SOUNDGARDEN — Superunknown (review)

SOUNDGARDEN — Superunknown album cover Album · 1994 · Heavy Alternative Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Soundgarden’s best album begins with the killer riffing that makes this album a sensational master work. 'Let me Drown' is pure riffing and melodic vocals, a trademark of the band on this classic masterpeice. I first heard Soundgarden with ‘Spoon man’ and I was hooked into grabbing their album as I was fascinated by the polyrhythmic off kilter beats and very strong vocal work of the tracks.There are so many highlights here is it is difficult to discern one from another. ‘My Wave’ with it’s hypnotic riff in 5/4 time sig is a prime example. The quiet melodic beauty of “Fell on Black Days” played in 6/4. The melodies mixed with huge blistering guitar riffs is reminiscent of the type of work Live were producing at the time.

“Superunknown” was huge in 1994, capturing interest from all levels of music fans and it was a commercial success, a breakthrough album, that debuted on the Billboard 200 at number one. The band could not have dreamed of such success after three fairly unknown albums. There were five successful singles lifted from the album; "The Day I Tried to Live", "My Wave", "Fell on Black Days", "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun". The album was certified five times platinum by the US RIAA and was a progressive heavy rock blockbuster.

The riffs by Kim Thayil are amazing such as ‘Mailman’, and “I’m riding you all the way” the catch phrase on this is hypnotic and there are mellotron pads underlayed beneath. The guitars definitely hook you in with a transfixing hypnotic power.

'Superunknown’ for instance has a very strong riff structure. The lyrics are terrific on this with very forceful performance by Cormell; “If this isn't what you see, It doesn't make you blind, If this doesn't make you feel, It doesn't mean you've died, Where the river's high, Where the river's high...” It was a commercially accessible direction for the band but remains definitively heavy and progressive.

‘Head Down’ is outstanding and very progressive with a trance rhythm and melody. It is a darker track for the band but a nice transgression away from sheer heavy riffing.

‘Black Hole Sun’ is played in a 4/4 time sig with a 9/8 bridge section. It is replete with mystical Middle Eastern flourishes and has a dark atmosphere and a vibrant film clip to promote it. The clip is disturbing with crazy smiling misfits being washed by an acid rain downpour, complete with discoloration of vivid washes of green, yellow and blue. The quiet song was a massive hit for the band peaking at number 1 on US mainstream charts, and a worldwide smash.

The ambience does not last long though as the next track smashes headlong with riffs to die for. The almighty ‘Spoonman’ has one of the most amazing riffs that crashes along with an odd time signature that alternate between 7/4 and 4/4, and indelible lyrics; “Feel the rhythm with your hands, Steal the rhythm while you can, spoonman, Speak the rhythm on your own, Speak the rhythm all alone, spoonman.” It may be about the rhythmic banging of a spoon player, or it could be about the speed drug being mixed with heat and on a spoon. No matter what this is a brilliant hard rocking track, and was another chart success reaching number 3 in US, and making an impact worldwide. The chorus has a fabulous riff and blistering vocals of Cornell; “Spoonman, come together with your hands, Save me, I'm together with your plan, Save me...” One of the best heavy prog tracks of all time.

‘The Day I Tried to Live’ has a brilliant riff from Thayil and very powerful bass from Ben Shephard, the loud chorus builds to a crescendo and then keeps building to the melodic post chorus section. I love this track especially the inspired guitar work.

‘FreshTendrils’ is another very melodic riff heavy track with reflective lyrics; “long time coming, It seemed to take me through, Long time coming Many served the few, And long to taste the shame, That bows down before you.” There are odd time signature changes on this too placing it in a progressive genre for my ears.

The ultra doomy guitar on ‘4th of July’ is aggressive and dark. It crunches along effortlessly in a crawl metal style. The lead break is noisy off kilter screech riffing.

‘Half’ is another Eastern influenced song with psychedelic tendencies, the type of Beatle-esque mumbo jumbo of the late 60s Indian bandwagon. The use of Scitar is surprising and makes this an oddity of the album.

'Like Suicide’ is a strange one and the lyrics were inspired when a bird hit Cornell’s window severely injuring it and so he smashed it with a rock, ending it’s life and it’s pain; “Heard it from another room, Eyes were waking up just to fall asleep, Love's like suicide, Dazed out in a garden bed, With a broken neck lays my broken gift, Just like suicide, And my last ditch Was my last brick, Lent to finish her, Finish her”.

The album is a masterpiece of groundbreaking metal sounds and commercial excess, wildly experimental, playing with a myriad of time signatures and tinged with bitter sadness and aggression, the album is all killer, no filler, and the quintessential pinnacle for Soundgarden; once heard never forgotten.
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UMUR wrote:
more than 2 years ago
I love that song. Gloomy as you said.
Balthamel wrote:
more than 2 years ago
You forgott to mention Limo Wreck not that i complain about the review, its a fantastic review very well written and informative but you some how forgott to mention what I think is the most complicated song on the album and the most gloomy song on the record. I have read somwhere that the verse is in 15/8 time sig, I,m not sure but its not standard 4/4


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