Archetype : SOUNDGARDEN – "Badmotorfinger"

Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
Release: 1991Oct08 (US)
Label: A&M Records
Rating: 5/5

As I came close to drowning in the hair of L.A.’s glam rock, grunge was my lifesaver. In my late ‘teens, the record stores in my hometown of Drammen were suddenly filled with records by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and Temple Of The Dog. I couldn’t believe my ears—these new bands eliminated glam in a blink of a mascaraed eye, retraced back to seventies hard rock giants, maintained contemporary footing and heralded a sense of the future.

This record was released in 1991. As alternative music flowed into the mainstream during those early 90s, it felt like Rock truly mattered again, and we’d see a revolution akin to the hippie movement in the 1960s. But it soon turned sour: Kurt Cobain went into his garage for the last time, the music industry answered with the anemic post-grunge era, and they even tried to bring Woodstock itself back to lifetwice.

Still, in the eye of this feedback storm, I found a record that helped define my musical taste: Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden. When I listen today, it still feels as heavy and vital as it did twenty years ago. The band found a remarkable talent in Ben Shepherd, who took over bass duties from Hiro Yamamoto, and Matt Cameron‘s drumming finally found the perfect counterpart. Kim Thayil was easily the most interesting guitarist in grunge (sadly, a scarcely-sung axeman today) and Chris Cornell dished out both bloodcurdling screams and dark crooning. The albums that followed would catapult them into the stratosphere alongside Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More.  Their timing was immaculate.

Badmotorfinger‘s tracklist is stuffed with songs that have become part of Rock history: “Rusty Cage”, “Outshined”, and “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” are just some of the titles that spring to mind. Not only did they helped a generation identify itself in the aftermath of the 1980s cultural collapse, but they also shaped how heavy metal would sound in the coming years. Everything seemed to come together (you should hear their cover of that Beatles tune …and “Helter Skelter” too). The production was thick yet crisp (thank you, Terry Date!) and the band’s songwriting was at its peak (only matched by Superunknown).  The record has played continuously as I’ve written this review, and I don’t feel any need to take it off the turntable. I still get goosebumps as the rushing riffs of “Jesus Christ Pose” set up Cornell’s roars, “And you stare at me / In your Jesus Christ pose / Arms held out like it’s / The coming of the Lord”.

I remember buying the album at one of the local record stores and being surprised that I’d gotten hold of a 2-disc version. The second disc was Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas or SOMMS—something of a tribute EP with songs by inspirators in Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones and Devo. Soundgarden should have been one of the least accessible acts in the grunge movement, as they fused their heavy metal with psychedelic rock and droning soundscapes, yet succeeded in capturing the masses’ attention.

Badmotorfinger is one of the best records in the last proper Rock rebellion—still essential after two decades, and an indispensable classic for years to come.

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