Ultramega Ok

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Band Name Soundgarden
Album Name Ultramega Ok
Type Album
Released date 31 October 1988
Labels SST
Music StyleGrunge
Members owning this album38

Tracklist

1. Flower 03:25
2. All Your Lies 03:51
3. 665 01:37
4. Beyond the Wheel 04:20
5. 667 00:56
6. Mood for Trouble 04:21
7. Circle of Power 02:05
8. He Didn't 02:47
9. Smokestack Lightning (Howlin' Wolf Cover) 05:07
10. Nazi Driver 03:52
11. Head Injury 02:22
12. Incessant Mace 06:27
13. One Minute of Silence (John Lennon Cover) 00:59
Total playing time 42:48

Review @ hack

19 August 2016

... not just Ultramega Ok, it's ultramega good.

Individuation is how young people express that they are different and independent from their elders. In the eighties, most young people were listening to "eighties hair metal" or hard rock. Punk and alternative were also prevalent. But the grunge style was Washington state's best kept secret for several years. So some key artists concocted some new strains of old rock ideas and even some obscure foreign influences. Which produced an unconventional subgenre of alternative rock. The early forerunners were Malfunkshun and The U-Men with their dirty sound quality. But by the mid eighties, the main contenders were The Melvins, Green River and Soundgarden. It took them only a few years before they released two short extended plays for Sub Pop. Then in eighty eight they signed with SST Records, who specializes in alternative and punk rock.

Singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell grew up in a large family, in which five siblings were trained as musicians or singers. He started out in a cover band called The Shemps, who played in the Seattle nightclub circuits. But soon would make some new friends, who helped to comprise Soundgarden. Usually he sings at a high pitched baritone, with a very strong voice and a tough act to follow. He can aggressively carry a high note for an impressionable amount of time, with his strong set of lungs. His ability has been described as possessing a quadruple octave range. The fourth song, Beyond the Wheel, starts with heavily distorted guitar strumming to produce a surreal ambiance. Cornell utters with a grim attitude; "far beyond the road, between your house and home. There is a churning storm of hailing burning bones." The drums kick in and the rhythm guitar joins with a hovering presence like some Hindu folk music. The bass music gets heavier and accentuates the atmosphere with distressed and doom like textures. The vocals are then hollered out with a commanding demeanor. "Spin your life around, by driving flesh and blood deep into the ground."

Lead Guitarist Kim Thayil is the son of Asian Indian parents and was born in Seattle in nineteen sixty. He went to high school with bassist Hiro Yamamoto and then they attended The University of Washington, where they met Chris Cornell. His early influences were punk rock, along with some Asian inclinations. He is dexterous at picking intricate melodies and gifted at harmoniously coordinating many notes. Sometimes he goes with shoe gaze effects and dramatic time changes, The seventh track, Circle of Power, starts with energetic shredding and distorted riff shifting. The vocals cut in with a crazed sounding Chris. "The day will finally come, cause we have conquered a kingdom of rage, covered with assholes." The bass plucking is inhumanly fast and crashes like a derailed train. The drum music tumbles in with stuttering and fluttering beat patterns. The maniacal screaming voice returns; "well it's the circle of power and it's all the same. Ah the circle spinning and it's under different names."

Bassist Hiro Yamamoto is influenced by the heavy metal and alternative genres. He bounces the notes at mid range to coincide with the upbeat guitar grooves. His presence is recognizable, but he usually plays a modest role to the guitar duo. He provides some depth and ambiance, but sometimes he rises to the occasion with emphatic chugging notes. The eighth song, He Didn't, features intricate guitar picking with an ascending succession of notes followed by a descending succession of notes. Which creates a curious circling and spinning texture. The bass rhythms seem to propel the momentum with some time change imbalances. It's animated with a loud and semi raspy voice. "He did nothing perfectly. He did nothing quite well." The guitar picking duet sounds very aesthetic with their kaleidoscopic groove. The drum playing is hard and loud with some beat tone assortments. "He failed and he failed quite miserably. What's better he never had to try."

Drummer Matt Cameron specializes in alternative and grunge music. He started out with an early and influential grunge band called Skinyard, in eighty five. Then he quit Skinyard and joined Soundgarden in eighty six, which was probably his biggest break. The drum presence is active with a variety of beat tones, but isn't too melodic. It flows with the time changes of the songs and can punctuate the stringed performances. But it's definitely not one of the main attractions. The tenth track, Nazi Driver, starts with a bumbling bass rhythm and a couple of high note riffs. It's played at a medium tempo, yet with a calm and soft atmosphere. Cornell sings with a powerful and raspy voice; "turn the head three hundred and sixty degrees, bite the hand that feeds." Then about halfway in, the lead guitar goes with a cosmic sounding high note hook. Which is reminiscent of the old Hendrix song, Highway Chile. The eclectic beat tone variation from the drums add some additional character.

Prior to nineteen ninety eight, The Melvin's brand of grunge sounded like dirty stoner rock mixed with noise music. And Green River sounded like sludge crossed with punk rock. Then came soundgarden who featured much stronger vocal and guitar performances. But the most integral strength was probably in the songwriting. They progressed the grunge genre with a semi psychedelic sound of stoner rock, combined with Southwest Asian styled textures. It was arguably the best grunge release at that time. It's not just Ultramega Ok, it's ultramega good. But it wasn't without its limitations. There were a couple of pointless sound effect tracks and a couple of lightly textured tracks. Then there was a dull slower song that sounds so generic and predictable. As far as commercial success, the grunge genre was mostly unknown to the rest of the country (or world), during those early years of development.


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Review @ Unitron

20 July 2017

All Your Fears are Lies

The late 80's were one of the best times for metal in my book. Thrash Metal was at it's height, and the grunge, stoner rock/metal, and death metal scenes were all kicking off. The metal scene in Washington birthed many now classic bands, with one of those bands being Soundgarden, one of the greatest metal acts of the late 80's and early 90's, and of all time. After contributing to the Deep Six compilation (which also featured grunge/sludge metal pioneers Melvins) and releasing the Screaming Life EP in '87, the band unleashed their debut studio album in 1988.

Unlike most metal bands of the late 80's, Soundgarden had zero elements of thrash or the hair bands, and instead contributed to the slowly growing doom/stoner/sludge metal genres birthed all those years ago by Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. Soundgarden featured the fuzzy distortion of old school psychedelic rock, the dark crushing riffs of Black Sabbath and Budgie, the attitude of The Stooges, and the screaming siren of vocalist Chris Cornell that was reminiscent of 70's classic rock vocalists such as Robert Plant and Burton Cummings.

UltramegaOK is a raw, rough, rockin', and varied debut. It really takes all of the band's influences together, and makes each song stand out with it's own sound. The album opens right up with the groovy rockers "Flower" and "All Your Lies", which are among the band's best early cuts. The former has one of Kim Thayil's grooviest hooks, rumbling bass from original bassist Hiro Yamamoto, Matt Cameron's always tight drumming, and Chris Cornell's beautiful melodies. The band was already in top form on this first record. "Beyond the Wheel" and "Incessant Mace" are pure doom metal, and absolute favorites of mine and classics of the genre. The former is a haunting dirge with some of Cornell's most spine-chilling screams, and the latter song's crushingly heavy riffs sound straight from the riff master himself, Tony Iommi.

"He Didn't" has a main swirling riff that is quite reminiscent of the ominous theme song of The Twilight Zone, which fits perfectly in a metal setting. The band brings it to a speed metal pace with the shredding "Nazi Driver" and "Head Injury", with the latter being a bit punky. Both tracks have absolutely groovin' bass runs, rampaging razor-sharp guitar riffs, and Cornell's raw siren screams dominating those and most of the album. Soundgarden has done many amazing cover tunes, and this album's cover of the blues classic by Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightning", is no exception. It's a masterpiece of soulful blues metal, with Thayil delivering metallic blues riffs with much conviction and Cornell really shows his amazing vocal range here. He goes from a bluesy croon throughout most of the song to high-pitched screams that rival Rob Halford's vocals on the early Judas Priest albums.

You may be wondering what's with the weird album name, and it partly has to do with the production. The band didn't think the production turned out all that well, hence the name UltramegaOK. I personally have no issue with the production, I think it fits perfectly fine with the raw and dirty heavy metal that this album displays. The album was remastered though, so even if it does bother you, it sounds a bit cleaner on the 2017 remaster.

Even on their first studio album, Soundgarden made a masterpiece. There are a couple of minor issues, those being the short interludes that just act as a few minutes of filler. "Circle of Power", which is a more hardcore punk-sounding track with Yamamoto on vocals, kind of breaks the flow a bit but it's still a good song that sits in okay with the variety of the album. If you're a fan of old school 70's metal, classic blues rock, grunge, or doom/stoner metal, do yourself a favor and check this album out. It's a near perfect album that deserves more attention.

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