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Music / Soundgarden

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L-R: Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell, Ben Shepherd
Related Acts:
  • Temple of the Dog (Cornell and Cameron)
  • Pearl Jam (Through both TOTD and Cameron)
  • Audioslave (Cornell)
  • Hater (Shepherd and occasionally Cameron)
  • Wellwater Conspiracy (Cameron)
Black hole sun,
Won't you come,
And wash away the rain?
Black hole sun,
Won't you come,
Won't you come?
— "Black Hole Sun"

Soundgarden was a Seattle-based Grunge / Alternative Metal band formed in The '80s and popular in The '90s. Their name comes from a sculpture in Seattle, "A Sound Garden". Their music is largely characterized by Epic Riffs, Chris Cornell's distinctive voice, complicated arrangements that highlight the band's instrumental proficiency, and common usage of Uncommon Time, producing a sound many reviewers have described as "Led Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath".

The band is often recognized as one of the Big Four of Grunge (along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains), though they didn't become widely successful until the genre fully took off with the release of Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten. However, their 1994 album Superunknown is similarly considered a masterpiece of the movement.

The group broke up in 1997 due to internal conflict, leaving Cornell to form the Super Group Audioslave with the members of Rage Against the Machine sans their vocalist Zack de la Rocha. Cornell also embarked on a solo career, and co-wrote "You Know My Name" with David Arnold for the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006). His solo music at that time veered into a pop/hip-hop direction, causing much backlash among the fanbase.

Cameron currently drums for Pearl Jam and has since the Yield Tour (he wasn't involved with the Temple of the Dog reunion mentioned below). Thayil played with Jello Biafra and Krist Novoselic as the "No WTO Combo" after the Seattle riots of November 1999, and contributed to Dave Grohl's side-project Probot. Shepherd recorded a solo album, In Deep Owl (which Cameron also played on), but it didn't see the light of day until 2013.

In January 2010, Cornell announced through his website that "The Knights of the Sound Table ride again"; the band officially reunited later that year. A new song, "Live to Rise", played during the end credits of The Avengers (2012). In addition, their first new album since their breakup, King Animal, was released in November 2012.

Sadly, the reunion came to a sudden and tragic end in 2017. Chris Cornell was found dead on May 18 of that year after a concert in Detroit, Michigan from what was later ruled a suicide allegedly fueled by years of drug and alcohol abuse alongside struggles with depression. The band ended for good a year later as a result.

On January 16, 2019, the surviving members reunited for a tribute concert, "I Am the Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell", which featured the likes of the Foo Fighters, Metallica, Melvins, Peter Frampton, and Miley Cyrus.


Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Matt Cameron: drums, backing vocals (1986–1997, 2010–17)
  • Chris Cornell: vocals, guitar, drums (1984–97, 2010–17, his death)
  • Ben Shepherd: bass (1990–97, 2010–17)
  • Scott Sundquist: drums (1985–86)
  • Kim Thayil: guitar (1984–97, 2010–17)
  • Hiro Yamamoto: bass (1984–89)

  • Screaming Life EP (1987)
  • Fopp EP (1987)
    • These two were later compiled into Screaming Life/Fopp in 1990.
  • Ultramega OK (1988), the debut they weren't very happy with, thanks to recording outside of Seattle with an outside producer (Drew Canulette) instead of Jack Endino (famous for working with every grunge band, ever, at the start).
    Cornell: With Ultramega OK we really liked the songs on that record but we were disappointed in the production.
  • Louder Than Love (1989), a somewhat less stressful recording in spite of Hiro Yamamoto's isolation and eventual departure. Received good reviews but sank on the charts due to distribution problems and Moral Guardians throwing a hissy fit over "Big Dumb Sex" and slapping it with a Parental Advisory sticker. This and their next album were produced by Terry Date.
  • Loudest Love EP (1990)
  • Badmotorfinger (1991), marks the debut of Shepherd and is their first really successful album thanks to being synchronized with the Grunge explosion of the same year. "Jesus Christ Pose", "Outshined", and "Rusty Cage" were all fairly big hits, and while they were never released as singles, "Slaves & Bulldozers" and "Searching with My Good Eye Closed" are both longtime fan favorites.
  • Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas (1992), released as a special edition second disc of Badmotorfinger sold only during Lollapalooza tour, 1992.
  • Superunknown (1994), the band's breakthrough and biggest success, going straight to #1 on the charts. Contains their biggest hits "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman". Cornell didn't like working with producer Michael Beinhorn because of his obsession with capturing the perfect sounds (commenting that by the time they had recorded a song they'd already rehearsed it to death) but admitted the sound created by him and engineer Brendan O'Brien played a part in the album's success.
  • Songs from the Superunknown EP (1995)
  • Down on the Upside (1996), their last pre-breakup album. This time they opted to self-produce to avoid the tediously slow frustration of Superunknown. It didn't have anywhere near the same impact as their predecessor but was reasonably well-received.
  • A-sides (1997), a greatest hits album rushed out after the band disbanded.
  • Telephantasm (2010), another greatest hits album, including some unreleased songs. The two-disc version features all of their videos.
  • Live on I-5 (2011), a collection of live tracks from a 1996 tour, and a few covers.
  • King Animal (2012), the first since the band's reformation, and, tragically, their final album before Cornell's death.
  • Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path (2015), a collection of mostly rare recordings. The regular edition is triple, Originals, Covers and Oddities. A one-disc edition with just the Originals CD (and even then, with a few songs missing) also exists.

Every trope I said, is what I meeeeeeaaaaannnn:

  • Album Closure: Ultramega OK ends with "One Minute's Silence," a "cover" of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Two Minutes' Silence". For a serious case, King Animal ends with "Rowing", an ode to endurance and persistence fitting of a band regrouping.
  • Album Title Drop: Down on the Upside has one in "Dusty." Chris said he wanted to put that name to the song, but Ben Shepherd had already baptized it as "Dusty".
  • All That Glitters: "Pretty Noose".
  • Animated Music Video: "Black Rain," animated by Titmouse Inc.
  • Badass Biker/All Bikers are Hells Angels: Parodied in the video for "By Crooked Steps", directed by Dave Grohl, where it's a gang that rides Segways.
  • Big Rock Ending: "Jesus Christ Pose". "My Way" has one right after the song seems to end.
  • Bowdlerize: One of the songs done for The BBC's Friday Rock Show was Fear's "I Don't Care About You", changing the chorus from "I don't care about you! Fuck you!" to "I don't care about you! No way!".
  • Careful with That Axe: Chris Cornell was made of this, the best example being "Beyond the Wheel" where he spends most of the song belting out high notes.
  • Changed for the Video: The video version of "Fell on Black Days" is a studio recording session (the producer even says "This is the master of 3" while the band's warming up) rather than the version on Superunknown.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • The chorus of "Big Dumb Sex": "Heeeey, I know what to do! I'm gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you!"
    • The chorus of "Ty Cobb" uses "Hard-headed, fuck you all!" repeatedly.
  • Common Time: They use it rather less frequently than might be expected.
  • Cover Album: The "Covers" CD of Echo of Miles has most songs by other artists Soundgarden recorded along the way.
  • Cover Version: "Two Minutes of Silence" (as "One Minute of Silence"), with tongue firmly in cheek. (Cornell joked that the band "appreciated the Lennon arrangement so much".) Taken a bit more seriously, "Come Together", "Girl U Want", "Stray Cat Blues", "I Don't Care About You", "Smokestack Lightnin'", a version of "Into The Void" with lyrics from Chief Sealth, and "Cop Killer".
  • Crucified Hero Shot: "Jesus Christ Pose" is a criticism of those who employ this. Appropriately, the video has several, mostly from Cornell as he's singing. There's also multiple shots of both a scantily-clad woman and a metal skeleton on a cross.
  • Doom Metal:
    • They've flirted with this numerous times (which can be owed to their Black Sabbath influence); "Outshined", "Slaves & Bulldozers", "4th of July", and "Gun" are some of the most prominent examples.
    • They are also considered to be the Ur-Example of Stoner Rock— 1988's Ultramega OK featured all the usual aspects of what would become stoner rock, and it was released years before the likes of Kyuss or Sleep even formed.
    • The demo for "Beyond the Wheel" has to be heard to be believed. It's so slow, plodding, and heavy that it almost doesn't even sound like the same band.
  • Driven to Suicide: "Blow Up the Outside World" makes mention of this with the line "Nothing seems to kill me, no matter how hard I try".
  • Eldritch Abomination: Featured in the video for "Black Rain".
  • Epic Rocking: They have several songs over six minutes long. The longest is "Like Suicide" at 7:02.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: These are in the video for "Black Hole Sun", particularly after everyone is sucked into the sky.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: "Spoonman." Take a guess. Based on a Seattle musician, Artis the Spoonman, who provides the spoon percussion in the song.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Somewhere".
  • Go Mad from the Apocalypse: The music video for "Black Hole Sun" has the whole cast being driven mad as the end of the world approaches.
  • Going Postal: The appropriately titled "Mailman" is about killing your boss, according to Chris Cornell.
  • Greatest Hits Album: A-Sides, which does not comprise all their A-sides (not counting extra track "Bleed Together", "Room a Thousand Years Wide" and "My Wave" are absent, "Hunted Down" is replaced by its B-side "Nothing to Say", and "Get on the Snake" was only a promo), and Telephantasm, which has versions with one and two disks.
  • Green Aesop: "Hands All Over"
  • Growing Up Sucks: "Bones of Birds" is about what happens when Children Are Innocent doesn't fit anymore ("When kids learn about the real world, it's never a good thing.")
  • Guest-Star Party Member: During 2014, Matt Chamberlain had to fill in the drums as Matt Cameron was busy touring with Pearl Jam (a band Chamberlain also filled in for many years before).
  • He's Back!: "Been Away Too Long"
  • Hearing Voices: "The Day I Tried To Live". "Black Saturday" also has a brief mention of this as a senility symptom.
  • Humongous Mecha: The band pilots a strange version of one in the video for "Black Rain."
  • Impaled Palm: The crucified woman in the video of "Jesus Christ Pose".
  • Important Haircut: Cornell cutting his hair around the time of Superunknown. He grew it back out when the band reformed.
  • Intercourse with You: "Big Dumb Sex", a parody of such lyrics present in Hair Metal (unfortunately, it became popular with them anyway due to Guns N' Roses).
  • I Read That As: Superunknown's title came from Cornell misreading a VHS cover titled "Superclown".
  • Long-Runner Line-up: The band's final line-up had completed 14 years together: 1990 (when Ben joined) to 1997 (when they broke up), and 2010 (when they re-formed) to 2017 (when Cornell killed himself).
  • Longest Song Goes Last: "Like Suicide" clocks in at 7:01 and closes out Superunknown.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Cornell around the time of Badmotorfinger and when the band reunited. Beavis and Butt-Head were kind enough to point that out.
  • Loudness War: Averted with the recordings released during their first incarnation, but sadly King Animal falls prey to this.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: One can take "Blow Up The Outside World" as this.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A few tracks hide disturbing lyrics under enthusiastic performances.
    • Let’s be real, take away the utterly awesome, badass riffs from the song and “Spoonman” would come across as a novelty tune given how the song really has no deeper meaning than a guy who likes to play spoons.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • "Like Suicide". Chris Cornell wrote the lyrics based on an incident where a bird flew into his house's window and was severely injured, and he killed it with a brick to end its suffering.
    • "Black Saturday" is someone asking A Friend in Need to kill them if they become really inept (inspired by Chris talking with his friends).
  • Metal Scream: Cornell, in his prime, had a four-octave range, making him one of the most versatile singers in rock music. One of these abilities was his famous belting-style choruses.
    Save me... with your HA-A-A-A-ANDS!
    • His roar at the end of "Jesus Christ Pose" and the pre-choruses and choruses of "Slaves and Bulldozers" have to be heard to be believed.
    • Let's also not overlook the verses of "Superunknown".
    • "Birth Ritual", to the point 2015 Chris couldn't even attempt to repeat it.
      Late for the biiiirth... ritual! Rituaaaal! RITUAAAAAL! RI-TU-AAAAAAAL!
    • "Beyond The Wheel" from Ultra-Mega OK - 'nuff said.
  • Murder Ballad: "Burden in My Hand" is one about a man killing his former lover in the desert (but with some regret).
  • New Sound Album: With Superunknown, the band took on more psychedelic influences and a more accessible sound.
  • Nightmare Sequence: "Worse Dreams"
  • Number of the Beast: Parodied and played with in "665" and "667", including a Subliminal Seduction about Santa Claus (as opposed to metal bands singing about Satan).
  • Performance Video: "Flower", "Hands All Over", "Loud Love", "Outshined", "Rusty Cage", "My Wave", "Fell on Black Days"
  • Pop-Star Composer: They wrote songs for Singles and The Avengers (2012).
  • Portmanteau: The band's name, and the albums Badmotorfinger, and Superunknown (which manages to make a quadruple "S" portmanteau: Soundgarden - Superunknown, "Superunknown", "Spoonman").
  • Remaster: Screaming Life/Fopp, Ultramega OK, Badmotorfinger, and Superunknown have received remasters, most of which have been packed with demos, live versions, and other unreleased material. Because the master tapes for Badmotorfinger were lost in the 2008 Universal Studios fire, the remaster was completed using a digital backup.
  • The Runner-Up Takes It All: Despite peaking at #2 on the Billboard Alternative Rock Tracks chart, "Black Hole Sun" ranked #1 on the year-end chart in 1994, due in part to longevity on the list.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Chris Cornell handled almost all of the vocals on their studio albums. On stage, Matt does some backing vocals to compensate.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Badmotorfinger is a reference to Montrose's song "Bad Motor Scooter".
    • The video for "Black Rain" features a kid playing the song on Guitar Hero and an appearance by Dethklok.
  • Single Stanza Song: "I Awake" has one short verse repeated throughout its 4:21 runtime - Hiro Yamamoto wrote it by setting a note from his partner, Kate McDonald, to music (Kate is therefore credited with co-writing the song).
  • Special Guest: Artis the Spoonman in the song named after him (he even complained the band forgot to thank him during the Grammys) and Mike McCready in "Eyelid's Mouth".
  • Step Up to the Microphone:
    • Original bassist Hiro Yamamoto sang "Circle of Power" on Louder Than Love
    • On Superunknown, Ben Shepherd and Cornell alternate lines in the verses of "Spoonman", and Shepherd sings "Half".
  • Stop and Go: "Black Rain" has an instrumental coda after it seems to end.
  • Surreal Music Video: The video to "Black Hole Sun" featuring a Stepford Suburbia filled with stepford smilers whose faces twist and contort (using Visual Compression) to form massive grins and gigantic eyes. As you can imagine, this quickly crosses far into the Uncanny Valley. Eventually, as the lyric goes ("till you all just disappear"), the world of the video gets sucked up into a literal Black Hole during a storm.
  • Take That!: "New Damage" is a subtle dig at the right-wing government of the U.S. at the time.
  • Title Track: Superunknown is the only straight example. The nearest is "Loud Love" from Louder Than Love.
  • Uncommon Time: The band claims that most of their examples of this ("Rusty Cage", "Spoonman", etc., etc., etc.) were actually accidental — for example, they didn't realize that the verses in "Spoonman" were in 7/4 until they were done writing the song. The explanation was that they just went along with Cameron's grooves without consciously thinking about what time signatures they were in.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Prior to Superunknown, Cornell frequently went shirtless or with an open button-down shirt.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Cornell admitted that his lyrics were largely written to evoke a mood rather than make sense.
  • Yarling: On occasion, though not as much as other grunge acts. Usually it's when Ben Shepherd sings.