Reprinted without permission from Sounds, February 11,
SONIC BLOOM BOYS
Soundgarden are in the business of mocking metal's demonic conventions. But their humour goes hand in glove with a homage to rock heritage. Roy Wilkinson watches their cast-iron sound take metal towards the '90s.
Seattle, perched high on the north west coast of America, is being touted as a new rock epicentre. And with Soundgarden's metametallic rumble featuring in the geographical phenomenon, the tremors are set to spread worldwide.
Soundgarden are metal cut for the 1990s. Their fellow Seattle sounders Queensryche are traditionalists making noble readjustments within heavy metal's conventions, but Soundgarden are outsiders, free to recast metal wholesale.
Not least of all the methods available to them is the ability to gently poke fun at metal's more creaking codes. Take the Can-ish sequence 665-667, a device which cleverly skirts around the most metallic of numbers, 666. Are Soundgarden frightened of the number of the mystic metal midfielder? Both guitarist Kim Thayil and vocalist Chris Cornell insist they are not.
Chris; "We're not scared of it, naah - we're just making fun of it. It's just another number to me. I'll eat the number if I have to. The alternative is to see 665 and 667 (the numeric instrumentals sandwich the song Beyond The Wheel) as the neighbours of the beast. The two pieces were originally one song but we split it because it sounded better that way."
So you are mocking metal's demonic conventions?
Chris: "You got it."
Kim: "Or just making fun of anything else that occurs to us."
Chris: "It isn't like we set out to mock metal heritage, although that might be something we occasionally do for the hell of it. The songs we play are just the ones we like. We don't map out a strategy of what we're going to make fun of or use."
Kim; "I'm sure equal parts homage and parody are there, but it comes down to songs that move us and in that respect we're pretty sincere."
But might not some metallic segments of your audience think you're mocking sacred heritage?
Kim: "Some people might think we're really thrashy because we're so evil that we go beyond 666."
Chris: "Our audience is pretty diverse. Originally, most of our fans were art students or punk rockers, and then we started getting skaters and metal kids and even some people with no particular haircut whatsoever."
Citing Black Sabbath, Bauhaus, Devo, Sonic Youth, Joy Division and "evil bands like Husker Du" as influences, Soundgarden have recently recorded their first material for A&M - it'll be out at the end of the year.
Their latest release is Ultramega OK on SST, following the Fopp 12" (a cover of The Ohio Players' song) and the Screaming Life mini album on Seattle's Sub Pop label. Ultramega features a cover of Lennon's One Minute Of Silence. Timely it may be in the light of Ciccone Youth's Silence, but the cover isn't too faithful to the original - it's not silent.
Chris: "We were trying real hard to shut up, but Kim couldn't possibly shut up for a whole minute."
Kim: "No, it's the heavy metal version - we had the silence switched up to eleven."
Ultramega OK ("meaning absolutely, amazingly not bad") is indicative of the stress Soundgarden put on titles. Ultramega features gems like Head Injury and Incessant Mace along with the peculiar Nazi Driver. Surely Soundgarden aren't foisting any Slayer-esque Nazi controversy on us here?
Chris: "We couldn't do that - half of this band are non-teutonic, non-aryan."
Kim: "The song is about cutting up Nazis and making stew out of them - we used driver because it made a cool name. It sounds better than Nazi Stew, Nazi Soupmaker, Nazi Cup-O-Soup, or indeed Cup-O-Nazi. A title can be a poster sometimes. It can be a slogan. Hey, it can be an anthem!"
Fusing metal with humour, Soundgarden produce iron-y. It's made in Seattle, from girders.