The Road To Grunge: 10 Albums That Paved The Way For Nirvana’s Breakthrough

Nevermind by Nirvana didn’t just come out of nowhere in September 1991.

Mainstream music may have seemed to be dominated by hair-metal, dance pop, and aging rock stars come the dawn of the ’90s, but big sounds bubbling up from the underground had been pounding serious cracks in the firmament throughout the previous decade.

Tagged “college rock” early on and later known forever after as indie rock, the punk-rooted, fan-driven underground music of the ’80s spawned two superstar acts fairly quickly: new wave guitar rockers U2 and folky southerners REM. In addition, European synth pop acts on the order of the Cure and Depeche Mode scored major MTV rotation and huge, just-left-of-mainstream fandom.

Harder-edged cult bands, however, remained below the mainstream radar for the next few years, with one particular strain of indie rock rising to prominence. The new, punk-rooted sound fortified its roots with heavy metal (similar to how thrash, simultaneously, was hopping up metal with punk), as well as further incorporating classic rock, psychedelia, avant-garde noise, ’70s radio hits, and other traditionally punk-shunned influences.

It all added up to a cultural atmosphere on the brink of bursting by Fall ’91 and the very moment when Nirvana’s Nevermind broke on through to the other side. Here now are ten crucial ’80s indie rock albums of that blazed the trail for ’90s grunge.

Black Flag My War (1984)

Watch: “My War”

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