After building up a big buzz on the independent Sub Pop and SST labels, Louder Than Love, the band’s major label debut, again saw this Seattle quartet worshipping at the dual altars of hard rock deities Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, as the dirge-like guitar lines attest. The production is better this time, though, and standout tracks such as “Ugly Truth,” “Hands All Over,” and “Loud Love” all showed the promise that Soundgarden would later fulfill in becoming one of the best hard rock bands of the ‘90s.
The band immediately delivers the goods with “Ugly Truth,” a chugging metal missile led by Kim Thayil’s bold riffing and Chris Cornell’s instantly awe-inspiring vocal wail. The swirling wall of sound on “Hands All Over” hypnotizes the listener, showing off the band’s sense of dynamics by presenting a nice mix of light (bright melodic riffs) and dark (Cornell’s wail from beyond and “kill your mother” lyrics) elements, while “Loud Love” offers the best evidence of the band’s primordial power. Though none of the other rather one-dimensional and at-times lumbering songs rise quite so high, this is a consistently solid set that’s much slower and sludgier than its subsequent big brothers. Of course, it’s also less polished and together sounding, as some of the music here fails to mesh well with Cornell’s histrionic vocals.
Also, though Cornell demonstrates pipes to kill for he hadn’t yet learned the value of restraint, and the band’s sound had yet to coalesce into the sleek powerhouse they would soon become. Other notable tracks include “Get On The Snake,” an impressive (and comparatively lively) grinder, and “Big Dumb Sex,” which is as deliberately dumb (and fun) as its title would suggest. The funny, punkish “Full On Kevin’s Mom” also shows Soundgarden starting to get the hang of this irony thing, but the band are definitely at their best when showing their more serious side. Still, for all its considerable strengths (clearly this was the band’s best effort yet), Louder Than Love is more an appealing appetizer for future breakthroughs than an essential Soundgarden release.