How Soundgarden Helped Kick Off the Alt-Rock Revolution With ‘Louder Than Love’
On Sept. 5, 1989, a little-known band hailing from the cold, cloudy and rainy metropolis of Seattle named Soundgarden helped set the wheels of an alternative music revolution in motion with an album that dared to claim it was Louder Than Love.
At the time, overproduced pop and predictable hair metal still dominated the U.S. music charts and radio station playlists. But anyone paying close attention could have told you that the tides of musical trends were already undergoing a major shift just beneath the surface. In what has since proved to be a pivotal period in rock history, this shift was tentatively announced in a series of releases, including Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking, Faith No More’s The Real Thing and Alice in Chains’ Facelift, to name a few.
And then there was Soundgarden’s sophomore LP, in which the fledgling group made a significant leap from the underground punk-rock trenches into a major-label deal with A&M Records following three records on Seattle’s Sup-Pop (1987’s Screaming Life EP, then the Fopp EP and debut album Ultramega OK, both from 1988). This leap symbolized not only a fork in the road for the band, but also a point of no return.
Like so many groups before them, Soundgarden would weather critical barbs from the indie world. But they'd reconcile their artistic goals with the realities of commercial prosperity in order to embrace their destined stardom.
From a musical standpoint, this transition entailed a distinct but really quite organic evolution of the band’s sound, as key songs like "Ugly Truth," "Hands All Over" and "Loud Love" took a turn away from the crustier, post-hardcore aesthetic of earlier releases (revived temporarily in the frantic "Full On Kevin’s Mom") and toward the incremental power and precision of heavy metal, without sacrificing any of their powerful, genre-melding fusions.
As a result, the blend of Chris Cornell's soaring vocals, doom-laden riffs cranked out by guitarist Kim Thayil and the complex rhythms delivered by drummer Matt Cameron sounded to indie fans like the next stage of Black Flag’s late-career experiments with noisy, post-hardcore doom. But to metal fans, it sounded like the ultimate collision of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
Listen to Soundgarden's 'Hands All Over'
Unfortunately, these musical and business changes proved too much for bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who felt his role diminishing in the group – despite contributing a trio of patently psychedelic tunes, including the standout "Power Trip. He quit the band as soon as the Louder Than Love recording sessions wrapped and went back to college, before later briefly surfacing with the power trio Truly.
Soundgarden’s remaining members soldiered on, first with touring bassist Jason Everman (who used to be in Nirvana) and then with Ben Shepherd. The creative risks first undertaken on Louder Than Love would soon find even greater focus on their next album, Badmotorfinger, and then vault the band decisively over the platinum plateau and into the Superunknown of worldwide stardom.