Born out of a love for Black Flag and Black Sabbath, it's no wonder that grunge is such a heavy genre — much heavier than it gets credit for today, given the way its sound, look and lyrical motifs were sedated and commercialized in the mid-Nineties and beyond. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is hardly its most thrilling climax.
As we noted in our list of the 10 heaviest grunge songs ever, bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and their many contemporaries could be exceptionally crushing when it came to their music, so we asked our readers to choose what they think is the Seattle-born movement's single heaviest song. The top five vote-getters are ranked accordingly below.
Songs like "Gun" are compelling evidence for the loud cadre of die-hards who swear that Soundgarden and Alice in Chains aren't grunge, but miscategorized metal bands. "Gun," from Soundgarden's Louder Than Love, begins with a proto-sludge lurch, works its way up to a noisy punk gallop and then thrusts back into a Sabbathian dirge so Cornell can unleash a Dio-like hell wail.
Originally serving as the main course on their summer 1990 promo EP of the same name, "We Die Young" is no doubt the heaviest moment on Facelift and features one of Jerry Cantrell's most sizzling riffs. It's not the Chains' most headbangable cut (we'll get to that) or one of grunge's fastest, gnarliest tracks, but there's something about its buzzsaw lick and hacking rhythm that just makes you want to grab an axe and start swinging.
A preeminent example of a band attempting self-sabotage by way of sonic ruptures that scratch and claw at the group's own melodic supremacy, Nirvana's In Utero, the album that followed their culture-shaking 1991 debut Nevermind, has songs that go fucking wild. "Scentless Apprentice" is the first one that comes to mind for many reasons. Its writhing noise-rock riff, Kurt Cobain's foaming-at-the-mouth caws, and the way it splatters apart during its final freakout, flopping to the floor in a puddle of melty distortion
We and our readers both agree that "Them Bones" is Alice in Chains' heaviest song. The fearsome opener to 1992's Dirt is punctuated by Layne Staley's piercing "ow!"'s and Jerry Cantrell's steel-enforced chugs, motoring forward at an unnerving pace that's not quite mid-tempo but not fast either. It's all over and done in a quick two-and-a-half minutes, and then it's time to run it back and get pummeled all over again.
"4th of July" isn't just heavy by grunge standards — it's just a brutal fucking song. Period. The Superunknown trudger is basically a doom-metal track buttressed by Cornell's husky croon, a voice that's inescapably tuneful and full of soul even at its most ragged, brittle and wounded. Its eerie, esoteric, acid-trip-inspired lyrics aren't easy to follow, but the general mood of the track is instinctual to pick up on. Dreary, tortured, burdened by baggage that drags at the down-tuned guitar glugs and Cornell's spacey mutterings.