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Soundgarden - 'Live From The Artists Den' Album Review


1. Incessant Mace

2. My Wave

3. Been Away Too Long

4. Worse Dreams

5. Jesus Christ Pose

6. Flower

7. Taree

8. Spoonman

9. By Crooked Steps

10. Blind Dogs

11. Rowing

12. Non-State Actor

13. Drawing Flies

14. Hunted Down

15. Black Saturday

16. Bones Of Birds

17. Blow Up The Outside World

18. Fell On Black Days

19. Burden In My Hand

20. A Thousand Days Before

21. Blood On The Valley Floor

22. Rusty Cage

23. New Damage

24. 4th Of July

25. Outshined

26. Black Hole Sun

27. Ty Cobb

28. Slaves & Bulldozers

29. FeedBacchanal

When we lost Chris Cornell two years ago it really felt like my musical world span in a completely different way than before. No matter what route he was heading in, be it Soundgarden, Audioslave or his solo career, his writing, playing and most of all his voice would find ways of drawing you into an intimate world. After his passing a posthumous release of "You Never Knew My Mind", his take on a lost Johnny Cash song, reminded us of our loss while a career retrospective collection last year celebrated his broad career, but also left us wondering what could have been as the remaining members of Soundgarden discussed how they'd had ideas for a new album prior to his death.

It's to Soundgarden that we look to with this new release. "Live From The Artist's Den" was filmed in 2013 as the band were nearing the end of their tour supporting what would be their final album "King Animal." The 29 track release is a heavyweight trawl through their history which includes several deep cuts that highlights the rich vein the band mined together during their seven (if you include the "Screaming Life/Fopp" EP compilation) studio album career.

The set opens with 'Incessant Mace' from your official debut album "Ultramega OK" and it's clear that the band are playing what they want rather than pander to anyone who thought a greatest hits set would have been perfect. The depth of the release means they can draw from their latest album at the time and still have plenty of room to add songs from most of their studio back catalogue (although “Louder Than Love” is not represented), with seventeen of them making their first official live album release.

It’s not just their song writing skills that are on show here for all to hear but also the well of talent they draw from. They quickly out grew the “Punk version of Black Sabbath” early on in their career with Kim Thayil’s heavy as hell riffs that also seem to spiral out from his guitar and amps while Ben Shepherd has a tone as low as the bass hanging around his knees, the sound of mountains dropped on each other from a great height. Then there’s Soundgarden’s rhythm keeper, the extraordinary Matt Cameron. The man is a phenomenal drummer which shows here in abundance. Rather than pick something nice and straight forward to play he picks the oddest drum parts. Just listen to the drum parts on singles like ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Rusty Cage’ and you’ll hear the sound of a man who makes the complicated sound so effortless all while singing backing vocals to Chris Cornell.

Cornell’s shadow is cast long across this as will any release that he’s been involved with since his tragic passing but this album shows that his voice is nothing short of heavenly, with a range that reaches down from the deepest growl to the higher pitched screams and wailing, every note sounding that it’s drawn from his very soul. Here is legacy is cemented; no longer possessing the best voice in “Grunge” (sorry Eddie Vedder), but Cornell had one of the greatest voices in the history of Rock music, full stop. There’s a mellower section about two thirds of the way through where the band perform ‘Blow Up The Outside World’, ‘Fell On Black Days’ and ‘Burden In My Hand’ in succession and it.......... Hell, it defies words, they simply can’t do the performances justice with just words. Take my advice and listen to them on headphones in a dark, quiet room and you’ll see what I mean. The combination of the different elements of the band come together in this tryptich of songs that they could have released just on their own and I still would have rushed out to buy it.

There’s something here for everyone. For every ‘Black Hole Sun’ there’s a lesser known gem like ‘Blind Dogs’ that is performed here live for the first time after appearing on the soundtrack to the 1995 Jim Carroll biography “The Basketball Diaries”. It also features an amusing story from Chris about the famous Rock photographer Ross Halfin always requesting the song from the band. There’s not much between song talk from Cornell but what there is drenched in dark humour that helps alleviate the dark tone of the recording.

“Live From The Artists Den” culminates in an epic ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, a grinding psychedelic slab of musical granite followed by ‘FeedBacchanal’, a self explanatory name for almost four and a half minutes of guitar and bass feedback. Some listeners may feel the need to skip this but for me it just forms another part of the experience of what was an amazing live performance of a band at their very peak. You can see why the band and Cornell’s estate are happy with this release as it shows the band taking songs from their amazing studio albums and allowing them to fully grow to their potential in a live arena. They ride each one with a sense of looseness that allows every song to outgrow the bones of their studio versions with a sense of majestic grace. The album (and accompanying blu-ray) are essential purchases for not just any Soundgarden fan but anyone who likes their music to be a little bit more challenging than the norm but wants to be rendered speechless by a voice that will continue to live forever in memory.

Review - Scott Hamilton

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