Nirvana in the Afterlife: A Look at Some of the Top Bands Inspired by Nirvana

Featured Image by Jesse Frohman

Nirvana undoubtedly represents a massive tectonic shift in the overall landscape of punk music. Their unlikely overhaul of an entire generation of listeners catalyzed a new grunge counterculture, with the great enigma of the 1990s, Kurt Cobain, at the center. Although Kurt Cobain’s reign was short-lived, his influence remained tangible long after his sudden suicide in 1994. Cobain’s magnetism, shown both through his music and his character, still emboldens artists today. As outliers, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana did not skate the periphery of popular music in the nineties. Rather, they carved a space in culture where this type of alternative music could be celebrated. As the arbiters of perhaps the last, or at least the most prevalent, rock and roll revolution of our lifetime, Nirvana lives on, long past the death of Kurt, as the gold standard for post-millennial rock and roll.

Of the many artists whom Nirvana influenced, the following tend to stand out among the masses:

Foo Fighters

Ok, this one may seem too obvious, but give it a second. Yes, Foo Fighters can certainly be said to be Dave Grohl’s valiant and, honestly, perfectly executed effort at gathering up the ashes of Nirvana. The Foo Fighters of the nineties were an absolute force—a blissful bedlam of anthemic and untouchable grunge. The dummy-flinging, dream-sequencing Foo Fighters from the days of “Everlong” are, undoubtedly, a similar landmass chiseled from super-continent that was Nirvana. Sure, they’re much different in topographical makeup, but, at the core, each is made up of similar elements and built from the same foundation. Like Nirvana, the Foo Fighters have satisfied a new, yet similarly starved, generation—one of outliers who are not ready for another sudden loss. There’s certainly no disenchantment when it comes to the Foos. The total grunge package, they were there to mop up our tears and they will be here rocking with us ‘till the bitter end.


Rivers Cuomo has not been shy when it comes to emphasizing his undying adoration for the band that sailed 1,000 grunge rock ships. “In some ways, I feel like I was Nirvana’s biggest fan in the nineties. I’m sure there are a zillion people who would make that claim, but I was just so passionately in love with the music that it made me feel sick. It made my heart hurt,” the pre-emo indie rocker told Time Magazine in 2014. Weezer and Nirvana were labelmates at DGC (Geffen), although Cobain’s suicide predated the release of The Blue Album by a month. Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind is referenced on the Red Album track, “Heart Songs:”

Back in 1991, I wasn’t having any fun/Til my roommate said “come on,” and put a brand new record on/Had a baby on it; he was naked on it/Then I heard the chords that broke the chains I had up on me


No matter how many times you’ve been plagued with the agony of not being able to get “My Immortal” out of your head, it’s hard not to mention Evanescence when staking up some of the great rockers of our post-grunge generation. Amy Lees’ semi-operatic cries are a completely unmatched force and painfully yet candidly capture a similarly Nirvana-esque escape for head banging outliers everywhere. Evanescence’s cover of “Heart Shaped Box” is a uniquely heart-felt, almost scaled-back (by Evanescence standards) interpretation of 1993’s black and blue hymn. Lee’s wild vocals tend to stretch and pull Cobain’s teeth-clenched recitations. It is equally alarming, yet also strangely endearing—for a Nirvana cover, that is.

Cage the Elephant

Perhaps the most contemporary of Nirvana’s indirectly bestowed inheritors to the grunge throne, Cage the Elephant came barreling out of Bowling Green, Kentucky as an undeniable force in rock music. With early hits like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” and “Back Against the Wall,” the young and hungry group was fooling no one with their weirdly psychedelic video motifs, stalled guitar parts and messages of inactivity and confusion. The light bulb went on immediately—we’d seen this all before! It wasn’t until the release of their second studio album, Thank You, Happy Birthday, in 2011, that the group spoke openly about their undeniable Cobain-laden musical and lyrical tendencies. Most enjoyable of all, perhaps, is their appropriately stripped down cover of “All Apologies.” It’s totally no fuss, garage band, all the bells with no whistles—totally Nirvana.

Who else has been influenced by Nirvana? Who did we miss? Tell us in the comments below!

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