News Column

Soundgarden reveals more of 'Superunknown'

June 10, 2014

By Mike Snider, @MikeSnider, USA TODAY

Soundgarden has always been a tough band to peg. Did the Seattle-based group fit into the category of grunge, heavy metal or alternative rock?

Just call them hard-rocking survivors. More than 30 years after its start, the band is launching a U.S. tour with Nine Inch Nails (July 19 in Las Vegas) and celebrating the 20th anniversary of 1994's Superunknown, its biggest-selling album.

Making its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, Superunknown would go on to sell more than 5 million copies. Songs Black Hole Sun and Spoonman each won a Grammy Award, for best hard-rock and best metal performance.

When the band gathered to record Superunknown, "we were definitely at the height of our creative powers and in our performing powers at that stage of the game," says drummer Matt Cameron.

The album has been buffed up for new 20th-anniversary editions, out now. A $20 two-CD set has the remastered 16-track album and a disc of extras, including live performances, as well as demos and rehearsals from the sessions. An $80 five-disc set adds two more CDs of rarities and a Blu-ray, surround-sound version of the album. For vinyl devotees, a $50 two-LP remastered version is available, too.

This new Superunknown, remastered by Adam Kasper, is "louder," says guitarist Kim Thayil. "The low end will be beefier, and the high end will be crispier."

Listening to the album in surround sound "is pretty trippy," he says. "It works well because this album has a lot of depth and psychedelic parts to it, and there's a lot of motion, from the spoon solo in Spoonman to the guitar solos in Superunknown and Like Suicide. It really lends itself to the surround-sound mix."

Thayil, Chris Cornell and Hiro Yamamoto founded Soundgarden in 1984. Cornell played drums initially but moved on to frontman. Two years later, Cameron joined; Ben Shepherd replaced Yamamoto in 1990.

Entering the studio in 1993, Soundgarden had "so much great material that we had fun with," Thayil says. "Obviously, at some point, when we heard Chris' demo for Black Hole Sun, a little switch went off where we thought, 'This is a pretty strong song.' It has a darkness and a trippiness that are both elements of our music, but there was something about it that was catchy."

He remembers Yamamoto stopping by the studio to say hi and hear the demo. "He immediately said, 'That's your hit.'" "

Among the rarities on the second CD: an acoustic version of Cornell's Like Suicide, an even-crunchier iteration of Fell on Black Days called Black Days III, and a demo of Birth Ritual from 1991's Badmotorfinger.

On the five-disc set, devotees can digest a raw, nine-minute demo of Like Suicide, rehearsals of most Superunknown tracks and stray takes. "There was a lot we didn't include," Cameron says. "But it seems in today's climate people want to hear as much of the process as they possibly can."

Black Hole Sun, Fell on Black Days, Spoonman and My Wave have become set list staples for the band, which began a decade-plus hiatus in 1997 before reuniting in 2010.

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Source: USA Today

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