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The Four Elements of Seattle Grunge.

16 Jun


For years I’ve been a headbanger on one hand, and a psychedelic, esoteric, spiritually thinking individual on the other hand, as I’m sure are many of my fellow humans are. When one absorbs copious amounts of a thing (whether it’s a concept, an idea, a notion, a way of life and in this case music!) it seeps into the understanding of another thing. This slice of writing is more or less just randomness, a stream of consciousness that has arisen after years playing those great Seattle bands of the early 90’s. My understanding of the properties of the four alchemical elements has intertwined into the characterisation of listening experience of the following four bands. It’s purely personal opinion and I’d love for anyone to critique it, expand on it and do their own. I’ll follow this piece up with my four favourite bands of all time and how I define them according to those sacred elements.

Earth: The bluesy riffing of Jerry Cantrell, the pained wails of Layne Staley and their combined harmonies are Earth to me. The simplistic acoustic ballads are powerful, the honesty of the content evoked is heavy listening, truly Staley’s anecdotes of heroin addiction aren’t easy to hear. It’s not just that their seminal album is called Dirt, it’s the feeling of helplessness that his voice will give you that makes you feel as he did: down in a hole.

Personal Favourites: Rain When I Die, Would?

Fire : The scintillating sounds of Nirvana, for me, align with the qualities of fire. The erratic and unpredictable expression of the immortal Kurt Cobain truly ignite the listener. The band played a no frills style of garage punk rock, which to the snobby musician is too simple. Yet it emanates the sometime calm, sometimes out of control nature of fire. Cobain is conjuring the fire god of yesteryear, Jim Morrison. He is adored by a generation, yet misunderstood, not wanting to be an idol for “grunge”. For many Nirvana were a fallback, at a confusing time in their lives. The sexual frustration of puberty. Relationships. Emotions that burn.

Personal Favourites: Drain You, Aneurysm

Air: As if soaring on an eagle, Chris Cornell’s voice flies sky high over the guitar of Kim Thayil; Air coming to me in the form of Soundgarden. If Chris Cornell isn’t considered one of the great singers of all time, the critics best have a good excuse. It’s thunderous and dynamic, fierce and gutsy. And Matt Cameron is as damaging as wrecking ball on the drumkit. Soundgarden have their ethereal moments. Listen to their hit Black Hole Sun, when Cornell wails and Thayhil solos like a tornado, you’ll know why I felt the Air in Soundgarden.

Personal Favourites: Rusty Cage, Slaves and Bulldozers

( Like the wind shapes earth, hear both Staley and Cornell blast out a powerhouse performance on AIC’s Right Turn)

And finally Water: Water is said to typify emotion. My first ever big concert was Pearl Jam, back in 2006. So my emotions are tied strongly to this 5-piece. Like water they’re ever changing, fluid, but most of all essential. They’ve got the radio staples like Better Man and Daughter, but it’s the personal tunes like Black and Release, where one can feel frontman Eddie Vedder’s fragmented upbringing. His voice is as iconic and unique as the other elementals aforementioned. But like the calming effects that water bring, the sheer joy that guitarist,Mike Mcready’s playing gives, makes the tragedy a bit easier to bear. To hear pure emotion from a guitar, I’d point to his pre Jam work, with Temple of The Dog. With the Air god Cornell wailing flawlessly about a lost comrade, it could only be Mcready’s guitar work to steal the show on the song, Say Hello to Heaven.

Personal Favourites: Black, Yellow Ledbetter

So there you have my Alchemy of Grunge spiel. You can naturally say all bands are representing all the elements and I’d gladly hear anyone’s spin on it! Or maybe next time you’ll hear what I hear?! Happy listening y’all.