In 1989, Soundgarden hit the studio with an uncertain future. The band was dissatisfied with its full-length debut Ultramega OK and its lack of creative control over the final mix of the songs. After several failed attempts to rework the material, the band decided to cut its losses and focus on the next album, for which it had been signed to A&M Records. The resulting album, Louder Than Love, was a landmark release not only for Soundgarden, but also as the first album released by a Seattle band by a major label, it helped pave the way for the grunge and alternative movements of the 1990s. Now the band is commemorating that moment in time with a 30th Anniversary LP release of Louder Than Love, complete with original artwork and translucent gold vinyl.
It was at this pivotal point thirty years ago that Soundgarden began blazing its own trail. Whereas its earlier work was primarily skuzzy metal, on Louder Than Love, the band started doing some of the experimentation for which it would become known. Though it does not have the wild alternate tunings that would become common on future releases – most of the songs here are in drop D – on Louder Than Love Soundgarden began experimenting with odd time signatures, ambient noise, syncopation, strong dynamics, and other styles that would later become staples of alternative music. Singer Chris Cornell also began developing his voice on this album, a voice that would become one of the most distinct and iconic in all of rock.
Songs like “Loud Love” and “Hands All Over” are Soundgarden at its most straightforward, with Cornell screaming over infectious Kim Thayill guitar riffs. It’s in the most experimental songs, though, that Soundgarden hinted at its potential. “Gun,” the twisted and haunting song told from the perspective of a mass shooter, features one central riff played at various speeds, from a slow, thudding palm-muted riff to fast and out of control. The song is like a roller coaster, full of unpredictable turns and tension that builds to a rush of adrenaline, and all of that is built around a single riff.
Standout track “I Awake” deftly blends Soundgarden’s influences and innovations. Beginning with Thayill noodling through a blues lick over a menacing Hiro Yamamato bassline while Cornell plucks eerie-sounding harmonics, the song then explodes into a wail of power chords, thumping drums, and Cornell’s howl. The song careens through atypical time signatures – 6/4, 9/8, 11/8, and 14/8 in addition to the more standard 4/4 – as the band charges through with unstable aggression. “No Wrong No Right” also stands out with its volatile combination of brooding psychedelic verses with loud, crunching choruses.
On Louder Than Love, Soundgarden combined elements of metal, blues, and psychedelia with its own off-kilter concoctions to create a new sound that would come to define much of the pacific northwest. Through the feedback and the noise, Thayill gave a glimpse of the guitar shredder he would eventually become, while Cornell, with his soaring scream and deep, growling baritone, gave hints of what his voice could do. The first album from the Seattle scene to chart on the Billboard 200, it also serves as a benchmark for a scene that was rising in popularity before breaking into the mainstream a few years later. The 30th Anniversary Louder Than Love LP does not have any bonus tracks not included on the original release of the album, and thus is for collectors and those who, for some reason, never got around to buying it 30 years ago.