Behind the band's decision to end their 12-year career

On the list of Bands Most Likely to Flame Out, ”Black Hole Sun”-spotters Soundgarden never placed very high. They had platinum sales and apparently none of the drug problems that bedeviled other Seattle bands. But their April 9 decision to throw themselves on the pyre after a 12-year run signaled an end not just to the band but the grunge era itself.

While the breakup was called ”amicable” in a statement, creative conflicts surfaced during the recording of 1996’s Down on the Upside, when frontman Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron disagreed with guitarist Kim Thayil over how much the band’s sound should evolve. But Soundgarden’s real Achilles’ heel seems to have been touring. Incessant traveling may have aggravated the behavior of the most volatile member, bassist Ben Shepherd, who reportedly walked off stage with an angry gesture before the end of their last gig in Honolulu Feb. 9. A source close to the group maintains Shepherd’s antics were ”no worse than [in] previous years,” but another source suggests this incident led to discussions of a split.

A&M, the group’s label, isn’t entirely despondent — a Cornell solo career could do wonders. But the mood in Seattle is bleak, with Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and the Screaming Trees all rumored to be in states of unrest. ”I was talking to [Nirvana’s] Krist Novoselic,” says Seattle music writer Tom Phalen, ”and he goes, ‘So, who’s left?’ And I said, ‘I dunno — Mudhoney?”’