘Blind Dogs’ sounds. The gloomy musical dystopia of ‘New Damage’ is one of the most taxing songs of Soundgarden’s ouevre vocally, but something pushed Cornell to rise above himself. Fans of the band’s pre-breakthrough days will be delighted by ‘Incessant Mace’ as the opener and remarkably good performances of ‘Flower’ and ‘Hunted Down’ later in the set. My personal Soundgarden favorite ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ closes off the set in a crushing fashion, with Cornell once again pushing himself to the limit on that chorus.

Since PBS is a public network, it is not too surprising that so many songs missed the broadcast. The angry hardcore of ‘Ty Cobb’ could never make it past the moral guardians lyrically – something Cornell cannot resist to make fun of prior to the encores – and the almost funereal dirge that is ‘4th Of July’ would likely have been the least accessible thing ever broadcasted on the network. For that reason alone, it is amazing to have the concert available in its full glory. The setlist is as close to perfect as it gets and the performances range from good to incredible. A must-have for fans of Soundgarden and heavy music in general.

Recommended tracks: ‘Taree’, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’, ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘New Damage’

Album of the Week 29-2019: Soundgarden – Superunknown


In hindsight, the title of Soundgarden’s fourth album ‘Superunknown’ is almost ironic, as the album – and its singles in particular – turned the Seattle-based band into a bestselling rock act. In a way, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Soundgarden consisted of four great songwriters and in Chris Cornell, they had easily the greatest singer of the entire Seattle scene. On the other hand, the band’s fearless experimentalism, as well as their penchant for odd time signatures and dissonance made them the least likely huge rock act of the era. However, that is exactly what makes ‘Superunknown’ as successful artistically as it is commercially.

As tempting as it is to call ‘Superunknown’ a sellout record, the opposite is actually true. Sure, it is notably less metallic than ‘Badmotorfinger’, but instead, this is a textured, sonically rich record that explores all the extremes of rock music. From the punky bite of ‘Kickstand’ to the psychedelic leanings of ‘Head Down’ and the dark pop supremacy of ‘Black Hole Sun’, ‘Superunknown’ is Soundgarden’s ‘Physical Graffiti’. To do that without alienating your core audience is not an easy feat, but then again, Soundgarden never released the same kind of album twice in a row, so their fans knew they could expect something different.

Unlike many albums of the era, the singles that were culled from the album actually fit the general atmosphere of the record well. First single ‘Spoonman’ is as unconventional rhythmically as anything the band released up until that point and the downbeat semi-ballad ‘Fell On Black Days’ is one of the greatest songs Soundgarden ever released. The way Cornell’s voice commands the dynamics of the song over that simple, but brutally effective guitar riff is nothing short of genius. ‘Let Me Drown’ is a powerful opening track and the subdued, yet forceful ‘Fresh Tendrils’ really deserves more appreciation than it tends to get.

Fortunately, the Black Sabbath-inspired doom metal riffing has not disappeared. While nothing is of ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ proportions, there are no less than three songs that come close. ‘4th Of July’ is a sludgy, dissonant dirge on which Cornell’s understated vocals take a back seat to the riffs, which are right in front of the mix. The monstrous groove of ‘Mailman’ is evidence that Soundgarden shares a lot of influences with Alice In Chains and the riff work of ‘Limo Wreck’ is a clear tribute to Sabbath, while the chorus houses Cornell’s finest vocal performance on the record. Closing the record on a strong note, ‘Like Suidice’ feels like a blend of alternative rock and southern blues. It’s something which is not attempted often, but works very well.

So is ‘Superunknown’ better than ‘Badmotorfinger’? Of course it isn’t. ‘Badmotorfinger’ was a monumental release on which all the stars aligned ridiculously perfectly. ‘Superunknown’ is just about as good a follow-up anyone could wish for. The album shows a band refusing to compromise and surprisingly, that eventually gave them the audience they deserved. Soundgarden was always a band that defied genres or scenes and no record is better evidence of that than ‘Superunknown’. A rare example of a breakthrough record that does not pander to the masses. Not even a little.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Mailman’, ‘Limo Wreck’

Album of the Week 18-2017: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger


Along with Alice In Chains, Soundgarden is one of the very few bands from the early nineties Seattle scene that is actually appreciated among heavy metal audiences. The band’s third album ‘Badmotorfinger’ clearly shows why. The noisy punk leanings or mainstream ambitions that many of the band’s peers did have are absent here. Instead, ‘Badmotorfinger’ is full of heavy riff work reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and odd time signatures with ditto rhythms. And while the songs did streamline the band’s sound, it does so without sacrificing even the slightest bit of the Seattlites’ unique character and approach.

Compared to the album’s direct predecessor ‘Louder Than Love’, ‘Badmotorfinger’ sounds significantly more focused. The songs are harder-edged and while there is still a great deal of variation to be found on the record, the quartet doesn’t need quite as much time to get to the point here. However, the biggest improvement to be heard on ‘Badmotorfinger’ is in Chris Cornell’s voice. With this album and Temple Of The Dog’s sole release, 1991 prove to be the year that he transformed from a promising rock singer to a powerhouse vocalist with a massive range. Hardly anyone has come close since.

Ultimately, any of these improvements would be meaningless if the songs weren’t any good. Luckily, ‘Badmotorfinger’ is the most consistent set of songs Soundgarden has yet released. The band found a way to combine their love for odd measures with memorable melodies without having to alternate between those extremes. ‘Outshined’, for instance, feels like a catchy rock song despite its 7/4 meter and heavy riff and ‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’ is such a pleasant listen, that you hardly realize that the 6/4 rhythm that it’s built upon is quite unconventional. ‘Badmotorfinger’ is filled with such moments. It’s always a good thing when a band isn’t trying to be too clever with these things.

‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ is the ultimate proof of just how heavy Soundgarden could get: Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell pump out some crushing riffs, while the latter belts his heart out in the chorus. ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ has Matt Cameron’s incredible rhythms and the propulsive riff work pounding relentlessly underneath yet another amazing Cornell performance and opening track ‘Rusty Cage’ manages to be heavy and hypnotizing at the same time. ‘Holy Water’ is somewhat reminiscent of Alice In Chains and some songs are weirdly, but successfully decorated with horns. New bassist Ben Shepherd’s love for punk shines through the wonderfully aggressive ‘Face Pollution’.

Before ‘Badmotorfinger’, Soundgarden was a decent band that occasionally lost their way halfway through meandering songs. The increased focus did help the band a great deal, because ‘Badmotorfinger’ is easily one of the best records of its era. Terry Date’s production, which gave the band’s bottom end a not so subtle punch without damaging the clear highs, is another important factor in why the album sounds so good. And while its follow-up ‘Superunknown’ would definitively propel the band into stardom, ‘Badmotorfinger’ still stands as the bands ultimate artistic statement. One on which rock, metal, punk and pop melt into one irresistible whole.

Recommended tracks: ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’

Album of the Week 47-2012: Soundgarden – King Animal


Still I can hear guitarist Kim Thayil say it in an interview which took place shortly after Soundgarden’s return to the stage: “If we make another album, it will probably sound different than we’ve done before.” In the meantime, ‘King Animal’ was released and it sounds exactly like you would expect from Soundgarden. Maybe even slightly better than expected; it surpasses 1996 farewell album ‘Down On The Upside’ in every possible way. To these ears, ‘King Animal’ sounds like the album Soundgarden could have done between ‘Badmotorfinger’ and ‘Superunknown’. The Seattle rockers still sound fresh, inspired, powerful and open to the odd surprise.

Every element that made Soundgarden so good in the first place is still firmly intact on ‘King Animal’. Say what you want about Chris Cornell’s dubious solo carreer, his strong Rock voice with just the right amount of rasp is still among the best in the business. Matt Cameron hasn’t ceased to inject his grooves with the force of Rock and the technique of Jazz, Ben Shepherd still knows how to make his presence known, even during passages in which he plays fairly standard stuff and Cornell and Thayil once again weave their guitar lines into an irresistable, psychedelic tapestry.

Although Soundgarden has recorded a bunch of kick-ass straight forward Rock tunes for ‘King Animal’ – the appropriately titled opening track ‘Been Away Too Long’, ‘Attrition’ and ‘Non-State Actor’ are quite brilliant in that matter – it isn’t until the band hits that semi-psychedelic mode when the album really hits its peak. It’s probably not a coincidence that the three songs Thayil wrote or co-wrote the music to are among the album highlights; ‘A Thousand Days Before’ has a hazy atmosphere with great guitar work reminiscent of the nineties Stoner scene, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’ has a monstrous groove underneath pleasantly dissonant riffs and the heavy ‘By Crooked Steps’ deliciously stomps through odd meters, which is also a hint of Cameron’s involvement.

That’s not where the fun stops though. Cornell’s slow and introspective ‘Bones Of Birds’ has an inescapable atmosphere, Shepherd’s ‘Taree’ has a bunch of amazing, Black Sabbath-ish riffs, ‘Worse Dreams’ has some killer unexpected twists, Cameron’s ‘Eyelid’s Mouth’ works towards multiple amazing climaxes and features a stellar performance by Cornell and the hypnotizing closing track ‘Rowing’ has a somewhat Delta Blues-like atmosphere, slightly reminiscent of John Lee Hooker, and a killer, fuzz-laden guitar solo near the end.

Okay, that’s a lot of tracks I mentioned, but the truth is that almost every song here is a direct hit. There’s nothing as crushingly heavy as ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ or as vicious as ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ on here, but ‘King Animal’ quickly became one of my favorite Soundgarden records. It’s just barely short of the brilliance of ‘Badmotorfinger’, but it’s at least on par with breakthrough record ‘Superunknown’. It’s good to hear that this group of musicians can still create something magical together; an album that isn’t a delight to listen to based on nostalgia, but on the amazing music created right now.

Recommended tracks: ‘A Thousand Days Before’, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’, ‘By Crooked Steps’, ‘Bones Of Birds’, ‘Non-State Actor’, ‘Rowing’