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Soundgarden is a large expanse of grass notable for its emission of transparent audible waves, located in Seattle, Washington. It was planted by ambitious gardeners Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil in the early 1980s, as a way of combining their two favourite things; heavy metal and gardening. Being in Seattle of course, the Soundgarden played not just heavy metal, but a new blues-oriented heavy metal specific to Seattle called grunge. The crew realised that their noise-making garden was far superior at producing records than their local recording studios, and so they formed an eponymous band, a victory they followed when they plugged in their guitars and mics and used their creation to record some fine bangin' tunes.
Founded in 1984, the band have been through several exciting adventures throughout the following decades, each one adding to the awe-inspiring mythos of Soundgarden.
edit Early years
Soundgarden was formed at the same time as another grunge band, the Melvins. Soundgarden and the Melvins were the earliest of the grunge bands, as the two were the only ones in existence at the time. In order to boost publicity, they both agreed to contrast each other by playing at two different audio frequencies - the Melvins chugged a single, slow riff at bass pitch (for well over 20 years), while Cornell's glass-shattering screams and Thayil's wailing guitar sound accommodated the treble section. The audio waves emitted from the latter band shattered the glass windows of Sub Pop studio, the nearest recording studio and Seattle's finest. Having recognised the sound from local legend, one of Sub Pop's record agents rushed to find the legendary sound garden and sign up the crew responsible for such a glorious piece of nature. The band plugged in their guitars and mics, and Soundgarden were about to have their first record produced.
edit Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love (1980s)
Soundgarden's first record was Ultramega OK, released in 1988. The album was named by the band's then-bassist, Hiro Yamamoto. Yamamoto was Japanese, and being Japanese, it was only expected that he would come up with such a title as "Superdupergammadelta Ultraawesomemega OK!". The record company understandably did not want to release a record with such a title, so it was shortened to Ultramega OK. Despite Soundgarden's grunge origins, the record companies wanted the album to sell outside of their native Seattle. Unfortunately for Soundgarden, this meant changing the sound from the hardcore heavy metal they were playing, and replacing it with non-Seattle sounding stoner rock music. Frontman Chris Cornell was so angry about this, he wailed loudly in a burst of energetic fury. His scream was so intense, it went right through the soundproof recording studio and made it into the record, becoming released as their lead single "AAAAAAAAA!". The crew were so impressed with this single that they decided to base their sound around this.
They followed their debut album with 1989's Louder than Love. The album title comes from a little-known fact about the band; love, which is a human emotion, plays at an audio frequency of 0 decibels, whereas Soundgarden's music is in fact at a much higher volume, which means that the album can reasonably be described as "louder than love". This album allowed the crew to find their own sound, which was the bluesy sound of Black Sabbath mixed with the low-budget sludgy noise of a penniless Seattle grunge band with cheap equipment - however, getting "the bluesy sound of Black Sabbath" would not be perfected until their next album, and so the album's initial lack of success outside of its native city can be attributed to the fact it sounds somewhat like a bunch of drunken punks screaming and playing Led Zeppelin music out of time, a sound which - although very popular in the Seattle music scene - did not attract outsiders towards the band. The album would also prove to be the last album featuring bassist Yamamoto, who subsequently left the band so he could travel to his ancestral land of Japan and fight dragons.
edit Badmotorfinger (1991)
Now it was the 1990s, and alternative music was the popular choice, which was good news for Seattlites. Soundgarden ditched Sub Pop and as a result reached great success with their third album, the notoriously grunge masterpiece Badmotorfinger, released in 1991. The title of the album was conceived by Kim Thayil, but the meaning behind it is unknown - it could perhaps be a very sexual reference, as Indians are known to be notorious sex-pests. The band had actually made a decent budget from their last album, and while fellow Seattlites like Alice in Chains were spending their earned money on drugs and booze, Soundgarden spent theirs on fancy high-quality equipment and effects pedals, erroneously believing this would automatically make them better musicians. Badmotorfinger, as a result, contains the sludgy wah-laden guitar sound that could accurately be described as "grungy", thus becoming the first fully grunge album (Alice in Chains wouldn't learn to stop putting glam rock tracks in their album for another year). This sound is best exemplified on the track "Slaves and Bulldozers", actually an improvised jam session recorded while the band were absolutely smashed (turns out the band did spend a little of their revenue on booze). Cornell on this album managed to turn his wailing vocals into the unique Chris Cornell singing voice everyone recognises, which was a success, as previous albums featured vocals that, although being very high pitched, sounded like Kurt Cobain being brutally attacked by a vicious group of wild coyotes.
The album's three singles - "Rusty Cage", "Outshined" and the ever popular "Jesus Christ Pose" - were very successful on radio and on music television, being played regularly on rotation (of course, as Beavis and Butt-Head had not yet been invented, not many people cared for MTV). "Rusty Cage" is a true story about how Chris Cornell was once locked in a cage by some crazy madman in the middle of a snowy forest, after which case he escaped and the madman sent hounds to chase him down. The madman was none other than country musician Johnny Cash, who took Cornell so he could steal his compositions and take credit for them. Cash released his version of Rusty Cage later that decade. "Outshined" is a song about how Soundgarden, once the heaviest band in Seattle, were outshined by fellow grunge metalheads Alice in Chains, who were by far more metal. "Jesus Christ Pose" is a song about Chris Cornell himself, who looks like Jesus and sings like an angel. MTV initially banned the music video for the latter, citing the crucifixion depicted as "obscene". Since crucifixion doesn't actually take place in the video at all and the only problem with it is the seizure-inducing flashing, Soundgarden called bullshit on MTV's ban and forced them to play the video.
edit Superunknown (1994)
In 1992, while touring to support their previous effort, bassist Ben Shepherd got drunk and not only destroyed the venue they were performing in, which including tipping the police cars that came to subdue the resulting crowd riot, but in the process also revealed himself to be the true identity of Mr Blonde, a criminal involved in a bank heist while his band was staying in Los Angeles to tour. Now on the run from the police, Soundgarden laid low for the remainder of the three year period between Badmotorfinger and their next album. The band members, believing that the quiet period where they were in hiding - combined with the introduction of new grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots - would have caused their fame to fade away, titled their newest album Superunknown, based on what they thought it would end up being. Expecting the album to be shadowed by its predecessor, they decided to fill it with as much boring non-metal tracks as possible. They failed to realise that, in the period following Kurt Cobain's death, several teens trying to follow the ever-popular grunge trend would eat up any album that was released, provided it wasn't too metal for them. As a result, Superunknown wound up being Superknown and Superpopular, catapaulting the band to realms of fame and success they hadn't seen since about two years earlier.
The album produced a handful of popular hit singles, but the biggest of these was a certain "Black Hole Sun". MTV was now in popularity, and Black Hole Sun was a very popular video being played in rotation on the channel. Of course, it was the video that was massively popular, as opposed to the song, which served merely as background music. The video consists of a village whose inhabitants all have humourously photoshopped faces. The cheap laughs gained from watching these loveable mutants in action, as well as their complete obliviousness to the titular black hole destroying them, were enough to convince people to see Soundgarden live. This is primarily because although Soundgarden appear in the video unphotoshopped, most people did not realise that this was their natural appearance and that they weren't digitally deformed like the rest of the actors.
edit Down on the Upside and end of Soundgarden (1996-97)
By this time, Soundgarden's rivals were now no longer threatening any competition. Kurt Cobain was dead, Layne Staley was drugged out of his mind, Stone Temple Pilots became a pop band, and Pearl Jam's public war with Ticketmaster forced them into exile. With the grunge era approaching an end, it was now Soundgarden's opportunity to end on a high note. They went on to record the depressing, grungy but somehow folk Down on the Upside, released in the winter of '96. Though much of the album featured mandolins, banjos and references to guns and pickup trucks, the aggressive metal hit "Ty Cobb" was too aggressive and/or metal for the tastes of many a bandwagon jumper, which weeded out the non-true fans. Unfortunately, this also meant the opportunity to save grunge was gone, as mainstream trends moved on to another fad. This guilt caused heated tensions in the band, which ended with Cornell telling the rest of the band "hard headed, fuck you all! Just add it up to the hot rod death toll!". With these words, Soundgarden split up. The members all went separate ways; Cornell engaged in an embarrassing solo career, while drummer Matt Cameron went on to join grunge contemporaries Pearl Jam. Thayil and Shepherd probably did something as well. Nowhere near as interesting perhaps, but they still did something. For the rest of the nineties and noughties, Soundgarden was now Soundwasteland.
edit Audioslave, reunion and King Animal (2012)
Following the 1997 Splitgarden, the band members each embarked on their own personal failure. Before his solo career, Cornell, like his 90s metal brethren Scott Weiland and Phil Anselmo, went on to found a super group, Audioslave, with another famous 90s rock musician, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. For backing instruments, the two recruited some nobodies, so long as they fit under the criteria of "90s musicians". Following on from Cornell's grunge roots and Morello's alternative appeal, Audioslave played a certain genre of music called "nostalgia rock", in which the guitars are set-up to appeal to a certain category of audiences who remember the good old days before this "post-grunge" Nickelback rubbish. Audioslave released an eponymous debut album to great success, and the group may or may not have done something else after this, but whatever they did was followed with an inevitable break-up. Meanwhile, Matt Cameron began hitting the skins for Pearl Jam, giving some appeal to this no-longer-relevant group of rock stars.
By 2009, the crew began feeling the nostalgia was too much to bear, and immediately ran back to eachother to reform. Though previously hostile towards such ideas, the band vigorously deny that Alice in Chains' reunion, the resulting success and the resulting envy was the prime factor in such a reunion. Cornell, using fancy young people technology, tweeted that the Groundskeepers of the Soundgarden were back in business. As the post-Nirvana bandwagon jumpers were no longer around, Soundgarden felt it appropriate for their next album, 2012's King Animal, to actually sound like Soundgarden, which was the classic Black Sabbath rip-offs that everyone loved. Released in the winter and sounding less like wuss rock, King Animal was a commercial success, and would have been the most successful album of that winter had some fat Korean tosser not garnered all the attention for himself.