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Rest in Power Chris Cornell

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Soundgarden and former Audioslave singer Chris Cornell passed away last night, hours after performing in Detroit. He was 52 years old.

People will remember Cornell’s voice before they remember anything else about him. His good looks, his lyrics, his collaborations with Eddie Vedder, all pale in comparison to Cornell’s sublime range, clarity and expression. He kept psychedelic musing, viking howls and a soaring falsetto in his toolkit, and would cycle between them in rapid succession. To my ears, he’s the closest successor to Ronnie James Dio’s position as hard rock vocal patriarch.

The Dio comparison may strike some readers as difficult. Thinking of Cornell’s body of work in a metal context requires a little work. Part of the first wave of grunge bands, Soundgarden played a role in the alternative rock boom which buried the Los Angeles glam metal scene.

For those of us born too late to experience metal’s heyday though, songs like “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Outshined”, which received regular radio play even after Soundgarden dissolved in 1997, were brief heavy and riffy respites from the toothless gloom of turn of the century pop and rock. Soundgarden played with classic metal influences as much as they did with 60’s rock and gothic punk, and shared the stage with bands like Danzig and Voivod. Their run of classic albums from the late 80s and early 90s deserve to be ensconced in the metal canon.

Some of the band’s dark gravity came from Cornell himself, whose lyrics could be nonsensical but frequently carried a morbid undertone inherited from Black Sabbath and filtered through his own daydreamer’s perspective.

The New York Times article announcing Cornell’s passing suggests the signer may have ended his own life, even though an official cause of death has not been determined. It seems irresponsible to suggest suicide this quickly, but I can’t blame the publication. Premature death was as much a part of Cornell’s music as his romantic musings and worldly observations. I urge Invisible Oranges readers struggling with depression and mental illness to seek help and remember that they are loved. These are trying times.

It’s best now to remember Chris Cornell the singer who gave the world so much comforting, inspirational and dark music. He had the voice of a metal god, and he dreamed with reckless abandon.

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Editor’s note: Since the publication of this article, Cornell’s cause of death has been ruled a suicide.

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