Chris Cornell (vocal & guitar) / Kim Thayil (lead guitar) / Matt Cameron (drums) / Ben Shepherd (bass)
Hiro Yamamoto (bass 1984-1989) / Scott Sundquist (drums 1985-1986) / Jason Everman (bass 1989-1990)
Hailed as grunge innovators, Soundgarden redefined rock music for a generation. In the 80s and 90s, its punk ethos, coupled with a brutal metal soundscape and Chris Cornell’s ravenous roar, seduced audiences hungry for something new.
Initially a drummer, Cornell soon moved on to vocals and guitar, writing songs alongside guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Jagged and ferocious, their music was deeply at odds with the synth-pop and hair metal which dominated the ‘80s airwaves.
Early indie releases, including seminal EP Screaming Life and Grammy-nominated album Ultramega OK, quickly collected a dedicated indie following as the band toured on both sides of the Atlantic.
After the departure of Yamamoto and a brief stint by Jason Everman on bass, Ben Shepherd completed what now became the band’s classic lineup and Soundgarden became the first of the new generation of Seattle bands to sign to a major label.
1991’s platinum album Badmotorfinger attracted critical applause from all over the world (NME called it “stripped down, lithe and lethal”) and a tour supporting Guns ‘n’ Roses gave wider exposure to Soundgarden’s wild originality and outsider allure.
Mainstream success came with the 1994 release of Superunknown, recently re-released in a special 20th anniversary edition. An immediate #1 album in the States, it netted Soundgarden two Grammys, shifted millions of units worldwide, and introduced the band to a mass TV audience via the video for Black Hole Sun. At the same time it explored a menacing interior landscape teeming with pain, fear, fury and defiance. As Rolling Stone concluded, “it demonstrates far greater range than many bands manage in an entire career.”
Two years later, Down on the Upside continued the band’s musical development away from alt-metal into hard-edged experimentation. Rave called it “full of dualities and binary oppositions”; People said “Soundgarden breaks down the walls and pulverizes them.” Self-produced and stylistically various, it was perhaps the most complete expression of just how far the band had travelled.
After a dozen years, five pioneering albums and a slew of singles, Soundgarden played its final live show of the century in Honolulu on February 9 1997 and spent the next thirteen years on hiatus while its members pursued other musical projects.
At the dawn of 2010, Soundgarden announced a new beginning. The first 21st century show in front of hometown fans and Seattle greats at the city’s Showbox venue sold out in mere minutes. After headlining the famous Lollapalooza festival, the Chicago Tribune hailed Soundgarden as “one of the last great hard-rock bands to emerge in the last 25 years.”
2010’s Telephantasm was a career-spanning retrospective celebrating the band’s legacy; along with rediscovered 90s live set Live on I5, it introduced Soundgarden’s work to a new generation. An acclaimed world tour was followed by the release of single “Live To Rise”, specially written for the end-credits of Josh Whedon’s smash-hit movie, Marvel’s The Avengers.
2012’s King Animal continued Soundgarden’s courageous musical exploration while maintaining its special identity. The album’s character is rooted deeply within the wild landscape of the Pacific North West – an atmosphere which still resonates strongly for the band. In their review, the BBC dubbed 2012’s Soundgarden “dark Americana…a stadium band yet still outsiders.” Rolling Stone called the album “a weirdly cool beast…as ageless as it is anachronistic.”
In 2014 the band toured South America and Europe before embarking on a co-headlining tour with Nine Inch Nails in the US. The following year, they visited Australia and New Zealand and released a triple album of B-sides and rarities, Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path.
Whether in the studio or on the road, Soundgarden remains a truly ‘alternative’ band in an age when the word has been devalued to just another genre label. Though firmly anchored in their shared sense of place and happy to be honouring their legacy, they continue to be instinctive pathfinders. In Chris Cornell’s words – “I don’t think we’ve ever had to find a compass and redirect ourselves to the north.”
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