Is Nirvana Metal?

Published by admin on August 3rd, 2011

is nirvana heavy metal?Let’s get this out of the way quick: Grunge is not a kind of music. It’s a crap term that music executives coined in the early 1990s to classify a sound that originated in Seattle. It more described the way bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden dressed than the music they played. So-called grunge bands played hard music, but they didn’t wear make-up or designer clothes like their 80s predecessors nor did they deploy traditional guitar solos.

Aside from that, though, they weren’t that far removed from early heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath and Iron Butterfly. Noted bands that influenced Nirvana, the leaders of the grunge movement, include Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Kiss, Melvins and Black Flag, as well as softer acts such as Sonic Youth and R.E.M. Drummer Dave Grohl has collaborated with undisputable metal artists like Cronos from Venom, Snake from Voivod, King Diamond and Max Cavalera for his side project, Probot. Not only was Nirvana heavily influenced by metal, they also inspired a generation of emerging hard rock and metal bands. So, can Nirvana be considered a metal band itself? On to the debate.

Nirvana released three studio albums: Bleach (1989), Nevermind (1991) and In Utero (1993). As everyone knows, the band’s career was cut short when singer Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994 at age 27. Check out this song from the Bleach album called “School.” It’s definitely on the heavy side, perhaps slightly lighter than what the Melvins were doing at the time.

The album that everyone bought in the 90s was Nevermind. Since everyone’s familiar with its hit singles – “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are” and “Lithium” – let’s listen to one of the deep cuts. “Territorial Pissings” is a good example of a heavy and loud Nirvana track. It’s one of Nevermind’s least radio friendly songs; second to the hidden track “Endless Nameless.” Check it out below.

“In Utero” is probably Nirvana’s darkest album, which makes sense because Cobain was close ending his life while writing it. I remember the album’s lead single, “Heart Shaped Box,” being played on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball when it was released. Traditional metal was going through a dry period at the time, so the Ball used to play so-called alternative rock – alternative to what? – to fill the gaps. The imagery in the video could definitely be seen in an all-out heavy metal video. It’s the kind of video Death would’ve done if they had the budget. For a song that got incessant radio play at the time, it’s pretty heavy.

What’s the difference between Nirvana and bands that everyone considers metal? Marketing. The kind of clothes a band wears does not define the music it plays. Nirvana dressed and sounded a helluva lot like Black Sabbath did in the 1970s, and most everyone would agree that Sabbath is metal. A lot of people are gonna think I’m crazy, but I’m standing by this.

So, is Nirvana metal?

Our verdict: Yes.

But more importantly, what do you think? Is Nirvana heavy metal? Vote and comment below!


21 Responses

  1. Joe says:


  2. Chance says:

    I absolutely agree with this. They definitely are a lot more metal than people give them credit for.

    • Inessa says:

      This is fantastic group, tgeother with a few others russian hard/heavy groups.Many parties passed with this inspirationl musuc.Viva Russian Heavy Metal.Greeteings from Bulgaria.

  3. Marco says:

    A better example to make the case for Nirvana being metal would be to put up Negative Creep. I think Negative Creep was Nirvanas closest song to Thrash Metal. That song was about as heavy as early Metallica.

    • Raquel says:

      My favourite band of all time!Fantastic pthoos Steve, and you’re right a band can still be legendary and not have to sell out stadiums! Although I am looking forward to AC/DC

    • Saim says:

      I am sorry but Smells Like Teen Spirit does not belong in the top 50 songs of the 90 s. Nirvana was a very uneetantld band given the exception of Dave Grohl. Not to mention a lot of their songs sounded exactly the same.Blast it if you will but I believe the best song of the 90 s was Shine Collective Soul

    • Led Macro says:

      Er… Negative Creep is sludge metal.
      Look up “sludge metal” and maybe “doom metal” while you’re at it. Not only were they metal, especially on Bleach, they were well within it.

  4. Deverick says:

    there is absolutely nothing metal about this bullshit fuckin stoner band.

    nirvana is only a band people like to be cool in hipster circles- there they talk about how to stop big government and Joseph Kony.

    • Carolin says:

      folk rock/metal? What the heck does that sound like? Well, If you;re looking for some hacdrore Folk music, then I suggest Don Ross when he’s pigeonholed to define his music, he often calls it heavy wood. It’s probably not first on your list, but some of his songs are just insane the guy can play the hell out of an acoustic guitar. Check out these songs on youtube: Loaded Leather Moonroof, Michael Michale Michael, Tight Trite Night, Afraid To Dance, Robot Monster, Elevation Music, Dracula and Friends Part One (and Two). Good stuff!

    • Jamaluddin says:

      Am I missing soiethmng where is Smells Like Teen Spirit?Not only does that song define Grunge to me it is one of my top 10 of the 90s.I’m sure people will say that this is not pure grunge or that it is far too main stream but its just a great 90s Song

    • Led Macro says:

      Funny as there’s a genre of metal called “stoner metal” and it’s more metal than most anything that’s come out since before grunge

  5. Da Truth says:

    Not metal. How about this classification, genre, marketing segment, blah, blah, … Fucking Rock n Roll!!! If you wanna go metal, compare to Kill Em All. Raw energy, pure and undeniable … timeless, Nirvana will live forever similar to “The Baby Jesus”.

  6. Lijalem says:

    folk rock/metal? What the heck does that sound like? Well, If you;re looking for some hacordre Folk music, then I suggest Don Ross when he’s pigeonholed to define his music, he often calls it heavy wood. It’s probably not first on your list, but some of his songs are just insane the guy can play the hell out of an acoustic guitar. Check out these songs on youtube: Loaded Leather Moonroof, Michael Michale Michael, Tight Trite Night, Afraid To Dance, Robot Monster, Elevation Music, Dracula and Friends Part One (and Two). Good stuff!

  7. Elvan says:

    Amon Amarth! Probably get Oden instead of Twilight of the Thunder God.Lamb of God, Pantera The two most inlfientual metal bands of my life.My top 5 are;PanteraLamb of GodSlayerMetallicaIron Maiden.Check em out ;P

  8. De Angelo says:

    Okay to me Nirvana wasn’t metal when you compare them to Maiden. But when you look at songs like Negative Creep or School that is more metal than anything Def Leopard has done. @Saim: How can say Shine was better than Teen Spirit, maybe Teen Spirit isn’t the best song to define Nirvana but it was certainly better than anything Post-Grunge has done.

  9. cvr says:

    Come on, is everything metal just because it’s heavy? I wouldn’t argue that Nirvana is not heavy music and it may have some kind of metal stuff into its core. But just because a band such as Atheist has some jazz/bossanova like elements into it, it clearly does not make it a jazz band! In any shred of doubt, just try to compare against Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” (same year as “In Utero”)…

  10. Josh says:

    It’s sad that they talk about Grunge when it’s not even classified as metal, it’s more in vein with hardcore punk, punk, noise rock, psychedelic rock, Emo/post-hardcore, and a [basic] idea of metal (i.e., Black Sabbath). When is Grunge considered metal? Then would mean Nirvana would be considered metal, what the fuck? The only bands that I would legitimately considered “Grunge” would be Soundgarden and Melvins, and they’re not considered Grunge. Soundgarden is more inclined with psychedelic rock and progressive rock/metal (not if you include albums up until “Badmotorfinger”). However, The Melvins are more in vein of doom metal, experimental metal, and drone metal.

    Nirvana = is not metal. “Bleach” is hardcore punk influenced that is DEFINITELY influenced by The Meat Puppets, Black Flag (“My War”), Flipper, etc. “Nevermind” has 3-4 songs in hardcore punk, indie rock, brief pop sections, more R.E.M. and The Pixies influences is more prominent, and brief metal passages. “In Utero” showing their new sound beginning if they were to start their new album, they’re progressing into a more experimental/progressive rock to alienate the fans, mainly he couldn’t handle the attention and exposure. On In Utero, Kurt Cobain started to listen to King Crimson’s “Red”, 1-2 hardcore punk songs, more alternative, more pop, and that’s it.

    f Nirvana where to make a new album: there won’t be any hardcore punk songs (maybe 1 song), impalement more experimental/progressive rock, more pop, more alternative, maybe jazz, etc. They would be going into the direction of experimental/progressive rock band than alternative rock band haha.

  11. in my opinion, i do believe nirvana is metal too a certain extent!now in terms of the imagery, they are not!songs like smells like teen spirit is not metal!but on the other hand songs like milk it and scentless apprentice are metal!in conclusion they are metal!they are not!

  12. Manny says:

    Nirvana aren’t metal if all you know is the album Nevermind. Going through their entire discography unearths many heavy tunes, which most people do not bother to do.

  13. Ronnie says:

    I don’t think Grunge killed guitar solos. Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains had prominent guitar solos in pretty much all of their songs so did Soundgarden but to a lesser extent. Even some Nirvana songs had guitar solos. It was bands like Korn and other Nu Metal bands that killed guitar solos.

  14. Mr. Small says:

    There is no such thing as metal, grunge, soft rock, hard rock or classical rock or hippie rock shit etc. etc. etc. IT IS ROCK AND ROLL ….period. You either like it or you don’t. No body gives a shit what you call it as long as it sounds good to YOU!!! These assholes on MTV make a big deal out of everything to sell a commercial…I like many variations of ROCK AND ROLL. And if we must answer the question, who started this shit? Ozzie & Tony were sent to us as a gift by the Gods or maybe aliens YES BLACK SABBATH will live on and inspire many more generations in a different form of ROCK AND ROLL…just look at the rock stars today…they look like they belong back in 1972.

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