Review: Various Artists ‘Best Of Soundgarden Redux’

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way now: Soundgarden is one of my all-time favorite bands. I’ve been listening to them since roughly 1990, give or take, when, on a whim, I bought a copy of their debut full-length Ultramega OK simply because it was on SST Records, knowing nothing about the band, or the burgeoning, underground, heavy rock (grunge) scene in Seattle (a city I would wind up moving to in 1996, and living in until 2003) that was brewing.

Various Artists 'Best Of Soundgarden Redux' Artwork
Various Artists ‘Best Of Soundgarden Redux’ Artwork

Soundgarden’s mountain moving riffs were a little jarring to me at the time, as, despite growing up a metal and thrash kid, I was listening to punk, hardcore, and what would soon be dubbed ‘alternative’ almost exclusively at that time. Also, I recognized instantly that vocalist Chris Cornell was completely on a level of his own. All one has to do is listen to Beyond The Wheel from Ultramega OK to hear the range, power, and ferocity he possessed. I was instantly a fan, and as the years progressed, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger found itself in my top fifteen albums EVER, and Chris Cornell, became my favorite singer of all time.

Whilst I’ll generally cite Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop as my two favorite frontmen, Cornell is my favorite singer. He possessed all the range that guys like Freddie Mercury and Rob Halford possess, but he had twenty times the power. Just listen to Slaves And Bulldozers off Badmotorfinger, and this point is emphatically pounded home. His death, to this day, counts as one of the most personally devastating musician deaths that I’ve encountered in my forty years of listening to rock and roll.

It’s with this background that I emphatically, yet with trepidation, raised my hand to review the latest compilation from Magnetic Eye Records, Best Of Soundgarden Redux. A few points: one, I think that it’s super cool to see these stoner/doom/desert rock artists paying tribute to one of the all-time heavy rock bands, as I’ve always intimated that grunge, as a genre, was both a precursor, as well as running parallel to, early stoner and desert rock. Point two is, while these compilations are always cool, I was nervous to hear how these bands would approach Soundgarden’s songs. Would they perform them straight up, or ‘make them their own’ by fucking with the sound, approach and structure? This coupled with the fact that none of these vocalists could come anywhere near Chris Cornell’s vocal powers. Well, I’m here to report that there’s some great stuff on this compilation and some that didn’t sit as well with me.

Freedom Hawk’s version of Loud Love is solid, staying true to the original, as even the vocals are pretty on point. Heavy Temple’s take on Ugly Truth is also true to form, sounding fantastic, with a stellar vocal performance from vocalist/bassist High Priestess Nighthawk. Miss Lava’s version of Burden In My Hand, while totally different, works well enough, while both fellow Seattle bands, Sun Crow and Witch Ripper both do commendable jobs, as the formers version of Toy Box, while fairly straightforward, is killer, and latter, who alter some of the arrangements on Rusty Cage putting their own stamp on the material that wound up providing one of the album highlights.

cool to see Soundgarden get the tribute treatment they so richly deserve…

Milana’s take on Outshined, while broodier, is an interesting enough approach, coupled with the fact their vocalist possesses some decent rock pipes. Blue Heron also does a great job with Uncovered, taking it a little lower, and slower, but it’s New York’s Restless Spirit who really crush it, as their interpretation of Room A Thousand Years Wide is a massive fuzzed-up monster.

And, while props must be given for trying a different approach, High Desert Queen’s, weak and limp version of Slaves And Bulldozers, one of the most menacing and crushing songs of the entire 1990s, left me feeling annoyed, and frankly angry. I didn’t dig Mirakler’s weird take on Birth Ritual, especially the quasi-industrial clanging, while Spotlights rendition of Jesus Christ Pose, while interesting, didn’t do much for me. Swamp Coffin, meanwhile, turn Nothing To Say into a lurching, sludgy beast, and props must be given for not even attempting to ‘sing’ instead preferring to belch out some guttural grunts.

Whilst I generally like UK’s Josiah, the synth-as-opposed to-guitar-riff of Applebite was a drag to my ears, and Dendrites’ spin on Tighter And Tighter, complete with some sax-action was interesting enough, even if I didn’t completely enjoy the vocals. However, my real toxicity was saved for Lamassu’s version of my all-time favorite Soundgarden song, Searching With My Good Eye Closed. Again, credit for trying something new, but this left me feeling so empty, and confused I had to listen to Soundgarden’s version to cleanse my sonic palette, it bummed me out that much. Some material is better left untouched, and when you take on a track of this magnitude and this epic, perhaps it’s best to not fuck with it too much, and avoid putting your ‘spin’ on it, but that’s just my opinion.

Best Of Soundgarden Redux all in all is a pretty solid compilation, keeping in the tradition of Magnetic Eye‘s previous compilations, and it’s also really cool to see Soundgarden get the tribute treatment they so richly deserve, even if I personally didn’t enjoy every band’s interpretation of what I consider hallowed material.

Label: Magnetic Eye Records

Scribed by: Martin Williams