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"I'm taking our music to the next level - Guitar Rock Utilizing Nihilist Grunge Energy - or, as I call it, GRUNGE!"
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

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"Grunge" is a form of Alternative Rock. A very popular one, at that. Without this genre the vast majority of us wouldn't know the Alternative Rock bands we listen to today, since Grunge broke it out of its niche/underground status and into the public eye.

Grunge itself is widely believed to have started in the indie rock scene in Seattle, and was sometimes called "the Seattle sound" in the early days. The earliest examples of grunge music includes Malfunkshun and Green River, neither of which achieved any mainstream success. As a backlash against big budget Hair Metal, which was big at the time (the mid-'80s), Grunge artists featured a stripped down and low-key aesthetic lacking in the theatrics and bombast of the prevailing trends. Playing in rainy Seattle, many struggling early grunge rockers wore the only warm clothing they could afford: thick flannel shirts, which became a trademark of the genre.


The music itself could be described as a strange combination of Doom Metal, Noise Rock and Alternative Rock with even more influences from Hardcore Punk (Black Flag's sludgier, slower material from 1984 on was frequently cited as an influence). Indie rock’s noise is another influence, as is pop. The guitars have heavy distortion and plenty of feedback (usually), songs often consist of both loud and soft sections, and the lyrics are often pretty personal, with topics like drug addiction (particularly heroin), depression, poverty, and suicide. This introspective focus influenced lots of more angsty genres such as Nu Metal and modern emo bands. The vocals range from Perishing Alt-Rock Voice to Yarling, and all stops in between.

However, these were among the few traits that most of the acts had in common; while Nirvana, Melvins, Green River, and Tad could certainly be said to have lived up to most of those supposed hallmarks, they had little to do with Pearl Jam's arena rock stylings, Alice in Chains' dark thrash-meets-glam dirges, Soundgarden's mix of 70s hard rock spectacle with the grit and fuck-you attitude of traditional doom metal, Mudhoney's punky, bluesy Stooges-inspired garage rock, Mother Love Bone's sleazy, punkish blues glam, Hole's violent, abrasive, grindcore-tinged noise rock, and Screaming Trees' psychedelic leanings. In short, while there was something resembling a basic skeleton of grunge, there wasn't really anything resembling a codified style, and the bands that did sound alike often did so out of coincidence or common influences.


So, Grunge started off underground, but of course something happened. Record labels decided it was the next “big thing.” Anybody with a guitar and two songs got signed. Flannel became cool. So what was this "something?"


Nirvana, a Seattle (by way of Aberdeen and Olympia) Grunge band fronted by Kurt Cobain, unexpectedly made it big in 1991 with their album Nevermind, containing the famed hit single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which, in typical "most famous song" fashion, was shunned by Cobain. The album drove away from the dirgy sludgy material that had defined the "grunge" label and the bands earlier material to that point and instead experimented with less distortion and catchy pop hooks, a feature that when combined with Cobain's anguished voice and rugged good looks launched them into superstardom. With Nirvana's success, other bands from Seattle, as well as those that were similar in tone, such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, also made it pretty big, and less-popular groups (namely Mudhoney, Melvins, Screaming Trees, and Tad) also had their moments in the mainstream spotlight. Against their will. As for punk before it, being big and famous went against Grunge's philosophy, and many of the bands tried to avoid fame. Cobain himself was pretty depressed over this, as well as many other things, including his heroin addiction. This whole depression thing culminated in Cobain's shotgun suicide in 1994 (although some conspiracy theorists still maintain that he was murdered).

Then Nirvana disbanded, Alice in Chains went on hiatus, Soundgarden headed in a more mainstream alternative rock direction and released their most famous song ("Black Hole Sun"), and with the rise of commercial Post-Grunge bands like Bush, Foo Fighters, Silverchair and Matchbox Twenty, grunge itself had begun to fade into the shadows cast by the mid-to-late nineties, including Britpop, Nu Metal, Pop Punk, The Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. By the turn of the millennium, grunge in the mainstream was reduced to nostalgia and another blow was dealt nearly a decade after Cobain's suicide when Layne Staley, lead singer of Alice in Chains, died of a heroin overdose — on the approximate date of Cobain's death note , which is cause for concern and even more paranoid conspiracy theories.

So, there you have it. The strange story of Grunge.

Archetypal of The '90s. For more information see articles like this one.

Although Grunge's time is over, the genre is still viewed as a landmark one due to its honesty and creative musicianship (especially compared to what it mutated into), and it still has a fanbase in certain corners, and the teens of the nineties are starting to look back upon it with nostalgia. Some of the bands have also had a significant influence on Doom Metal subgenres such as Stoner Metal and Sludge, which could be seen as a Spiritual Successor of sorts. Conversely, Grunge, Sludge, and Stoner Metal can also be considered "sister genres" as all three formed from the same sonic root with quite a bit of overlap in the bands themselves ('70s heavy/garage rock filtered through doom-influenced hardcore punk rock) but developed along tertiary characteristics that distinguished them: Grunge took up Alternative Rock, Stoner Metal added more Psychedelic Rock, and Sludge doubled down on Doom Metal. For this reason, while the latter two are sonically very similar to Grunge, they are not quite the same.

Not to be confused with Post-Grunge, which, beyond being based around downtuned guitar, often has very little in common. Also not to be confused with Sludge, which actually has quite a bit in common, but is far heavier, more nihilistic, and abrasive.

Bands typically categorised as Grunge include:


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