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10 of The Greatest Grunge Bands of All Time!

Grunge. A word that is reminiscent of filth and grime, it actually refers to a musical genre that once dominated the airwaves born of angst and a sense of disenchantment in politics, the system and just life in general. It's origins stem from the 80s alternative rock scene in America, but it is more closely associated with the earlier part of the 90s when it was popularized.

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A fusion of punk rock ethics, metal tuning and catchy pop riffs, it is typified by guttural, growly vocals over screeching, unpolished guitar noise usually over a quiet verse, loud chorus dynamic. Here we list just a few of the best bands to emerge from the genre and make a mark.


1. Nirvana

By no means, the first grunge band but Nirvana soon found themselves as the poster boys of the genre after the release of their second album went multi-platinum mostly through the power of just word of mouth. Lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain became an overnight icon who his angst-ridden and angry lyrics that spoke to a disinterested, displaced generation and his use of pop aesthetics in otherwise punky songs drove the band's success.

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Cobain suffered from depression and subsequent drug addiction, and in the end, he could not deal with the fame and attention and took his own life in 1994 and with it also largely came the end of the popularity of the grunge scene, although its influences can still be felt throughout popular music today.


2. Soundgarden

Like many grunge bands, Soundgarden hailed from Seattle and was at the forefront of the scene due to their involvement with local record label Sub-Pop. One of the seminal bands in the movement, they formed in 1984 and quickly became noted for the power of lead singer, Chris Cornell's voice which had a near four-octave range.

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Breaking up in 1997 over differences on the creative direction of the band, these were eventually set aside in 2010 as the band returned with a new album and continue to tour and write.


3. Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam are one of the few grunge bands who has been consistently active since their formation in 1990, although they have had a few changes of personnel in the drummer's chair, they have largely remained the same band. After the demise of their former band Mother Love Bone, due to the overdose and subsequent death of lead singer Andrew Wood, guitarist and bassist Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament formed Pearl Jam.

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Like Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie Vedder is known for his gravelly, yet incredibly powerful vocals and the band has outlasted and outsold many of its contemporaries from the alternative rock breakthrough of the early 1990s and is considered one of the most influential bands of that decade.


4. Alice In Chains

Heavier and leaning more to the metal side of the genre than many of their contemporaries, the band is known for its distinctive vocal style, which often included the harmonized vocals of lead singer Layne Staley and guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell although the pair would often disagree over whether they should heavier or more commercial in their approach. Despite massive critical success with their first two albums, the band rarely toured and was plagued by extended inactivity from 1996 onwards due to Staley's substance abuse, which resulted in his death in 2002. 

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This tragic event saw the band approach a more metallic feel and introduced a new singer William DuVall and since then have toured extensively and continuing to write new music.


5. Temple of The Dog

A sort of grunge supergroup, Temple of The Dog, was conceived by Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell in 1990 in order to honor the memory of his good friend Andrew Wood, the aforementioned lead singer of Mother Love Bone, and so Cornell would recruit Wood's former bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. Eddie Vedder was then brought in as a guest singer to backup Cornell and lead on other tracks, and Mike McCready as a lead guitarist and these four would form Pearl Jam after Temple of The Dog recorded its sole album.

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Cornell also brought in Matt Cameron from Soundgarden, who would then later join Pearl Jam in 1998. Just releasing the one album, the band have reformed on several occasions to commemorate it, and although it received high critical praise, it wasn't until Pearl Jam broke through in 1992 that it started gaining serious commercial attention.


6. Mad Season

Another supergroup that only had one album, Mad Season brought together the drummer and singer for Screaming Trees Barrett Martin and Mark Lanegan, Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, founder John Baker Saunders and Alice In Chains Singer Layne Staley.

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Despite the success of the first album, the conflicting schedules of the member's other bands meant it would be Mad Season's last, especially when attempts to reform were scuppered by the death of Saunders and then, later Staley. Because of the crossover of certain members, Mad Season songs have been performed at Temple of The Dog reformations and Pearl Jam concerts.


7. Bush

Bush are a rather strange band in the sense that they are a British band formed in Shepherd's Bush, London (hence the name) where they all once lived but they never really made a meaningful impact on their homeland despite going on to break America where they found immediate success with the release of their debut album Sixteen Stone in 1994, which is certified 6× multi-platinum by the RIAA.

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Around until 2002, the band broke up due to declining record sales and a lack of support from their label. However, in 2010, they returned with a far more classic rock sound, and lead singer Gavin Rossdale is noted for being a judge on the British version of the TV talent show The Voice.


8. Silverchair

Formed in 1992 as Innocent Criminals, this Australian outfit evolved through several styles in their time together differing styles on specific albums steadily growing more ambitious over the years, from grunge on their debut to more recent work displaying orchestral and art rock influences.

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Winning a record number of 21 ARIA Music Awards from 49 nominations, the band was both popular on the Australian and International music scenes, but in May 2011, Silverchair announced an indefinite hiatus.


9. Smashing Pumpkins

Some may argue that the Smashing Pumpkins aren't truly grunge, but they used many of the same techniques of the genre and amalgamated prog-rock, goth-rock, heavy metal and psychedelia in a swirling mixture of layers that was then infused with his distraught, tense and angst filled lyrics.

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Despite this, the Smashing Pumpkins never shunned or shied away from mainstream success like other grunge bands and Billy Corgan openly indulged in rock star posturing although he shrouded it in ironic gestures and deep cynicism.


10. Mudhoney

Although never scoring the big success of others on the scene, Mudhoney was probably the first to lay the groundwork for the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam as they broke through with indie success on the Sub-Pop label and more than most they were to inspire grunge with their dirty, high-distortion sound.

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Without Mudhoney and other forerunners who never quite reached mainstream success (like the Melvins and TAD) grunge would have never existed!

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