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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1990 | Sub Pop Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 19, 2018 | Sub Pop Records

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The best expression of Soundgarden's early, Stooges/MC5-meets-Zeppelin/Sabbath sound, Ultramega OK is a dark, murky, buzzing record that simultaneously subverts and pays tribute to heavy metal. At times, the band and its recasting of over-the-top '70s hard rock seem smirky (Hiro Yamamoto's ridiculous vocal on "Circle of Power"; a "cover" of John Lennon's "One Minute of Silence"); a few, like the cover of "Smokestack Lightning," really do sink into turgid metal silliness. But the best moments are startling fusions of classic metal, punk rock, and psychedelia of the fuzz guitar variety, plus the local flavor of Green River and the Melvins. The difference is, Soundgarden are better songwriters, and their feel for memorable riffs and hooks lend greater power to both the rockers and the creepy, dirge-like slow numbers. It's a shame the album as a whole isn't more fully realized, because when separated out from the filler, the numerous highlights show why Soundgarden had such an enormous impact on the development of grunge. It may not be quite as complex or consistent as some of Soundgarden's later albums, but Ultramega OK is easily the best document of grunge's early, pre-Nirvana days. ~ Steve Huey
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 19, 2018 | Sub Pop Records

CD€14.99

Alternative & Indie - Released September 19, 2018 | Sub Pop Records

While the grunge movement of the early '90s would be remembered for thrift-store flannels and an updating of early punk angst, it's easy to forget that the earliest moments of grunge happened as a counterpoint to the hair metal that dominated the airwaves at that time. Reacting against the increasingly commercial state of heavy music but still very much indebted to the genre's past greats, much of what became alternative music started out simply as weird metal. Enter Soundgarden with their first two EPs, 1987's Screaming Life and 1988's Fopp, originally packaged together in 1990 by a soon-to-boom Sub Pop. Still a few years away from the downtuned proto-sludge of Louder Than Love and the worldwide grunge rock domination they would encounter throughout the '90s, these EPs and first proper album Ultramega OK found the band in a flailing state. Somewhere between their metal roots and the full articulation of the sound they'd realize shortly, Screaming Life is rooted firmly in generic post-Sabbath riffery and Chris Cornell's absent-minded howling. Suffering from equally generic production, much of the album comes off as listless or stifled, even though hints of future greatness peek through at times. The bleak and doomy "Nothing to Say" rolls along in a less-refined version of the heaviness they would sharpen on Badmotorfinger, and the dissonant guitars and Misfits-esque croon of "Hunted Down" also come off as a more naive reading of the band's later sound. Of the two EPs, Screaming Life is far superior to the embarrassingly hamfisted faux funk/punk of Fopp. An overly ironic and unfunny original tune lambasting the still-incubating Sub Pop scene, a Green River cover, and two mixes of an ill-fitting Ohio Players cover make Fopp even more fans-only fodder than the at times foreshadowing but ultimately mediocre fare of Screaming Life. ~ Fred Thomas