It’s been an interesting ride following Seattle superstars Soundgarden on their music trajectory from their 1988 indie debut ‘Ultramega OK’ to their rise as mainstream sellouts with 1994’s ‘Superunknown’ and the breakup and reunion with 2012’s ‘King Animal.’
Of the “big three” (along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam), Soundgarden came on the scene first on Halloween 1988 with ‘Ultramega OK’ on SST Records. Now, Sub Pop Records has picked up the gateway album, releasing an expanded version.
Coming back to ‘Ultramega OK’ nearly 30 years later with this expanded version, you can hear four hungry kids, basically – Chris Cornell (vocals, guitar); Kim Thayil (guitar); Hiro Yamamoto (bass, vocals) Matt Cameron (drums) – getting their feet wet in the studio. At times, they are Black Sabbath and others Black Flag. Of the 13 original tracks, “665,” “667,” “He Didn’t,” and “Circle of Power” (sung by Yamamoto), have the band sounding awkward and searching for who they are. But when you hear the band at its best, “Flower;” “All Your Lies;” “Beyond the Wheel;” and “Nazi Driver,” you hear what Soundgarden is about to become with their next couple albums and what a game changer they will be with their music.
Originally produced by Drew Canulette, the expanded version is remixed by the legendary Jack Endino. During the remixing process, the band unearthed six early versions of songs which ended up on ‘Ultramega OK.’ The songs – “Head Injury,” “Beyond the Wheel,” “He Didn’t,” “All Your Lies,” and two versions of “Incessant Mace” – were recorded in 1987 on 8-track tape by Endino and Chris Hanzsek at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, and mixed by Jack Endino in 2016. These versions feature the band in raw, powerful form – sonically closer to the band’s Endino-recorded six-song debut, ‘Screaming Life.’
As mentioned before, the expanded and remixed version of Soundgarden’s debut long player, ‘Ultramega OK’ is an interesting journey hearing the band at their very beginning and hearing the birth of superstars before they even knew it.