Grunge is an influential form of Alternative Rock. This genre helped Alternative Rock's mainstream popularity advance past the late-80s alternative crossover boom. Grunge started in the indie rock scene in Seattle, and was sometimes called "the Seattle sound" in the early days, although the documentary Long Way to the Top: Stories of Australian Rock & Roll claimed it originated with The Scientists, who hailed from Perth, Western Australia.note The earliest examples of grunge music includes Malfunkshun and Green River, neither of which achieved any mainstream success.
As a backlash against polished, highly produced commercially-successful 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 greasy, unwashed hair and thrift shop clothes of early grunge bands was more of a product of their low income playing underground venues, rather than a fashion statement.
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). Many artists in the genre also take cues from the Power Pop-inspired songwriting of college rock bands such as R.E.M., Pixies and Hüsker Dü. The guitars have heavy distortion and plenty of shrieking feedback (usually), songs often consist of both loud and soft sections, and the lyrics are often personal and introspective, 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, and the A&R department did a photo shoot of them in retro thrift store clothes and flannel. So what was this "something?" A little band named Nirvana.
A Seattle (by way of Aberdeen and Olympia) grunge band fronted by Kurt Cobain, Nirvana 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. Another grunge approach that broke with Hair Metal was to downplay or even eliminate the guitar solo. In contrast to a typical hair metal solo, which used two-handed tapping and rapid-fire, virtuoso arpeggio riffs, Cobain's guitar solos might be simply an instrumental version of the vocal melody.
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 with 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 depression culminated in Cobain's shotgun suicide in 1994 (although some conspiracy theorists still maintain that he was murdered).
Then Nirvana disbanded, Pearl Jam retreated from the spotlight and reinvented itself, Alice in Chains went on hiatus, Soundgarden disbanded, 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. 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 .
So, there you have it. The strange, short story of Grunge.
Although Grunge's time is over, the genre is still viewed as a landmark one due to its honesty, authenticity 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 started 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.
See also: Riot Grrrl, a women-led feminist hardcore punk genre and subculture from the same time period.
Bands typically categorised as Grunge include:
- Alice in Chains (often considered the heaviest of the lot; there was also some Hair Metal present on the demos and Facelift. Starting with Black Gives Way To Blue, they've gone all in with Doom Metal.
- Ash (often seen as bridging the gap between Grunge and Britpop)
- Babes in Toyland
- Bush (Often called Post-Grunge, but they could just as easily be called 'real' Grunge. You really, really shouldn't mention them around fans of Grunge, however.)
- Candlebox (Mixed with Post-Grunge on early work. Later considered straight up Post-Grunge.)
- Everclear (First two albums. Later went on to greater success as a Power Pop band.)
- Failure (also dipping into Alternative Rock and Space Rock)
- Fecal Matter (Ur-Example, best known as Kurt Cobain's band before Nirvana)
- Feeder (only during the Polythene era)
- The Fluid (also Garage Rock Revival)
- Foo Fighters (mostly only their self-titled debut)
- Fudge Tunnel is Grunge if you approach it with modern ears. They display all of the common tropes to Grunge and their music videos were shot in a very similar manner as grunge ones.
- The Gits
- Green River (Trope Maker) (Its members went on to form Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone / Pearl Jam)
- Gumball (Most well-known for being led by famed Alternative/Indie producer Don Fleming)
- Haji's Kitchen (Typically a Groove Metal/ Prog Metal mix but they are often considered Grunge as well)
- Hole (Courtney Love's band)
- KEN mode (Success, mixed with post-hardcore; as of Loved, they are back to their traditional style, making this a case of Creator's Oddball)
- King's X (particularly during the Dogman era, typically a hard rock/progressive metal act.)
- Life of Agony (something of a Genre Mashup of this, Hardcore Punk, and sludge metal)
- Love Battery
- Mad Season (A Grunge Supergroup consisting of members of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees, also Blues Rock)
- Malfunkshun (Ur-Example)
- Melvins (Trope Maker, along with Green River. Also associated with Doom Metal, particularly Sludge Metal. Kurt Cobain was a fan, and Dale Crover occasionally filled in on drums for Nirvana.)
- Mother Love Bone (Cut short by the lead singer's sudden death from heroin overdose, two of its members went on to form Pearl Jam. Like Alice in Chains, they were also associated with Hair Metal.)
- Mudhoney the other TropeCodifier
- My Sister's Machine
- Neil Young (Often considered the Godfather of Grunge, with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) and Rust Never Sleeps (1979) having songs that can be described as Proto-Grunge.)
- Mirror Ball (1995, played with Pearl Jam
- Nirvana (Trope Codifier)
- The Nymphs
- Pearl Jam
- Ten (Pearl Jam Album) (1991)
- Pixies note
- The Presidents of the United States of America
- Radiohead (Only during the Pablo Honey era, which was more of a mixture of this and straightforward Alternative Rock)
- 1993 - Pablo Honey
- 7 Year Bitch
- Screaming Trees
- Silverchair (Especially their debut Frogstomp, released when the band was in their mid-teenage years at the height of The '90s. They later moved on to Post-Grunge and later to more experimental material.)
- Skin Yard
- Sloan (During their first couple of years including their debut album Smeared though they began moving away from it afterwards)
- Soundgarden (Much like Alice in Chains, generally considered heavy enough to be Alternative Metal, and also sometimes thought of as an Ur-Example of Stoner Metal as well, and the style peppers much of their discography)
- The Smashing Pumpkins (Disputed, as they combine many influences. Alternative Metal would probably fit better.)
- Soul Asylum
- Sponge (Rotting Piñata only)
- Stone Temple Pilots (Early work. Later work is more experimental or could be considered Post-Grunge)
- The Stooges (purely as a very early Ur-Example)
- Tad (Probably the heaviest example aside from Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and The Melvins)
- Temple Of The Dog (A one-album collaboration between members of Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden that helped lead to the formation of Pearl Jam)
- Tin Machine
- 1989 - Tin Machine
- 1991 - Tin Machine II
- Titãs (only in Titanomaquia)
- tool (mostly Prog Metal, although some of their earlier works incorporate Grunge influences)
- Truly (A band composed of members of Soundgarden and Screaming Trees)
- Veruca Salt
- The Vines (started out as a Nirvana cover band, then started writing their own songs combining grunge with Psychedelic Rock)
- Violent Soho (A modern day example)
- Whores. (Gold, along with sludge; another revivalist act)
- Yuck (Black Metal and Grunge mixed together)
Grunge in fiction:
- Cyclic National Fascination: Grunge started out as an underground, indie style in Seattle and Australia, with groups doing noisy, loud, DIY recordings that incorporated elements of punk and heavy metal. When recording executives decided Grunge would be the next big thing, they signed up almost anyone with a flannel shirt and a guitar, distortion pedal, and a few angsty songs about alienation and addiction. Grunge bands soared up the charts and toured widely. Of course, a musical style that was developed by outsiders could not flourish under the thumb of industry managers, so there was a pushback against this commercialization and commodification. This pushback, along with the surge of copycat acts and the saturation of the market with derivative songs, and the impact of addiction issues led to Grunge's demise.