Soundgarden became a great band on Badmotorfinger. Light years ahead of Louder Than Love and everything else the band had done to date, Badmotorfinger announced the emergence of an awesome hard rock force by showing that Soundgarden was much more than just a one-trick grunge machine. This far more varied and experimental album was part of the Great Grunge Explosion of 1991, and it slowly started breaking Soundgarden to the masses. Though the Sabbath homages continue here, the band takes Sabbath’s plodding, evil rhythms, steps up the pace, and adds multi-colored layers of melody. The end result is still an extremely dirty and bass-heavy sound, but psychedelic elements also lend credence to the band’s snobbish “we’re not heavy metal” stance.
Immediately picking up the pace from its leaden-paced predecessor, “Rusty Cage” is an instant highlight that showcases this albums improvements, namely clearer, more precise playing and catchier melodies. “Outshined” is a slower paced chugger, but its iron clad riffs and bright, singable chorus makes it another standout. As with most of the songs here, Cornell steals the show with a dazzling display of earsplitting screeches and plaintive wails not heard since the heyday of Robert Plant and Ian Gillan. The rest of the band is also imposing, as daring D-tuned guitarist Kim Thayil, powerful drum pounder Matt Cameron, and new bassist Ben Shepard (who obviously has his amp cranked to 11) show that they can be an overwhelming unit (Cornell also plays guitar and is the band’s primary songwriter). You can certainly faint on “Slaves & Bulldozers” with its lurching rhythms, guitar heroics, and Cornell’s somewhat over-the-top vocals (which only he could pull off), but the impressively plodding song is definitely for me, while “Jesus Christ Pose” should appeal to any hard rock fan. Distinguished by Cameron’s fierce tribal drums and Thayil/Cornell’s razor sharp riffing, this incredibly intense song shows a sleeker Soundgarden firing on all cylinders, with Cornell’s commanding vocals again providing the proverbial icing on the cake. “Face Pollution” is a fast-paced thrasher on which the songwriting isn’t as solid, and the almost poppy “Somewhere” finishes much weaker than it starts, a problem that plagues several songs here – comes another epic highlight in the highly psychedelic “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” which is all about building up the tension before the release of several soaring climaxes.
The high quality continues with “Room A Thousand Years Wide,” whose outstanding attribute is its crunching riffs, while “Mind Riot” is one of those great album tracks that makes their later A-Sides compilation superfluous. The song instantly stands out due to its brighter melody, and when the sharp guitars stab through the melody as Cameron again pounds away its pretty clear that something special is about to happen; when Cornell comes in I can only shake my head in awe at the peerlessness of his performance. Needless to say that song would be tough to top, and “Drawing Flies” is merely a decent “catch your breath” type of filler track. “Holy Water,” which again sees Soundgarden flirting with the catchier choruses that would fully flower on their next release, is much better, though it’s not exactly a highlight, either, unlike “New Damage,” which closes out a classic (if overly long) album with yet another absurdly powerful performance by all band members.
Of course, the album is far from perfect, as not every song here is top shelf and (as previously mentioned) the band fails to maintain their momentum for the duration of several songs. However, the album’s highs rise to some incredible peaks, as Soundgarden delivers pure adrenalized power.