Monday, February 22, 2010

Review #69: SoundGarden - Ultramega O.K. (1988)



Heavy Metal, Punk Rock

Grunge, Post-Punk

SST Records


42 Minutes (Long)


My Rating:

As the whole hardcore thing was dying down (at least compared to what it was a few years earlier), something new was happening just a little bit north. Punk rock bands were starting to play slower, heavier songs. This was a new sound, combining punk and metal to create an interesting new genre. And while I'm going to be the one to say that OTHER bands in the past had already done this (Butthole Surfers, Flipper, etc), the occasional slow thing was turned into a whole fucking genre. Early practitioners of this style included the Melvins, Green River, Malfunkshun, and another lil' band called SoundGarden. Out of all of the earlier 'grunge' groups, SoundGarden would be the only one to directly experience mainstream fame. And so, shortly after the band formed, a friend of the band since their high-school years started a label to help release their first album on. The label was called Sub-Pop Records. And while nowadays it's mostly a breeding ground for sterile hipster garbage ('cept for Pissed Jeans), at one point it was one o' the best damn labels around! Anyways, the band managed to release their first record, "Screaming Life" on that label. The next year, though, SoundGarden signed to SST Records, home of weirdo punk! This is the second SoundGarden album. Their sound didn't change a ton from their days before this one, but keep in mind that this was a really fresh sound. Hell, it's still a fresh sound, how many times other than early SoundGarden do you hear a guy fucking WAILING over slow hardcore? Well, speaking of which... time to REVIEW!

1. Flower

The most well-known song on the album. Begins with a bizarre guitar noise which is supposedly Ben Shepherd blowing across the strings of his electric guitar. Hard-hitting with a more median tempo and great flowing vocals. The lyrics are according to the band about a young girl who grows up and invests in beauty and "burns out quick" due to the obsession. There's probably a reason this one got on the 'A-Sides' compilation -- this song seriously sounds like it would fit on any SoundGarden album! There is a music video for this song.

2. All Your Lies

Totally one of my favorites. Though it's a little cleaner-sounding than the "Deep Six" original version, most notably the guitar and the vocals. I like guitar on the older version better. But it STILL kicks ass! For those of you who haven't heard this song, it's a high-power fast song with composition similar to a hardcore punk song from the '80s, with echoey, strong vocals and just about strong everything else. Totally a driving song. One little solo -- NO, TWO somewhere in the middle.

3. 665

A slow, noisy, Butthole Surfers-inspired song. Lots of backwards screaming from Chris can be heard. If you listen hard enough, there's something sinister about it. Sounds almost like a... Satanic message? Let's see -- play it backwards and turns out that Chris Cornell is declaring his love of SANTA [Claus]. This track along with "667" is based on Chris's own musing that if the number 666 is so evil, then the numbers surrounding it must be equally bad. This one's mainly appealing for it's weird quality, so some might see it as filler.

4. Beyond the Wheel

A fucking epic song. This isn't the "grunge" your lame trendy parents listened to (if they are lame and trendy or listened to grunge -- mine were a little too old for it). This song is sinister, dark, slow, and hopeless. Very mysterious-sounding. However, it really gets good when Chris just starts BELTING out those vocals like you've never heard it! The lyrics seem to describe society and civilization as a "wheel" which steers all humanity. Really noizy distorted solo in the middle by Kim Thayil.

5. 667

This song is the other "book-end" to Beyond the Wheel. Very similar to 665, except shorter, and Chris is not speaking backwards (though he's still real hard to understand).

6. Mood for Trouble

Another really good song on the album. Begins with an acoustic intro before the first verse begins. The verses are very adventurous-sounding and loud, while the chorus is also hard, but serene and more relaxed at the same time. The chorus is my favorite part.

7. Circle of Power

This one just sounds like straight-forward hardcore. Hiro Yamamoto (the bassist) sings this song, in a crazy, goofy voice that somewhat resembles the guy from the U-Men. Halfway through, the song like it's gonna end, but then Hiro says something at a speed-of-light pace and then the second half the song starts, with an insano solo. End of Side 1.

8. He Didn't

Sounds a lot like something from "In My Head" by Black Flag. Interesting tempo and guitar. I thought the solo was real neat, especially the first part with the feedback-y sounds.

9. Smokestack Lightning

Cover of the 1956 blues song by Howlin' Wolf, in a grunge style, of course. Chris really shows off his vocal abilities here. He even harmonizes with HIMSELF!

10. Nazi Driver

Weird but cool beat! According to Kim Thayil, it's about killing Nazis, cutting them up, and cooking them in a stew. Very morbid but humorous lyrics. And of course, the music is really cool!

11. Head Injury

This one's really cool too! Just listen to the riff... the riff is great, and pretty inventive. It's a fast song. In the end, Chris repeatedly screams "HEAD" until ending it with an "INJURY" just before it all stops.

12. Incessant Mace

Longest song on the album. Slow, with very poetic lyrics and ridden with guitar-leads and it's pretty bass-driven. Chris keeps screaming "MACE" at the end and you can hear some speedy harmonica just before the song is over.

13. One Minute of Silence

A "cover" of "Two Minutes of Silence" by John Lennon... SUPPOSED to be anyways, but the silence seems to be unable to suppress the group's unwanted chatter back and forth, which Chris blames on Kim Thayil. Over the "silence" is a layer of thick static and some minor sounds from the amps. Not really that silent. Anyways, it ends pretty shortly.

For the SoundGarden fans out there, the band is allegedly reuniting to play new shows in 2010. However, the evidence used to back up wether or not this is true or false in itself can be conflicting, so I'm not completely sure what the REAL plan with that is. We can only hope. Anyways, this was the album that prompted A&M Records to approach SoundGarden and sign them to their label (all of their subsequent LPs were released on A&M), so it's neat to see that this was around the time that the mainstream was FINALLY beginning to recognize the sheer actual talent that resided in the underground... we need a moment like that now -- we've got an entire fucking GENERATION of new bands (some of which are actually quite talented), and the mainstream doesn't even acknowledge them... instead, the focus is placed on third-rate pop garbage and so-called "indie" crap, both of which sound more and more unified every day. You gotta wonder when we're gonna have another SoundGarden -- something that's from & for US, but with enough appeal to mainstream sensibilities that it just might get noticed by some corporate fatass looking to make a buck (hey, sacrifices need to be made sometimes). But yeah, off that topic for now... it's a good album, the last one with their "early" sound before they started shifting towards the more metal-oriented one that the mainstream was more familiar with in the '90s. It's legit.

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