Soundgarden: Superunknown — 20th Anniversary Edition

20th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Edition of grunge-era classic

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Twenty years after its initial release, Soundgarden’s monsterwork gets the special reissue treatment, with, in addition to the original album, three CDs of alternate mixes, live versions, unreleased demos and rehearsal sketches, and a fifth Blu-Ray Audio 5.1 Mix of the record (a limited-edition five 10-inch vinyl set of Superunknown: The Singles was also made available in April for Record Store Day).

Twenty years after its initial release, Soundgarden’s monsterwork gets the special reissue treatment, with, in addition to the original album, three CDs of alternate mixes, live versions, unreleased demos and rehearsal sketches, and a fifth Blu-Ray Audio 5.1 Mix of the record (a limited-edition five 10-inch vinyl set of Superunknown: The Singles was also made available in April for Record Store Day).

The Seattle band, one of the first to record for Sub Pop, had already, with 1991’s Badmotorfinger, established themselves as the leading lights of the new alternative rock scene alongside Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But this was the one that propelled them into the stratosphere, selling nine million copies worldwide and earning critical raves that positioned Superunknown in the classic pantheon.

That’s “classic” in the broadest sense. Superunknown stands out as a key release of its period, but you could just as easily play it back to back with the greats from an earlier era. Chris Cornell’s piercing blueswail nods to Robert Plant while Kim Thayil’s riffs at their sludgiest have the heavy torpor of Tony Iommi’s for Black Sabbath. At points, you could be listening to Led Zeppelin or Bad Company. Other times it veers more towards progressive rock, all tricksy musical passages and tempo changes, as well as psychedelia, Anthrax / Metallica-style metal and the grimier end of grunge.

And yet, where early-‘70s hard rock was exultant, its early-‘90s variant was consumed with ennui. If Superunknown’s title suggests a vast, bleak, empty cosmos, the album - every last one of its dense, immense 70 minutes - explore the equally supermassive black hole that is the human soul in an attempt to explain the unknowable. And if the results scream “downer”, it was probably deliberate. “I write songs best when I’m depressed,” as Cornell said at the time.

As those nine million fans can attest, however, Cornell’s sorrow was our pleasure, starting with the compressed thrills of opener Let Me Drown. The titles - Fell On Black Days, Head Down, The Day I Tried To Live, Like Suicide - chimed almost too perfectly with the zeitgeist (Kurt Cobain killed himself a month after its release), and Mailman’s “I know I’m headed for the bottom” almost reads like a parody of alt rock angst. Nevertheless, Superunknown is a dark joy-ride, from the shrieking fervour of Spoonman’s amped-up blues to Black Hole Sun’s beauteous grungeadelia which rivals the best of Nirvana for Beatles-meets-Sabs noisy melodicism. Five CDs is probably too much immense intensity for anyone to take, but Superunknown itself is a pitch-black delight.

[](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbckIuT_YDc)