The 30 Best Grunge Albums of All Time

The music world experienced one of its periodic resets in the early 1990s, when a curiously named phenomenon soon to be known as Grunge wiped clean the slate of popular trends and ushered in a thrilling few years of intense creativity and reinvention.

Just as the original rock ‘n’ roll pioneers had done in the 1950s, the Beatles in the ‘60s, punk rockers in the ‘70s, and metallic head-bangers in the ‘80s, this latest generation of rebel artists rudely rejected almost all that had come before — only Grunge conveniently actually reflected its name with onomatopoeic accuracy.

It sounded just like you said it.

And it burned both briefly and brightly (and locally, given its intrinsic but not exclusive ties to the bustling city of Seattle and its surrounding areas), thoroughly dominating not only the musical but cultural landscape of the 1990s, while transforming the world views, life philosophies and even the basic wardrobes of an entire generation.

For perhaps the last time, since the Internet subsequently splintered the planet with infinite multimedia choices, scores of young people were defined and unified by the music they worshipped, and that’s why the legacy of Grunge remains strong, decades after its grip upon the public conscience started to weaken.

So, the time is ripe to revisit this exciting period in music with our picks for the Top 30 Grunge Albums of All Time in the gallery above.

30. Babes in Toyland, ‘Fontanelle’ (1992)

Fontanelle on Spotify

Minneapolis trio Babes in Toyland cranked out Midwestern grunge with their 1990 debut album ‘Spanking Machine,’ but it was the ’92 follow-up, ‘Fontanelle,’ that introduced the fast-growing alt-rock audience to the band’s volatile, caustic sonics and the incensed vocals of frontwoman Kat Bjelland. We should probably point out that the Oregon native is also said to have developed the baby doll image later adopted by Hole’s Courtney Love, as seen all over MTV in the music video for ‘Fontanelle’ single “Bruise Violet.” In any case, Babes in Toyland sadly broke up after one more album, 1995’s cleverly named ‘Nemesisters.’

29. Gruntruck, ‘Push’ (1992)

Gruntruck: Push - Cherry Red Records

Singer-guitarist Ben McMillan survived the collapse of protean grunge draftsmen Skin Yard to fight another day, and in 1991, he found an unlikely home with metal label Roadrunner for his new quartet Gruntruck and their first full-length, ‘Inside Yours.’ Alas, such was the deafening buzz around Seattle, by then, that hardly anyone took notice, even though the group’s second (and final) LP, ‘Push,’ delivered even more riff-sculpted handiwork enriched with dark emotional overtones in “Tribe,” “Machine Action” and “Slow Scorch.” Tragically, McMillan later succumbed to a bevy of health issues and joined the ever-lengthening list of gone-to-soon grunge stars in 2008.

28. Skin Yard, ‘Hallowed Ground’ (1988)

Hallowed Ground (Skin Yard album) - Wikipedia
Another crucial cog in the formative grunge machinery was the underrated Skin Yard, which released no less than five albums between 1987 and ’93 (plus a sixth in 2001), but never managed to take the major label leap. Nevertheless, Skin Yard exerted no small influence upon the evolution of Seattle’s signature music, having featured key latter-day contributors to the grunge community like producer Jack Endino, label owner Daniel House, Gruntruck frontman Ben McMillan, Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and Screaming Tree Barrett Martin. Quite the impressive roll call, don’t you agree?

27. Stone Temple Pilots, ‘Core’ (1992)

Core (Stone Temple Pilots album) - Wikipedia
With the grunge explosion firing on all cylinders thanks to the Big 4 of the Seattle scene, Stone Temple Pilots were the next in line to get the grunge bump with the release of their 1992 album ‘Core.’ There were initially Pearl Jam comparisons early in the band’s breakout, but they quickly forged an identity of their own. Scott Weiland proved to be a powerful frontman right out of the gate with his commanding presence on “Sex Type Thing,” while the slower-paced melody of “Plush” was the song that really pushed the band to new heights. Add in tracks like “Wicked Garden,” “Crackerman” and “Dead and Bloated” and Stone Temple Pilots placed themselves right near the top of the grunge heap with their predecessors.

26. Truly, ‘Fast Stories … from Kid Coma’ (1995)

Fast Stories...from Kid Coma - Wikipedia
Bassist Hiro Yamamoto was a founding member of Soundgarden, having migrated west to Seattle with his college friend Kim Thayil in the early 1980s. But Yamamoto quit the rising grunge stars after 1989’s ‘Louder than Love’ and formed a new power trio named Truly with erstwhile Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel and Storybook Crooks singer-guitarist Robert Roth. Together, they blurred the boundaries separating swirling, Seattle style grunge distortion and lysergic psychedelia, achieving dazzling results on the likes of “Blue Flame Ford,” “Hurricane Dance” and the frightening “Leslie’s Coughing Up Blood.” An oft forgotten gem from grunge’s final days.

25. Soundgarden, ‘Down on the Upside’ (1996)

Down on the Upside - Wikipedia
Coming off two highly successful albums, Soundgarden decided to self-produce their fifth album ‘Down on the Upside’ and take a more hands-on approach, though much of the material was conceived individually. The album was more experimental than previous sets, starting with the swampy and psychedelic lead single “Pretty Noose.” The album also showcased Chris Cornell vocal talents on the dark but catchy rocker “Burden in My Hand” and dipped into a bluesy vibe with “Blow Up the Outside World,” but still traded on plenty of aggression with “Ty Cobb” and the plodding “Rhinosaur.” Sadly, this would be the band’s final album before splitting up a year later.

24. Green River, ‘Rehab Doll’ (1988)

Rehab Doll - Wikipedia
Generally recognized as the Seattle Grunge movement’s charter band, Green River was formed in 1984 and included future Mudhoney members Mark Arm and Steve Turner, eventual Pearl Jam founders Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, plus Mother Love Bone guitarist Bruce Fairweather. Their first and only long-player, ‘Rehab Doll,’ emerged in 1988 and helped codify Grunge’s viscous blend of punk, hardcore, college rock and metal, but the band had splintered even before its release, torn by the divergent career goals (some wished to stay independent, others wanted major label status) of its musicians.

23. Mudhoney, ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge’ (1991)

Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge - Wikipedia
Just as grunge was coming into its own, one of its primary architects, Mudhoney, were flipping its formula inside out by stripping away layers of rattling distortion and depressive vibes from 1991’s ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.’ It’s no coincidence that its title was based on the mnemonic device used by music students everywhere to recall the notes on a treble clef (EGBDF): Mudhoney were reminding us that it was all about the music. Speaking of which, one thing that hadn’t changed one bit was Mudhoney’s trademarked, loosey-goosey style, which made the group’s finely honed musical skills appear deceptively simple.

22. Alice in Chains, ‘Alice in Chains’ (1995)

Alice in Chains (album) - Wikipedia
With their third full-length album, a self-titled set, Alice in Chains honed in on the melodic chemistry that had worked so well on previous efforts between Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley. Dealing with a multitude of personal issues, the band channeled some of that into the music, with themes of depression, anger and the effects of drug use all playing a big role in the disc. The sludgy single “Grind” and the driving “Again” most embody the grunge spirit, but the melodic “Heaven Beside You” showcases that melodic element that was uniquely Alice amongst their peers. Though often overlooked compared to their two previous discs, the self-titled album is definitely a key piece in the Alice in Chains story.

21. Tad, ‘8-Way Santa’ (1991)

8-Way Santa - Wikipedia
With a sound as intimidating as their look (band members were either exceedingly tall, portly, or both!), Tad cast a menacing (but generally harmless, even lovable), shadow over the Seattle scene with a muscular, riff-heavy sound, making no apologies about its metallic influences. And though he came across like a flannel-draped lumberjack, band leader Tad Doyle was in fact a gentle giant, whose band’s sophomore LP, ‘8-Way Santa,’ welcomed the insidious but copious melodies and tight mix contributed by producer Butch Vig (next assignment: ‘Nevermind’) for memorable material like “Jinx” and ‘Plague Years.’

20. Pearl Jam, ‘Vitalogy’ (1994)

Vitalogy - Wikipedia
As dark clouds billowed over the grunge world following Cobain’s suicide, the members of Pearl Jam were literally running from the storm, dealing with uncertainty on their drum stool (Dave Abbruzesse would soon give way to Jack Irons), guitarist Mike McCready’s stint in rehab, and a crucial power shift that saw Eddie Vedder taking over Stone Gossard’s leadership role within the group. As a result, their third LP, ‘Vitalogy’ arrived a ball of nervous, pent-up, paranoid energy (“Spin the Black Circle,” “Not for You”), yet it still managed to deliver the hits (“Nothingman,” “Better Man”), despite all these challenges.

19. Soundgarden, ‘Louder Than Love’ (1989)

Louder Than Love - Wikipedia
By the time grunge took over the mainstream in 1991, Soundgarden were comparative veterans, having formed in ’84, debuted on wax in ’87, and signed to major label A&M by the release of ‘89’s ‘Louder Than Love.’ This LP (which followed a dalliance in post-psychedelia with 1988’s ‘Ultramega OK’) presented Soundgarden as the godlike spawn of Sabbath and Zeppelin, thanks to Kim Thayil’s doom-laden riffs and Chris Cornell’s piercing vocals (see “Hands All Over,” “Loud Love,” etc.). But most music fans weren’t quite ready for enlightenment and would need a few more years to catch up with Soundgarden’s vision.

18. Mad Season, ‘Above’ (1995)

Above (Mad Season album) - Wikipedia
You can’t make this stuff up: grunge supergroup Mad Season literally started taking shape in a rehab facility, where Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McReady spent some “quality time” with bassist John Baker Saunders, then checked out to recruit Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley (no stranger to rehab himself) and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. The resulting LP, ‘Above,’ played like a group therapy session (in a good way) thanks to somber yet poignant efforts like “River of Deceit,” “Long Gone Day” and the AIC sound-alike “I Don’t Know Anything.” Sadly, both Staley and Saunders later capitulated to their chemical demons, as though fulfilling a horrible prophecy of Mad Season’s origins.

17. Melvins, ‘Houdini’ (1993)

Houdini (album) - Wikipedia
The Melvins were, of course, an instrumental force in shaping young Kurt Cobain and, by extension, grunge itself. Yet their sound has historically been rooted in sludge and doom, so it wasn’t until 1993’s major label debut, ‘Houdini,’ that they were ever confused with Seattle’s most profitable musical export. And even if they were, that doesn’t mean King Buzzo and Dale Crover went to any lengths to alter their style or cater to commercial expectations. Instead, the ever-expanding definition of grunge met them halfway, particularly on energetic numbers like “Honey Bucket,” “Copache” and the almost melodic “Set Me Straight.”

16. L7, ‘Bricks are Heavy’ (1992)

Bricks Are Heavy - Wikipedia
Los Angeles’ L7 began life as a punk rock band but, come their third album, ‘Bricks Are Heavy,’ they were full-fledged, out-of-state grunge scene associates. Produced by Butch Vig (yes, him again), ‘Bricks’ came chock-full of blazing punk rockers (“Wargasm,” “Mr. Integrity”), acerbic riff-fests (“Diet Pill,” “S___list”), hook-laden hits (“Pretend We’re Dead,” “Everglade,” “Monster”), and easily shouldered all those “boy bands” aside on its way to the top of the grunge-packed Heatseekers Chart. But even more importantly for the long run was L7’s leading role in helping to establish the female-empowering Riot Grrrl movement.

15. Screaming Trees, ‘Sweet Oblivion’ (1992)

Sweet Oblivion - Wikipedia
Seattle’s Screaming Trees had allegedly just called it a career, having decided to break up, when the album they intended to be their last, 1992’s ‘Sweet Oblivion,’ suddenly got caught up in the surrounding grunge hysteria. Since 1986, the band had been recording psychedelia-tinged garage rock (crowned by Mark Lanegan’s whiskey-soaked voice) for the SST label, before graduating to Epic Records for their fifth, ‘Uncle Anesthesia.’ But it was their sixth’s lead-off single, “Nearly Lost You,” that landed on the ‘Singles’ soundtrack and took the Trees along for the ride — at least for a few years longer.

14. Mudhoney, ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles’ (1990)

Superfuzz Bigmuff on Spotify
Famously named after two of the band’s favorite effects pedals, ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’ was originally issued as an EP, then augmented with some singles for CD reissue and a backdoor entry into our list of essential grunge albums. You’ll thank us later, because these pioneering recordings (a continuation of The Stooges’ interrupted musical revolution, two decades earlier) really helped to crystalize the classic grunge aesthetic, before commercial ambitions started chipping its rough spots away. And rough was definitely the intentional agenda behind raucous cuts like “Touch Me I’m Sick” and “In ‘n’ Out of Grace.”

13. Mother Love Bone, ‘Apple’ (1990)

Apple (Mother Love Bone album) - Wikipedia
Even before it had a proper name, let alone a reputation, the grunge movement had its first supergroup in Mother Love Bone, which merged the career trajectories of erstwhile Green River men Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Bruce Fairweather with magnetic Malfunkshun frontman Andrew Wood. Granted, their major label debut, ‘Apple,’ trafficked primarily in psych-infused (but surprisingly danceable) funk-metal, but it nevertheless sowed the seeds for major events to come. Not least when the band became, not stars as many had predicted, but a cautionary tale, when Wood died of a heroin overdose just weeks before ‘Apple’s release.

12. Hole, ‘Live Through This’ (1994)

Live Through This - Wikipedia
Courtney Love’s long climb to stardom took her back and forth across the U.S.A. and between music (she briefly sang for Faith No More) and movie work (1986’s ‘Sid and Nancy’), before her grunge band Hole eventually released its debut album, ‘Pretty on the Inside,’ in 1991. Their second disc, ‘Live Through This,’ would become a multi-platinum smash under the bleakest of circumstances, as it eerily arrived just one week after her husband Kurt Cobain’s shocking, violent suicide. But music fans seeking solace or, perhaps, simply some answers, readily embraced its undeniably memorable songs (“Violet,” “Miss World,” “Doll Parts”), and drowned their sorrows alongside Love and her bandmates.

11. Nirvana, ‘Bleach’ (1989)

Bleach (Nirvana album) - Wikipedia
Two years before they single-handedly turned the music world on its ear with ‘Nevermind,’ Nirvana made their modest full-length debut with ‘Bleach,’ which was recorded by producer Jack Endino for the grand sum of $606 over some 30 studio hours. Fortunately, “modest” did not equal “meek,” because songs like “School” and “Negative Creep” roared with fuzzy, dirty and, well, grungy distortion, topped by cynical messages. All this was indicative of the young Kurt Cobain’s inspirational debt to the Melvins, but also his budding ear for melody (“About a Girl,” “Big Cheese”), soon to serve him well.

10. Stone Temple Pilots, ‘Purple’ (1994)

Purple (Stone Temple Pilots album) - Wikipedia
No band had to cope with a worse rap in the grunge era than San Diego-based Stone Temple Pilots. Rather unfairly pegged as calculating interlopers into the Seattle zeitgeist, the band featuring charismatic frontman Scott Weiland had to answer their critics with unqualified success, beginning with 1992’s wildly popular ‘Core’ (eight times Platinum and counting) and continuing with ‘94’s ‘Purple,’ which went to No. 1, and spawned era-defining hits like “Vasoline” “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty.” A slew of quality album cuts (“Meatplow,” “Army Ants,” etc.) have guaranteed commercial longevity and even some belated critical respect for ‘Purple.’

9. Temple of the Dog, ‘Temple of the Dog’ (1991)

Temple of the Dog (album) - Wikipedia
One of history’s most celebrated side projects, Temple of the Dog, was convened to mourn the passing of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood with a single … which became an EP, then an album (and 25 years later, a full-fledged tour!) that wound up going to No. 5 in the U.S. charts and Platinum, to boot. But how could it not with moving musical tributes like “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Hunger Strike,” and so much star power in Chris Cornell, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, Mike McCready and a then little-known guest singer named Eddie Vedder?

8. Alice in Chains, ‘Facelift’ (1990)

Facelift (album) - Wikipedia
Before being ordained as one of grunge’s “Big Four” bands, Alice in Chains enjoyed a fair amount of exposure and acclaim as a promising heavy metal band, as proven by their participation in the Clash of the Titans tour, opening for Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer! And why not, since Alice in Chains’ powerful debut album, ‘Facelift,’ arrive all of one year prior to ‘Nevermind’ (should we call this period B.N. – Before Nevermind?) and immediately connected with adventurous head-bangers seeking solace and alternatives from the dreaded dominance of hair metal (out of which AIC ironically evolved). Millions of Grunge disciples would soon adopt the band, no questions asked.

7. Soundgarden, ‘Badmotorfinger’ (1991)

Badmotorfinger - Wikipedia
First to the table, last to feast, Soundgarden completed the quadfecta (yep, that’s a word) of Seattle grunge’s platinum-selling Big Four with 1991’s monumental ‘Badmotorfinger.’ One of the genre’s most eclectic excursions, bar none, its songs ranged from easily digestible (“Rusty Cage,” “Outshined”) to angular, challenging fare (“Jesus Christ Pose”), from protracted slug-fests (“Searching with My Good Eye Closed”) to frantic punk rockers (“Drawing Flies”), from devastating doom metal (“Room a Thousand Years Wide”) to subdued meditations (“Mind Riot”). Along the way, ‘Badmotorfinger’ expanded grunge’s musical lexicon no end, blowing minds and taking names in its wake.

6. Nirvana, ‘In Utero’ (1993)

In Utero - Wikipedia
Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain never fully processed the unimaginable success of ‘Nevermind,’ and his band’s third and final studio album, ‘In Utero,’ ultimately reflected this confusion in songs that alternately tried to scare off the trio’s pop audience (“Scentless Apprentice,” “Milk It,” “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”) and welcome them back with open arms (“Heart Shaped Box,” “Pennyroyal Tee,” “All Apologies”). Sadly, neither scenario could save Cobain from his personal demons, and this final work’s undeniable genius remains unfortunately overshadowed by his subsequent passing in April of 1994, less than a year after ‘In Utero’s’ release.

5. Pearl Jam, ‘Vs.’ (1993)

Vs. (Pearl Jam album) - Wikipedia
Pearl Jam, too, had to contend with traumatizing personal repercussions of global grunge stardom: their response was to rage against the machine (so to speak) by refusing to produce music videos for MTV, passing themselves as Neil Young’s backing band, and later picking a fight with Ticketmaster. But, in 1993, they channeled all of these festering emotions and their considerable talents into the phenomenal ‘Vs.’ – arguably their best effort, pound for pound, and just brimming with stellar material like “Animal,” “Daughter,” “Rearviewmirror” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”

4. Soundgarden, ‘Superunknown’ (1994)

Superunknown - Wikipedia
After proving they could move millions of copies on their own terms with ‘Badmotorfinger,’ Soundgarden proved they could streamline their thorny, inimitable songwriting just enough to do it again on an even larger scale, with the stunning ‘Superunknown.’ Sacrificing none of their mold-shattering individuality, the quartet simply fine-tuned virtually every song here – “My Wave,” “Fell On Black Days,” the title track — into a potential single. And the tunes that were actually chosen as official singles, primarily the muscular “Spoonman” and psychedelic nightmare “Black Hole Sun,” went on to define the grunge era, even as it neared its conclusion and fell on black days of its own making.

3. Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’ (1991)

Ten (Pearl Jam album) - Wikipedia
According to some troublemaking observers, Pearl Jam crashed the grunge party thrown by Nirvana with the rather more classic rock-steeped (as opposed to punk-based) sound of 1991’s Diamond-certified ‘Ten.’ But there’s no disputing the fact that the group composed of former Green River and Mother Love Bone members Gossard and Ament had more than earned its Seattle birthright. What’s more, now classic songs like “Even Flow,” “Alive” and “Jeremy” (all released one month prior to ‘Nevermind,’ incidentally) did just as much to codify grunge’s signature sound among the masses as Kurt’s creations, making Pearl Jam’s magnum opus a worthy cornerstone of alternative rock’s rising tide.

2. Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

Nevermind - Wikipedia
That ‘Nevermind’ ranks among the greatest rock records of all time goes without saying; but it also bears mentioning that Nirvana’s sophomore opus catalyzed a musical and cultural revolution like no other work of popular music short of the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ A perfect storm of raw power and melodic sensitivity ‘Nevermind’ and its complement of immortal tunes, led by “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” basically claimed rock and roll back for its original intended audience – disenfranchised youths — 35 years after Elvis set the example. In doing so, it created a reluctant living legend out of band leader Kurt Cobain (with bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl not far behind), and turned this strange term, “Grunge,” into a household word.

1. Alice in Chains, ‘Dirt’ (1992)

Dirt (Alice in Chains album) - Wikipedia
If the public at large still remained oblivious to the grunge community’s pervasive drug abuse, then Alice in Chains went ahead and told them all about it on 1992’s ‘Dirt.’ Undisguised examples like “Sickman,” “Junkhead,” “God Smack” and “Angry Chair” were terrifying and mesmerizing in equal measures, and similarly gloomy issues like depression, war, and mortality pervaded other key tracks like “Them Bones,” “Rooster” and “Would.” All of which might have made AIC’s sophomore album a downer and a slump, if not for the haunting beauty of Cantrell and Staley’s vocal harmonies and the musical exorcism of their demons.
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