Who Sounds like Nirvana

Few bands come along and release music that becomes representative of an entire generation. In the early 1990s, that band was Nirvana.

Embodying a new mixture of punk, rock, metal, and pop, the band soon became synonymous with the grunge movement. Coined in the 1980s to be a descriptive word for the type of music, grunge soon became a genre all its own.

Nirvana catapulted to the front of the genre, somewhat begrudgingly, with their dynamic shifts, poetic lyrics, and weight-of-the-world statements that fans recognized and identified with.

If You Like Nirvana, You May Likeā€¦
Though often considered to be the leaders of the grunge movement, Nirvana never really called themselves grunge. The band’s frontman Kurt Cobain labeled his music a cross between punk, metal, and alternative, citing influences as far-ranging as the Beatles to Black Sabbath.

Other bands that sound like Nirvana include:

  • Foo Fighters
  • Queens of the Stone Age
  • Dinosaur Pile Up
  • Cage the Elephant
  • Mudhoney

Leading the way in the grunge revival today are bands like the UK’s Dinosaur Pile Up, who fans and critics alike say sound similar to Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Others, like Cage the Elephant utilize the punk influences of Nirvana, such as the Pixies, to create a sound similar to Cobain and company.


Formed in the late 1980s and establishing themselves early on as a part of the Seattle music scene, Nirvana was made up of frontman Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and, by 1990, drummer Dave Grohl.

Releasing only three studio albums before Cobain’s untimely death in 1994, the band has actually released several albums posthumously. With over 30 million records sold worldwide, Nirvana has long been considered a once-in-a-generation band whose music inspired and reflected the way young people felt at the time about social issues, growing up, and generally being misunderstood.

Today, Novoselic and Grohl still play together intermittently, while Grohl has gone on to front the successful band Foo Fighters.


Both Cobain and Novoselic grew up in the small logging town of Aberdeen, WA, located 100 miles southwest of Seattle. A product of divorce, Cobain shuttered between relatives throughout his youth. Inspired early on by the music of the Beatles, Cobain and Novoselic also enjoyed heavier music, such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and KISS.

After forming Nirvana in 1987, the two added Chad Channing on drums and began to play local music festivals and shows around the state. Eventually, the independent record label Sub Pop signed the band, who released their first single “Love Buzz,” followed in 1989 by their debut album Bleach. Shortly afterward, Channing was fired and replaced by Dave Grohl.

A success on the underground music scene, the band soon attracted the attention of major labels due to the emergence of the Seattle music scene on the national landscape. Nirvana eventually signed with Geffen Records’ subsidiary label DGC and released the transcendent album Nevermind in 1991.

Within months, the album rose to the top of the U.S. charts, knocking off perennial hit-maker Michael Jackson’s newest album Dangerous. Featuring such hits as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come as You Are,” Nevermind pushed Nirvana to the forefront of American music, and Cobain soon became the unlikely and sometimes apprehensive face and voice of a generation and music movement.

In 1993, the band released the follow up In Untero to critical and continued mainstream success. In classic punk-rock form, Nirvana wrote the album deliberately to put up a collective middle finger to the studio-driven Nevermind and the resulting pop fame that ensued. The album still sold five million units in the United States and opened at number one on the charts.

By 1994, success and personal demons began to catch up with Cobain, as there were multiple attempts at suicide documented. The public attention on his marriage to fellow musician Courtney Love and noted drug use led to Cobain’s suicide by gunshot in his Seattle home on April 8, 1994.


Grunge is characterized by somewhat harsh guitar chords, strong riffs, and heavy drums. Bands like Nirvana continued the use of distortion and feedback techniques and typically sounded like their predecessors in terms of moody songs that utilize lyrics filled with angst and frustration.

The music still has roots in the punk movement and Seattle music scene, though it has expanded across the globe and cemented itself as a generation-defining musical style. Punk bands such as the Pixies remain a notable influence on albums like Bleach.

Posthumously, Nirvana has released several albums, mostly collections of live and unreleased tracks recorded before Cobain’s death. In 1994, the live album recorded for the television program MTV Unplugged was released and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. The band also received their first Grammy Award after seven nominations for Best Alternative Music Performance.

Other albums released include From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah in 1996, featuring live electric performances, which Rolling Stone called “riotous and liberating,” showing the band “in their most natural state, smashing instruments and inducing irreversible tinnitus.”


  • Bleach (1989) – Nirvana’s debut album, released on the Sub Pop record label; peaked at 89 on the U.S. charts, though later certified platinum.
  • Nevermind (1991) – The band’s first major-label album. Includes the singles “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come as You Are,” “Lithium,” and “Bloom.” Certified diamond after selling over 30 million copies worldwide. Reached number one on the American charts.
  • In Utero (1993) – Debuted on the Billboard 200 at number one. Certified five-times platinum, selling 15 million records worldwide. Includes the hit singles “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Rape Me.”

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