Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dies Aged 52

Chris Cornell, the iconic lead singer and guitarist of Seattle rock band Soundgarden, and latterly of rock supergroup Audioslave, has died suddenly aged just 52.  

In a statement to the Associated Press, a representative said the frontman died on Wednesday night in Detroit after playing a show with the reformed Soundgarden, and called his death “sudden and unexpected” with a cause as yet unknown.  He is survived by his wife and three children.

Driven by Cornell's soaring, powerful voice - a voice full of pain and joy and sex and love which could go from gentle croon to primal wail in the space of a few bars - Soundgarden was a central linchpin in the Pacific Northwestern music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, easily earning their place alongside peers Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam.  Although the scene was dubbed 'grunge' by the press, in fact, the sounds coming from the area were disparate and varied.  

Soundgarden's own music was churning, heavy and riff-driven, mixing elements of punk and metal into something transcendental.  Comparisons to bands from an earlier age were inevitable - with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath clear influences on their sound - but the group also cited the gonzo punk of Butthole Surfers, the gothic doom of Killing Joke and the dirge rock of Velvet Underground as inspiration.  Cornell remarked in a 1992 interview for MTV, "There is really no Seattle sound at all, it's a lot of sounds coming out of one area that people are paying attention to".  But what there was, was a sense of community between musicians, a desire to help each other and share the spotlight which had suddenly swung onto their rainy city, and Cornell and his band were a central part of this.

Born on July 20, 1964 and raised in Seattle, one of six siblings, Chris Cornell found his passion for music aged nine by chancing across a collection of Beatles records abandoned in the basement of a neighbor's house.  A natural loner, music, it seemed, was the conduit through which he would connect with others, express himself, and deal with the bouts of severe anxiety and depression which dogged his teenage years.  That he would go on to embody perhaps the ultimate in rock godliness, with his Renaissance good-looks and bravura live performances, must have seemed a far cry from the cripplingly shy kid in a Seattle suburb listening to Revolver on repeat.

His musical career started in the early 1980s in local covers band The Shemps, where he met Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto, with whom he would form Soundgarden in 1984.  Naming themselves after an outdoor public art work which was located in Seattle, the band signed to the newly-launched Sub Pop label in 1987.  KCMU DJ Jonathan Poneman - who would go on to become a partner in the label - was so impressed after seeing them perform, that he offered to fund a release, contributing $20,000 to Sub Pop and effectively turning it into a fully-fledged record label.  They released the band's debut Screaming Life EP later that year, followed by the Fopp EP in 1988 and suddenly the Seattle scene was a going concern, starting to attract attention from the wider world.

Off the back of these early releases, and as key figures in this burgeoning local music scene, industry interest in the band was growing and a bidding war ensued.  Initially rejecting advances from major labels, in 1988 Soundgarden signed to SST Records to release their debut album, Ultramega OK, for which they earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance.  The band subsequently signed with A&M Records - the first band from the Seattle scene to sign to a major - and in 1989, released Louder Than Love.  

1991's Badmotorfinger brought a new level of commercial success, and also saw them nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance, but it was 1994's Superunknown which truly became their breakthrough album, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200, with singles Black Hole Sun and Spoonman winning Grammy Awards in 1995.  1996's self-produced Down on the Upside, was notably less heavy than the group's preceding albums and marked a departure from the band's 'grunge' origins.  The sessions for the album also saw tensions within the group growing, with clashes over musical differences finally coming to a head in the middle of 1997 when they announced they would disband.  Fast forward 13 years to April 2010, and Soundgarden announced that they would re-form to headline the Lollapalooza festival that year, eventually releasing their sixth and final album, King Animal, in November 2012.

As well as his extensive body of work with Soundgarden, Chris Cornell was also a great supporter of other bands, proudly wearing their t-shirts, promoting their music and taking part in numerous side-projects and collaborations.  After the death of close friend Andrew Wood, frontman of local group Mother Love Bone, Cornell joined forces with members of the newly-formed Pearl Jam for a collaboration under the name Temple of the Dog.  Their self-titled album was released in 1991 in tribute to their mutual friend and went on to sell more than a million copies.  Cornell also worked as a co-producer and backing vocalist on Screaming Trees' 1991 album, Uncle Anesthesia, and guested alongside Mudhoney's Mark Arm on Alice In Chains' Right Turn from their Sap EP, amongst many other notable collaborations.


Following the breakup of Soundgarden, Cornell recorded a solo record, Euphoria Morning, in 1999, before being recruited in 2001 as the singer for the Rick Rubin-produced supergroup Audioslave, which also featured former members of Rage Against the Machine.  The band's eponymous debut album, released in November 2002, eventually went triple platinum in the United States, but the band was almost derailed before it had even been released, as Cornell was struggling with alcohol addiction, leading to a stint in rehab in 2003.  After cleaning up, and following successful tours and more writing, the band released 2005's Out of Exile, which debuted at number one on the US charts, and 2006's Revelations, after which Cornell left to focus on his solo work again (2007's Carry On, 2009's Scream, 2011's Songbook, and 2015's Higher Truth), which included penning the song You Know My Name with composer David Arnold, for the theme to the James Bond movie Casino Royale.

In recent months, Soundgarden had been touring again and guitarist Kim Thayil had stated in interviews that they would begin work on material for a seventh album imminently.  For fans the world over, this will now remain just a tantalising glimpse at what might have been.


Indeed, at the loss of surely one of the greatest rock vocalists of our time - as well as a true champion of music in all its forms - the world is a little darker today.  Increasingly it seems that these lights going out are not to be replaced, and what the future holds for music is uncertain.  Of course there are new musicians out there who want to do something real and true in just the same way, but there perhaps isn’t the same support for the underground ecosystem that there once was.  Bands are pitted against each other instead of being encouraged to collaborate in creating a self-sufficient, localised scene.  A healthy underground feeds the mainstream and keeps it on its toes, keeps things moving.  We see mainstream acts adopting that pose, coming on like they mean it, like they're pushing against the system, but really they're part of it.  And with no new ideas of their own, where can it go?  

So, whether there is a place for rebel spirits, for bright-burning free-thinkers in these over-commodified, TV-talent show times is hard to say.  But what is certain is that Chris Cornell has left a body of work behind him which is brilliant enough, and full of enough raw passion and energy, to light the way for a few more years at least.  And in that sense, he'll live forever.

There's no time to keep it low
I've been deaf now I want noise
You stay down but I won't be quiet
I'll hammer on until you fight - Loud Love