The first grunge band to release an album with a major label, Soundgarden launched the alternative into the mainstream.
Soundgarden ignited a musical movement that changed rock and roll. From the Northwest a raw power flew in the face of a synthetic, disconnected world and gave countless fans what they had long desired: a place to belong in an increasingly disconnected world.
In 1984, bassist Hiro Yamamoto formed Soundgarden with his high school friend, guitarist Kim Thayil, and his roommate, singer/drummer Chris Cornell. They appeared on the legendary Deep Six compilation (1986) with six Seattle grunge pioneers. That same year, Matt Cameron joined the ranks of Soundgarden on drums, allowing Cornell to shine on vocals.
This lineup recorded seminal grunge works, including their debut EP Screaming Life, the second studio release of the foundational indie record label Sub Pop. With Louder Than Love in 1989, Soundgarden became the first grunge band to release an album on a major label. The following year, Ben Shepherd stepped in on bass, and the band ascended into the mainstream with Badmotorfinger (1991), the 5x platinum Superunknown (1994), and Down on the Upside (1996). Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, later reuniting in 2010. In 2017, Soundgarden came to a final end when Cornell tragically took his own life.
Soundgarden’s compelling sound earned them a seminal place in music history, a unique combination of alternative, metal, and punk – with noise and progressive experimentalism sprinkled in. Cameron’s ability to balance groove with power in odd time signatures is unrivaled. Shepherd’s bass fills whatever role is needed — melodic counterpoint to Cornell’s vocals, rumbling foundation to Thayil, or rhythmic complement to Cameron. Thayil’s combination of metal-influenced dropped tuning, virtuosity, and noise allow his riffs and solos to soar. Above it all, Chris Cornell’s voice effortlessly moves between hauntingly ethereal, gut-wrenchingly powerful, and seductively inviting.
Soundgarden’s foray into the mainstream paved the way for Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and other grunge bands, and it also set the stage for major labels to seek out alternative sounds as diverse as Britpop, industrial, and riot grrrl.
“Flower” Ultramego OK (1988) • “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined,” “Jesus Christ Pose” Badmotorfinger (1991) • “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” “The Day I Tried to Live,” “4th of July” Superunknown (1994) • “Pretty Noose,” “Ty Cobb,” “Burden in My Hand,” “Boot Camp” Down on the Upside (1996) • “Been Away Too Long,” “By Crooked Steps” King Animal (2012)