Close this search box.
Photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: Danny Clinch

Pearl Jam Aren’t Giving Up On Grunge 

Seattle’s alt-rock superheroes summon new and old habits on Dark Matter.

by Johnny Papan

Pearl Jam has comfortably held their seat upon the Mount Rushmore of grunge rock since breaking into the mainstream with their highly influential debut, Ten, in 1991. Renowned for their expansive catalog of hard-edged alternative anthems as well as melancholic ballads and folkish acoustic jams, the Seattle quintet evolved from being ripped-jeans wearing, angst-ridden vicenarians to arena rock titans over the course of their 30+ year career. 

The band’s longevity can be attributed to their consistency in sonic exploration. While the first three studio albums — Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy — could be considered “traditional” sounding rock records, Pearl Jam started pushing their creative boundaries with 1996’s No Code and continued that thread of experimentation and expansion ever since. 2020’s Gigaton could be considered one of the band’s most explorative records. 

Almost as if returning to form, the band’s latest release, Dark Matter, has a bit more of an old school flair to it. Album opener “Scared of Fear” ominously opens with ambient sounds before breaking into a dirty guitar riff. There’s a freneticism to some of the songwriting, most particularly “React, Respond” and “Running.” While Gigaton was a very “produced” record, Dark Matter is raw and, at times, somewhat unhinged in the best ways.

But that’s not to say that this rawness isn’t balanced out with more mellow jams, evenly spread throughout the album. “Upper Hand” stands out as an ethereal, psychedelic marvel, while tracks like “Wreckage,” “Something Special,” and “Setting Sun” folk you up with that signature Eddie Vedder Americana. 

Overall, Dark Matter is definitely still a modern-sounding Pearl Jam record. While the band has evolved far beyond their grunge-era, their latest effort is sugar coated with a nostalgic aura – and we’re here for it.