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The Story of When Soundgarden Broke Big With ‘Badmotorfinger’

A&M
A&M

Within a six-week period in the latter half of 1991, a holy trinity of landmark grunge albums out of Seattle were released with Pearl Jam’s Ten, Nirvana’s Nevermind and, on Oct. 8, Badmotorfinger from Soundgarden. Of the three, it was hands-down the heaviest, and the band was slotted in seamlessly with the metal genre at the time, had videos getting regular airplay on Headbangers Ball and were handpicked to open for Guns N’ Roses’ North American tour that December.

Badmotorfinger opened fast and frenetic with “Rusty Cage,” one of the three singles from the record. But it was the grinding, drop-D tuned dirge “Outshined” that showcased singer Chris Cornell’s otherworldly caterwaul and helped distinguish themselves from their contemporaries. When the track breaks down, he lets out a series of screams like a modern day Robert Plant; if the Led Zeppelin frontman came from the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest instead of the Black Country.

From that moment on, the album digs down into the listener’s consciousness. The slow, Black Sabbath-like churn of “Slaves and Bulldozers” and “Searching with My Good Eye Closed,” along with the unscrewed swirl of “Jesus Christ Pose” cemented Soundgarden as something dark and sinister musically, more akin to what Alice in Chains were doing than anything else from the rapidly burgeoning Seattle scene. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder could mope about the trappings of fame and shun it all they wanted in media profiles, but these guys sounded like they just wanted to be left alone to do whatever they felt like.

It made for some interesting song structures and explorations; “Room a Thousand Years Wide” is another brutal, plodding track led by Kim Thayil’s siren-like guitar, but ends with a saxophone solo, an instrument sprinkled throughout “Drawing Flies” and “Face Pollution,” which utilizes a trumpet, too. The only other mainstream rock outfit incorporating brass on any level was the quickly forgotten White Trash who gained a bit of attention with the song “Apple Pie” that same year.

Soundgarden broke through to the mainstream with Badmotorfinger. It was their third full-length and second on A&M Records which made them veterans among the others in the changing musical landscape. That may have made them slightly more suited to deal with the onslaught of fame and popularity which had an adverse effect on a few notables harvested from the same crop.

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