Updated: Aug 27
“Superunkown” is the fourth studio album released by American grunge act Soundgarden on March 8, 1994. On previous records, Soundgarden had made a name for themselves within the metal scene, capitalizing on charismatic front man Chris Cornell’s erratic vocal stylings which ranged from a gritty and guttural approach (inspired by the thrash metal bands of the early 90’s like Megadeth) and soaring, technically precise arrangements (reminiscent of hair metal bands like Iron Maiden.) The band’s sharp infusion of various heavy metal elements scored them early success and notoriety amongst critics, garnering them three Grammy nominations for Best Metal Performance from 1989-92. However, as rock metamorphized into the grunge era, Soundgarden realized that the emergence of a genre juxtaposing light and dark/loud and soft elements channeled through a polished, rough delivery was exactly what the band had been unwittingly refining over their past three releases. Natives of Seattle, Washington, the birthplace of grunge, Soundgarden witnessed countless bands attempt to carbon copy the success of pioneering acts such as the Pixies and Nirvana. Seeking to one-up the conventional grunge approach and restore some legitimacy to a scene that had become overly saturated, Soundgarden began creating “Superunknown” to bring back a sense of craftsmanship, storytelling, and lyrical authenticity derived from singer Chris Cornell’s own dark relationships with depression, the music industry, and life in Seattle. The result was songs like “Spoonman,” about the legendary Seattle street performer Artis the Spoonman, which finally won the band the Grammy for Best Metal Performance, the surrealist music video for “Black Hole Sun,” the band’s only Billboard number 1 hit taking home the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance, and cult favorite B-sides like “Limo Wreck,” detailing the perils of decadence on their Grammy nominated Best Rock Album, which went on to arguably become one of the most mainstream examples of grunge success this side of Pearl Jam. While the jury is split on whether or not Soundgarden sold their soul to MTV on “Superunkown,” the other half of the schism recognizes this record’s crowning achievement of not only possibly saving the genre but helping to advance a sound that had become pigeonholed for all the wrong reasons post-Cobain. While sadly, Cornell succumbed to the same fate as the late great Nirvana singer two decades later, the signature crooning and powerful storytelling found throughout "Superunknown" is still as haunting today in tracks like “Fell On Black Days,” “The Day I Tried to Live,” and “My Wave,” all of which can be heard on the 20th anniversary reissue now on Spotify!