Nirvana definitely counts as one of the most iconic and recognizable bands of all time and is responsible for inspiring countless musicians to pick up their instrument, say “f**k it” and just play. Here are 10 bands like Nirvana that bring out the teen spirit in you.
Formed in Seattle in 1987, the band consists of vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl. Nirvana’s music quickly gained popularity which made them the propellant of the grunge movement in Seattle. Although formally only active for 3 years from 1991-1994, the band was a widespread phenomenon, especially with their landmark 2nd album, “Nevermind”. One of the best-selling bands of all time, their nihilistic attitude, hard-hitting melodies, and themes of alienation and abjection made them a figurehead band of Generation X. Their music is considered heavily influential and continues to be popular among the modern rock and roll community.
The name Nirvana came from Buddhism, where it is used to refer to the ultimate state of enlightenment. Cobain wanted a beautiful and nice name instead of the usual norm of raunchy and edgy band names. Nirvana was and continues to be the biggest grunge band to ever exist. Despite only being active for 3 years, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility in 2014. Their posthumous album MTV Unplugged in New York fetched them a Grammy award for Best Alternative Music Performance.
Bands Similar to Nirvana:
- Pearl Jam
- Alice in Chains
- Foo Fighters
- Green River
- Stone Temple Polits
- Meat Puppets
- Marcy Playground
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1. Pearl Jam
One of the key members of the Seattle grunge movement, Pearl Jam consists of vocalist Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, lead guitarist Mike McCready as well as drummer Matt Cameron. Their debut album, Ten, catapulted them into fame as it remained on the Billboard 200 chart for over 5 years. The band is considered to be the most influential band of the 1990s.
Compared to other grunge bands, Pearl Jam’s sound was less heavy and more influenced by 80s rock bands like The Ramones, Kiss, and Led Zeppelin. Their sound was characterized by addictive hooks and choruses, Vedder’s usage of vibrato in his vocals, and McCready’s feel-oriented lead guitar inspired by artists like Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Throughout their career, the band promoted political and social issues, with Vedder leading the way. Pearl Jam’s live performances are also rated to be highly energetic and recognizable. If you’re looking for bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam takes the number one spot.
Soundgarden was formed in 1984 in Seattle by vocalist Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer Matt Cameron, with Ben Shepherd replacing Yamamoto in 1990. Associated with Seattle’s punk rock, alternative rock, and grunge scene, the band achieved its biggest success in 1994 with their album Superunknown. The album charted #1 on Billboard 200 and yielded Grammy-winning songs “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman”. Along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam, they spearheaded the rise of grunge in the 1990s.
Inspired heavily by Black Sabbath, the band described their sound as neo-Sabbath psychedelic rock, with elements of post-punk. Toni Lommi, guitarist of Black Sabbath had nothing but praises, exclaiming both the originality and heavy Sabbath influence that Soundgarden tried to produce. Soundgarden has been praised for its technical musical ability, and the exploration and expansion of its sound as its career progressed. Cornell’s vocal range and his dark, existential lyrics also received widespread acclaim. The band dissolved in 1997 and reunited in 2010, but shut down again following Cornell’s death in 2017. Soundgarden is a good band to explore in your quest to find bands similar to Nirvana.
Might as well stop mentioning the obvious, Mudhoney was formed in Seattle in the year 1988, following Green River’s disbanding. Singer Mark Arm, lead guitarist Steve Turner, bassist Guy Maddison, and drummer Dan Peters. Although not as popular as their contemporaries Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains, it was Mudhoney that laid the groundwork for the rise of grunge. They took the beer-fuelled nihilism and garage rock primitivism and brought out “Superfuzz Bigmuff” and “My Brother the Cow”.
Their body of work – big, loud, sloppy, a little bit menacing, – has stood the test of time better than the other bands that might have been “bigger” during their time. Dubbed as “the only true grunge band”, Mudhoney’s influence on 90s rock bands has been immense. They are a strong recommendation if you are looking for grunge bands like Nirvana.
4. Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains found fame in the grunge band movement of the 1990s, along with their contemporaries Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. It was formed in 1987 by vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney. The band was ranked 34 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Their most known albums would be Facelift (1990), Alice in Chains (1995) and their EP Jar of Flies (1994). Their music is described mainly as grunge and alternative metal, but Cantrell identifies the band as heavy metal.
Alice in Chains is noted for its unique vocal harmonies and expressive guitars. Cantrell blends acoustic and electric guitars to create expansive soundscapes. Combined with Layne Staley’s low pitched growling vocals, the band created a mellow and unique heavy metal sound that is distinctive to them. Although never breaking up formally, Alice in Chains remained inactive from 1996 and onward. They regrouped in 2006 and have released 3 more albums. Alice in Chains is a strong recommendation in your search for 1990s grunge and rock bands similar to Nirvana.
5. Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters was formed by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl as a one-man project in 1994, after the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Nate Mendel joined as bassist, Pat Smear on rhythm guitar, Taylor Hawkins on drums, and Chris Shiflett on guitar and backing vocals. The name is taken from the nickname given to UFOs by Allied aircraft pilots. Over the years, the band has won 12 Grammy Awards, including 4 Best Rock Album.
Although joining Nirvana as their drummer, Grohl played the guitar and wrote songs but never played them. Cobain’s minimalism really influenced his songwriting. The band’s material is mostly alternative rock, grunge, and hard rock. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in February 2021. Grohl’s association with Nirvana and his admiration for Cobain makes Foo Fighters a good choice if you want to listen to bands artists like Nirvana.
6. Green River
Green River is considered the pioneer of grunge music. They were formed in 1984 in Seattle. Although not commercially successful, the band gave birth to the likes of Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and Nirvana. They are known to mix snarling high-pitched vocals and heavy-hitting hard rock riffs. The band features Mark Arm on vocals, Stever Turner as the guitarist, Alex Vincent on the drums, and Jeff Ament on the bass. Stone Gossard joined later to let Arm focus on vocals completely.
Influenced by The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith, Green River combined hard rock, punk, and heavy metal. Arm’s twisted lyrics and screaming vocal delivery gave them their signature nihilistic sound which influenced both their peers and the bands that followed them. After the release of “Rehab Doll”, the band essentially ceased to exist. They reunited in the late 2000s for a few live shows. The pioneers of grunge are surely worth giving a shot if you want to listen to old bands like Nirvana.
7. Stone Temple Pilots
Finally, a grunge band that is not from Seattle. Stone Temple Pilots was formed in 1989 under the name “Mighty Joe Young”, but changed to Stone Temple Pilots after signing with Atlantic Records. The band consists of vocalist Scott Weiland, brothers Dean DeLeo and Robert DeLeo on guitars and bass respectively, and Eric Kretz on drums. Weiland was fired in 2013 after his struggles with drug addiction and his alleged desire to perform with Velvet Revolver. The vocalist position was filled for a short time by Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and was fully replaced by X Factor Season 3 runner up, Jeff Gutt.
Stone Temple pilots have been associated with the grunge movement of the 90s but their musical style has varied from record to record. They can also be labelled as alternative rock and hard rock. Their primary influence has been Aerosmith, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young etc. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith joined them onstage to cover a few Aerosmith songs live at Madison Square Garden in 1996. Weiland’s lyrics mostly dealt with societal issues, but also explored his own inner demons as he went deeper into his drug addiction. In 2017, they were named the 9th heaviest grunge band by Metal Injection. In your search for modern bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots is a band worth checking out.
Breaking away from America, Radiohead is the first English band to make this list. Formed in 1985, Radiohead is an alternative/art/experimental rock band from Oxfordshire. The band consists of Thom Yorke (vocals), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards), Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O’Brien (guitar), and Philip Selway (percussion). Radiohead is one of the most successful English artists of all time, selling over 30 million records worldwide. Their complex rhythms and themes of modern alienation and societal issues set them apart from other bands in the genre. They first got noticed with their evergreen single Creep from the album Pablo Honey, catapulting them into international fame. Their third album, OK Computer is acclaimed as a landmark record in modern popular music and explores the theme of modern alienation vividly.
Radiohead’s music has been described as art rock, alternative rock, progressive rock, grunge, and electronic rock. The band’s early material was mainly instrument-based organic music, but they started exploring electronic music influenced by sampling in the realm of hip-hop. Radiohead has been named 73 in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Artists of All Time. Their influence in modern mainstream and experimental rock has been immense. Their jazz-influenced music and collaborative method of making music, introspective lyrics and vibe, and their influence on black artists have garnered them the title of “blackest white rock band”. Although not a blatantly grunge band, Radiohead is a must-listen-to band in this list of grunge bands like Nirvana.
9. Meat Puppets
Meat Puppet is another 3-member punk rock and grunge band from Phoenix, Arizona. Formed by brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood and joined by drummer Derrick Bostrom, Meat Puppets became one of the most famous grunge bands in the early 90s after featuring on Nirvana’s legendary MTV Unplugged performance in 1993. The band practised in a shed of one of the Kirkwood brothers” houses. The band broke up twice (1996 and 2000) but reunited again in 2006.
Meat Puppets established their own sound by blending punk rock with country and psychedelic rock. Their influence on fellow grunge bands has been immense. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr stated that people often thought the band was a Meat Puppets rip-off. Kurt Cobain invited them to cover Plateau and Lake of Fire on MTV Unplugged in 1994. This behemoth grunge band from Arizona is a great recommendation in this list of bands similar to Nirvana.
10. Marcy Playground
Marcy Playground is an alternative rock and grunge band consisting of vocalist John Wozniak, bass guitarist Dylan Keefe, and drummer Shlomi Lavie. Super minimalistic in sound, the band’s music can be almost described as lazy. Reminiscent of laid-back stoner rock, Marcy Playground offered a fresh new sound in an era where exploration in sound took a step back. Their success came from the single “Sex and Candy”.
Sex and Candy spent more than 15 weeks at Number 1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. The band is named after Marcy Open Grade School in Minneapolis, the school that John Wozniak attended as a kid. Wozniak also stated most of the songs are inspired by his childhood events and emotions. The band cites David Bowie, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix and Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd) as influences. Meat Puppets might be a household name in the world of grunge but definitely a unique recommendation for your quest to find grunge artists like Nirvana.
Signing this list off with the most commercially successful British grunge band of all time: Bush. Formed in London in 1992, the band’s current lineup consists of vocalist Gavin Rossdale, lead guitarist Chris Traynor, bassist Corey Britz, and drummer Nick Hughes. Their debut album catapulted them to success immediately, which was certified 6x multi-platinum by RIAA. Bush has sold more than 20 million records worldwide and is one of the biggest rock bands of the 90s.
Bush is one of the first bands that was labelled as post-grunge. Other genres explored by the band include grunge, alternative rock, and hard rock. Bush has been cited as Nirvana copycats by multiple journalists over time, and the band has stated Nirvana’s massive influence on their songwriting. Despite being a hit in the USA, Bush remained fairly underappreciated in their home country. Bush is a major recommendation in this list of 90s bands similar to Nirvana and also a great way to sign off this article.
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Sadgasm (The Simpsons)
The Simpsons paid their respects to Nirvana by creating a parody episode. Homer Simpson in his college days plays in a band but changes his musical style after seeing Marge getting flirty with a professor in the University. Homer calls the music “Guitar Rock Utilising Nihilist Grunge Energy” or G.R.U.N.G.E. Homer’s band is called Sadgasm and the songs include covers of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Bush songs.
The songs are Politically Incorrect (cover of Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle by Nirvana; also similar to Man in the Box by Alice in Chains), Shave Me (cover of Rape Me by Nirvana), and Margarine (cover of Glycerine by Bush).