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Soundgarden delves into super-unknown territory with nine inch nails

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Prior to this year, the last time Soundgarden and nine inch nails played together on the same bill was in 1994 -- when the former's "Superunknown" album kept the latter's "The Downward Spiral" out of the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.

But there's no bad blood as the two groups head out on the road this summer, bringing together a pair of iconic styles -- Soundgarden's metal-influenced grunge and nin's industrial fury -- that defined the alt.rock, Lollapalooza generation.

"We were fans of (nin's) 'Head Like a Hole' and the 'Pretty Hate Machine' era" of a few years before says Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. "It seemed kinda cool, like this new sort of wrinkle of aggressive rock, but closer to Killing Joke than Metallica, which appealed to me.

"And it just seemed like everything about it was cool and aggressive, so it's a good match."

Cornell and guitarist Kim Thayil say Soundgarden never met nin founder and frontman Trent Reznor until the tour -- though the two also played at this year's Lollapalooza festivals in South America. The summer trek kicked off July 20, but Cornell says the idea came up towards the beginning of the year, which Cornell feels was to the tour's benefit.

"I think starting early usually means that you put together a good package and it can be something somewhat eventful that people might remember," Cornell, 50, explains. "Also, I think time is good where you can chew on it for awhile. The idea seemed like a good idea to me immediately, but that doesn't mean that, like, a month later it's still gonna seem like that.

"I have to wake up in varying moods before I realize anything is a good idea for real, and it seemed like a good idea all that time."

The high-profile tour comes at a momentous time for the Seattle quartet, which regrouped in 2010 after a 13-year hiatus and released "King Animal," its first album in 16 years, last fall. This year, however, has been highlighted by a 20th anniversary commemoration of "Superunknown," the group's fourth and most successful album -- five-times platinum with Grammy Award wins for the singles "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun." Soundgarden released deluxe anniversary packages of "Superunknown" in early June, and it's played the album in its entirety at a few special concerts this year.

"I don' think it's our instinct, ever, to point out a particular year or something like that," Cornell, notes. "But the idea of the reissue and recognizing it as an anniversary seemed to kind of make sense for this album. If you could single out any of our albums as being the most iconic one ever, it's obviously this one. So it's kind of a cool thing to do and concentrate on."

Thayil says that "it doesn't seem like 20 years" since "Superunknown's" release, while he and his bandmates -- including bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron (who's does double duty with Pearl Jam and is being spelled by Matt Chamberlain this summer) remain proud of what they accomplished with the album.

"We were always aware of the critical acclaim and the commercial acclaim it achieved," says Thayil, 53. "But on the creative side the thing that stands out is the popularity of certain songs. Like, 'The Day I Tried To Live' didn't do very well as a single but it seems to have the strongest legs of many of the singles that we released, or maybe all of them. In the (online) forums I see a lot of fans referring to that song in particular and how much they like it, which is interesting."

Soundgarden has more plans to dally in its past, including a similarly expanded edition of 1991's "Badmotorfinger" as well as B-sides compilation. And if that isn't enough, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the band's formation.

But Soundgarden is most interested in new music, with one new song in particular in the works -- a song from about 1990 which Thayil says "we never really gave the proper attention to with the current rhythm section" -- and a follow-up to "King Animal" will certainly happen at some point.

"We're very happy and proud of the 'Superunknown' album reaching its 20th year, but I think the band is primarily concerned about being a current, vital concern," Thayil says. "But at the same time there certainly is an interest in anniversaries. I think it makes sense, fully, especially for a band like Nirvana that doesn't have new product other than what they have in the catalog. And it make sense for Pearl Jam; they did a big 20th anniversary thing.

"I think the record company is pretty eager and excited about the fact we're from the same place, around the same time. And at least we have the material that justifies it."

Soundgarden, nine inch nails and Oneothrix Point Never

7 p.m. Saturday, July 26

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road at I-75, Independence Township

Tickets are $39.50-$99.50 pavilion, $29.50 lawn

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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