This whole album is exceptional, but you have to really like heavy, grinding rock to appreciate it the whole way through. Soundgarden’s breakthrough, “Badmotorfinger,” is an hour’s worth of some of the heaviest music to explode out of Seattle in the early 1990s. When it began, Soundgarden was hungry, musically brash and fluent at hardcore grunge riffs, speed metal and even fast punk. Like many of its Seattle contemporaries, Soundgarden had integrity, a shield that kept the crassness of the music industry biz at bay. The band stood above hype and overwrought marketing to create tunes like “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” well-known and vintage Seattle rock from the early ’90s. “Outshined” might outshine them all, a dark, chugging song that conveys singer Chris Cornell’s bleak outlook of making it big. It’s a big, loud, guitar-driven rock song with screaming vocals, but also contains soft vocals at certain interludes to give the song an unexpected melodic tone.
The comparison of Led Zeppelin + Black Sabbath = Soundgarden is pretty accurate. Cornell has a Robert Plant-like voice in terms of range and depth, but it’s shaded darker and comes off as more brooding. As hard as these guys were on their early albums, the riffs were complex enough to stand out from the headbanging crowd, while Cornell added his own melodic muse to the mix, making for a very interesting band. This album is filled with epic grunge/metal songs built to last. The dirge riffs of “Slaves and Bulldozers” go on for seven minutes, while Cornell sings like a man possessed — God only knows how he hits those high notes. Like Zeppelin, these guys weren’t afraid to stretch out their songs. Future Soundgarden CDs would incorporate lighter, more melodic elements into the picture, but the monochromatic “Badmotorfinger” contains none of that. More typical here is repetative riffing, as heard on the awesome “Jesus Christ Pose,” a railing tune against glittery, force-fed religion, similar in message to the much more tame “Wooden Jesus,” another Cornell-penned tune heard on Temple of the Dog. Another huge tune from this CD, one sometimes heard on the radio if you’re lucky, is “Searching with my Good Eye Closed,” a mid-tempo rocker that blends heavy riffage and Cornell’s smooth singing — in this case distorted with a layer of sheen for a cool effect. He also screams wildly in the song.
As good as it was at drawn-out epics, Soundgarden could also be superstar punk rockers at the drop of a dime; listen to the raging “Face Pollution” and Who-like riffs on “Drawing Flies.” The versatility of this band was demonstrated more noticeably on future records, but Soundgarden also does a pretty good job of varying its sound on this one, though casual listeners might disagree. Because of its musical versatility and talent, Soundgarden were a hard band to categorize. Cornell has a wide vocal range, Ben Shepherd played a throbbing base, Kim Thayil is a very diverse guitar player and Matt Cameron, now of Pearl Jam, is as good as rock drummers get. Everyone in this band played a bit of everything, and each contributed to the writing (like in Pearl Jam).
Appropriately, “Badmotorfinger” ends with two long, grungy songs that Soundgarden so thrived on during this era. Overall, it’s easy to see why so many people were captivated with this band’s music in the early ’90s — and why these sounds helped start a new trend in music. Hundreds of bands have tried to emulate certain elements of Soundgarden’s sound in the studio, but it’s hopeless because the nucleus of Chris, Kim, Ben and Matt was a one in a million shot. They were trendsetters who had ideas, a vision and integrity. Plus, they knew when to quit when the time was right, unlike so many other bands who keep playing only for money and continued fame.