Chris Cornell once explained the importance of Black Sabbath: “They rescued me”

There has never been one singular genre quite like grunge in the realm of rock music. As the world started moving away from the glittery acts on MTV, Seattle quickly became the hub of all things music-related, with prospective artists wanting nothing more than to wear flannel and sing about their internal turmoil. Everyone gets it from somewhere, though, and Chris Cornell first got started with a bit of classic rock and roll.

Of all the heavy hitters to come out of the grunge scene, Soundgarden were always the ones cut out to be rock stars. Compared to their counterparts, they had the thick riffs of hard rock, which, combined with Cornell’s shrieking voice, made them the perfect ‘90s answer to Led Zeppelin.

Although Cornell certainly had respect for Zeppelin in terms of their influence on hard rock, he was always enamoured with what Black Sabbath brought to the table as well. Speaking with The First Time, Cornell explained, “Sabbath kind of rescued me from being a KISS fan. When I think of Soundgarden, I think of how comfortable with dark, moodier themes, and that’s got to have roots in listening to Black Sabbath”.

While the heavy metal influence may not be evident in Black Sabbath on first listen, Soundgarden might be one of the truest disciples of Tony Iommi’s tortured melodies. When going through songs like ‘Outshined’ or ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, Cornell’s approach to lyrics always deals with the darker side of life, either through the spiritual or metaphorical side.

That’s not to say that Soundgarden couldn’t write something as heavy as Black Sabbath. Even though they were known for their art-rock tendencies on their album cuts, a track like ‘4th of July’ feels like it’s pulled from the back pages of Iommi’s songbook, with Cornell tuning his down absurdly low and playing one of the heaviest dirges of their career.

That’s before looking at the rest of the band as well. While Cornell polished off his trademark scream, Kim Thayil’s guitar work was always indebted to Sabbath’s back pages, creating thick riffs that fans didn’t have to think too hard about to headbang along to.

Soundgarden wasn’t even the only band enamoured with what Sabbath was doing then. When talking about their initial influences, the members of Nirvana cited Sabbath as a major influence, saying they wanted to be a mixture of Black Sabbath and The Beatles when they were starting.

Although Nirvana may have gone on to greater success, Dave Grohl still claims that Soundgarden came the closest to sounding like the tortured souls from Birmingham, recalling his first time hearing ‘Black Hole Sun’ saying, “I remember thinking ‘Holy shit, this is gonna be huge’. To me, it was the perfect meeting between The Beatles and Black Sabbath. I don’t think it had ever been successfully paired together until then”.

While Sabbath may have been called Neanderthalic music by the critics in their prime, Soundgarden was the best example of how to build on their foundation. Iommi had sanctified the darker side of melodicism, and Cornell was one of his disciples responsible for bringing that heaviness to a new generation.

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