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
featured the fuzzy distortion of old school psychedelic rock, the dark crushing riffs of Black Sabbath
, 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
" 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
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
", 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.