As one of the heaviest genres to ever break the mainstream, grunge stylized itself with a raw punk rock ethos, mixed with a hard-edged metal sound. What started in Seattle quickly spread throughout the world, infecting rock fans who were weary from the glitz and glamour of the ‘80s. But what doesn’t get discussed enough is the extent to which heavy metal played a role in the musical style.
Sure, bands like Nirvana leaned more towards the punk side, but bands like Soundgarden wore their Black Sabbath heart on their sleeve. Known for its quiet/loud dynamics, the genre served as a breeding ground for heavy metal-inspired bands to take grunge to a louder level than some of their more subdued contemporaries.
And with such a plethora of fantastic bands coming to prominence during the ‘90s movement, we thought we’d scour the archives for the heaviest artists of the bunch. So without further ado, here are the 10 heaviest grunge bands.
Nirvana didn’t always veer into heavy realms, but when they did, it was usually a face-melting experience. There’s a reason why metal fans appreciate this legendary group, and that’s partly due to their explosive sound.
Take their debut album Bleach for example. The record is a sludgy, dirge-driven LP – one which dwells in the lower rungs of grunge’s seedy underbelly. Nevermind was a more radio-friendly record, but songs like “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Territorial Pissings” still exhibited the trio’s reckless musical abandon. In Utero was a return to the band’s harsher side, with raw, abrasive tracks like “Scentless Apprentice” and “Milk It” practically jumping from the speakers with feedback-drenched heaviness.
Punk and alternative rock played a huge role in the group’s sound, but so did heavy metal to a lesser extent.
9. Stone Temple Pilots
Also taking grunge into more aggressive areas were the Scott Weiland-fronted rockers Stone Temple Pilots. The band walk a fine line between hard rock and heavy metal, with a killer songwriting instinct to boot.
Merging the dark themes of Alice in Chains with the anthemic moments of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots were unfairly maligned throughout the ‘90s for allegedly not being authentic enough. However, one spin of their sophomore banger Purple, and you’ll quickly realize that they mean everything they say. Time, thankfully, has looked upon them much more favorably, and their contributions to alternative metal certainly can’t be denied. Of course, they offset the heavy numbers with more stripped back ballads, but the metal influence is never too far away.
Rip-roaring riffs, gravel-throated shrieks, pounding drumbeats – all heavy components found in the work of this highly regarded grunge outfit.
8. Skin Yard
Undoubtedly one of the most underrated bands of the grunge era, Skin Yard was the twisted brainchild of Daniel House and Jack Endino. The two musicians are commonly cited as pioneers of the genre, and with Skin Yard, they proved it on countless occasions.
However, they did get off to a rocky start. Their 1987 self-titled debut album wasn’t the best representation of the band’s abilities, and their numerous line-up alterations didn’t help either. They began to steer the ship around for their eclectic second LP Hallowed Ground, before going full-on thermonuclear for their vicious 1991 masterpiece 1000 Smiling Knuckles. The album is grunge injected with a toxic heavy metal undercurrent, making the record one to be remembered.
Sadly, after eight years together, the band decided to call it quits in 1993. However, their legacy will remain for all those who can admire the group’s underappreciated compositions, as well as their pioneering advancements in the grunge movement. Sometimes the phrase “ahead of their time” is overplayed. In the case of Skin Yard, however, it’s simply a fact.
One of the leaders in incorporating the heavy metal style under the grunge umbrella were the ruthless L7. While their earlier works were more in the punk vein, their later years were spent shredding like there’s no tomorrow.
The all-female group were fearless when it came to more abrasive compositions, because while songs like “Pretend We're Dead” are coated in a shiny pop sheen, tracks like “Wargasm” and “Andres” hit with blunt force trauma. They make Hole seem like child’s play by comparison, with meaty hooks, killer riffs, crushing beats and a vocalist who knows no vocal limitations.
This feisty four-piece are often hailed as the innovators of the riot grrrl sub-genre, but don’t look past their contributions to metal either. Albums like Bricks Are Heavy and Hungry for Stink contain plenty of searing moments – certainly enough for the band to be considered one of the heaviest grunge acts around.
6. My Sister's Machine
Another one of Seattle’s finest grunge outfits were the roaring four-piece My Sister’s Machine. After ditching the guitar, as well as his part in an early incarnation of Alice in Chains, singer Nick Pollock came into his own with his new band of brothers.
Despite spawning just two studio albums, My Sister’s Machine were one of the buried treasures of the grunge era. They did come on board relatively late in the genre’s formation, but they were still every bit as intense as the style’s mainstays. Both, 1992’s Diva and 1993’s Wallflower have a hard metallic edge to them that is ridiculously infectious.
The group would break up in 1994, going out on two fantastic records that grunge and heavy metal fans alike should be able to appreciate.
The top 5 heaviest grunge bands are on the next page…