Submitted for your approval, the year is 1991. Already a bang up year for monumental rock and metal releases, Soundgarden releases Badmotorfinger on the now defunct A&M records sets the heavy music world on its ear. Sure in the climate where Nirvana’sNevermind was climbing the charts and Metallica’s “Black Album” was already a legit hit too. Residing right in the middle, just as the “Seattle” craze was capturing people wad Soundgarden. That Badmotorfinger would go on to be the defining moment in their career wasn’t a surprise considering their history.
Soundgarden started out in the mid 80s as contemporaries of like-minded bands such as Green River, Melvins, Malfunction, and Skin Yard, acts with members that would shape the sound of the next decade. Like most of those bands then, they were equal parts Black Sabbath riffs, Beatles melodies, Led Zeppelin arena rock a punk rock tude with an avant-garde/noise rock sensibility more in common with the east coast than the northwest at the time. Their early releases were clever, wild, and heavy as fuck. The Screaming Life and Fopp EP’s (both Sub Pop) were a band brandishing first their influences and finding their footing. Ultra Mega OK (on punk label SST) and Louder Than Love (A&M) were baked on major label style aesthetics. Their writing really coalesced at this time, with all the members contributing. New bassist Ben Shepherd came into the band right at the beginning of the process for the new album. They were building up to something darker, something huge.
The tours behind Louder Than Love saw the band open for metal bands like Voivod and similar emerging bands like Faith No More. They were weird and hard to pigeon-hole. Sure, Chris Cornell’s paint peeling high vocals and massive charisma helped. He already had a minor hit earlier that very year with Temple Of The Dog. The band didn’t really need a boost since they had quality songs, sophisticated guitar-army layered tracks, and smarter lyrics than most others. They hit an assortment of studios from California to Seattle in the early spring of 1991 with Terry Date, whom they worked with on Louder Than Love. They really vibed well with Date, who up to that point was mostly known for thrash and heavy metal bands (Metal Church, Overkill, Pantera, Dark Angel, Dream Theater), but the band was fond of his work with unheralded punky metal locals, The Accüsed. The combination of the deepened writing process and Date’s crisp production helped create a sonic masterpiece.
A just a hair under one-hour long, Badmotorfinger is flawless from beginning to end. On every track guitar licks sizzled, drum parts were tight, bass guitars grooved full of warmth, as Cornell sang to the angels and screamed at his devils. ‘Rusty Cage’, an incredible opening track, is as good as anything in that decade. ‘Outshined’ was practically an anthem for the entire decade, barring that ‘…Teen Spirit’ thing. Third single ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ was often misunderstood, and earned the band legitimate death threats. All three of those tracks had plays on radio and were hits on MTV. Much to Cornell’s chagrin, though he wanted to be seen as a thoughtful lyricist, major league riffer, and societal commentator; he was mentioned most for his good looks and ability to be shirtless in virtually every video and concert photo. It definitely changed the course of the band later on. Oh well.
The rest of the album was equally great. ‘Slaves And Bulldozers’ called upon Sabbath-ian riffs of doom. ‘Face Pollution’ called back to the bands’ punkier moments. Mid-album cuts like ‘Somewhere’, ‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’ and ‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’, made you think, and headbang. ‘Mind Riot’, ‘Drawing Flies’, and ‘Holy Water’ were equal parts the best experimental moments the band could conjure from their past, blended with hallmarks of their future style. Ending track ‘New Damage’ was an everything and the kitchen sink, blues-driven affair with a modem touch.
Badmotorfinger’s success propelled the band to tour opening for Guns ‘N Roses, Metallica, Ozzy Osborne, and others which made them a household name. They went on to become one of the biggest, most influential bands of that time, proving to have more staying power and influence culturally than other acts who were bigger names before them. Hails to you Badmotorfinger! Hails to Soundgarden.