One aspect about grunge that gets overshadowed is how fucking heavy it could be. The genre's mainstream domination in the first half of the Nineties — not to mention its appropriation by the fashion industry and overall cultural commodification as a fake-alt "aesthetic" — makes it easy to gloss over the genre's roots in the underground punk and metal worlds. And while bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden are often regarded for their angsty subject matter and radio-friendly singles, those groups and their many peers wrote songs that were musically crushing, noisy and confrontational.
We here at Revolver HQ (unsurprisingly) have a certain affinity for grunge's sonically aggro side, and we wanted to pinpoint the 10 heaviest songs in the entire canon. From "Them Bones" to "Negative Creep," these are the 10 most headbangable, mosh-pit-able, round-house-kick-to-the-face-able grunge songs of all time.
To many, Alice in Chains are the quintessential heavy grunge band, so much so that they're often thought of as more of an alt-metal, or even sludge-metal, group. (They toured with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax on the Clash of the Titans tour, after all.) If you played an uninitiated listener "Them Bones" — with its frantic palm-muted chugs, Layne Staley's smokey croon and Jerry Cantrell's devilishly tasty solo — they might think future Ozzfest headliners wrote it.
Babes in Toyland's sound is built on a bedrock of punk minimalism and then stacked with pile-driving guitar crunch and singer Kat Bjelland's mic-shattering snarl. They have one of the meanest, fiercest deliveries of all the classic grunge bands, and "Bruise Violet" — the opener of their essential LP Fontanelle — captures all of their sucker-punching fury in one track.
L7's sound was still pretty rippin' when they signed to a major for their most notable album, 1992's Bricks Are Heavy, but they were a fucking force to be reckoned with on its punkier, gnarlier predecessor, Smell the Magic. "Fast and Frightening" is the aggressive standout, a careening maelstrom that smears its sugary girl-group hook and cheeky hand-claps with threatening pick slides and singer Donita Sparks' tongue-trilling wail.
The Melvins have always existed in the liminal space between grunge, sludge and noise-rock — way dirgier than Nirvana but much catchier than Eyehategod. They have some songs in their catalog that verge on straight-up thrash (see: 1999's The Maggot), but "Boris" — which spawned the experimental Japanese trio of the same name — is eight minutes of ceaseless, head-pounding churn, splitting the difference between old-school Sabbath and Black Flag's My War.
All good grunge music is dark and wounded, but Mudhoney's "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More" is goddamn terrifying. With just a few brief mentions of spilled pills, a hungover bathroom trip and a mother's raging disappointment, the band tell a vivid tale of teenage hedonism that reads like an 1980s PSA about endemic delinquency. But it's Mark Arm's harried yowls and the nauseous riff that sell it as the aural equivalent of dope-sick spins.
Even now, more than three decades after it happened, it's still mind-boggling to think that a band who wrote songs like "Negative Creep" got as big as Nirvana did. For every glimpse at future pop-rock supremacy on Bleach, there's another song like this, a motorik, almost thrashy ripper that sees Kurt Cobain spitting back his own ugly self-perception — "I'm a negative creep and I'm stoned" — with the wiry wrath of the picked-on kid finally taking a swing at his bully. No wonder Machine Head covered the thing.
The Smashing Pumpkins provided an innovative take on first-wave grunge by adding the celestial vocals and spiraling guitar textures of shoegaze into the mix, but their beautified sound could also go fucking hard. "Fuck You [An Ode to No One]" is a bouncy, rollicking, post-hardcore-influenced banger from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that wobbles and bulges like fireworks stuffed in a porta potty.
Like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden were practically a mid-tempo metal band at their heaviest points, and "Slaves and Bulldozers" is one of those. The seven-minute Badmotorfinger standout moves at a doomy crawl, loping forward at an uninterrupted trudge until Chris Cornell suddenly shrieks, "NOW I KNOW WHY YOU'VE BEEN SHAKING," with the skyscraping shrill of Dio at his wit's end.
When you title a song "Dead and Bloated," you better come through with something truly devastating, and Stone Temple Pilots delivered in spades. With its meaty, bluesy riff and Scott Weiland's hell-born howl, the fan-favorite opener from the San Diego band's 1992 debut, Core, finds STP at their heaviest, sonically, and most morbid, thematically. As pretty much any headbanger will agree, they come off smelling like a rose.
Tad's version of grunge was always a bit more roughnecked and wild than some of their contemporaries, and "Grease Box" finds them at the peak of their boot-stomping power. Kicking off their third LP, Inhaler, the track's thunderous drum pattern, screaming guitar solo and Tad Doyle's bellowing vocal presence make for a truly gargantuan ensemble that still sounds like it's born from a beer-stained basement.