The 5 most critically acclaimed punk bands of the 90s

nation of ulysses, punk rock

Critics have always had a love affair with punk rock. The uncompromising vision of the genre, tendency of choosing the underground over the mainstream, the focus on message rather than musicianship, are all elements rock critics have embraced.

Last time we spoke about the best selling pop punk bands of the 90s. Today, we’ll look back on 5 of the most critically acclaimed punk bands of the same decade. Spoiler alert: No band made both lists.


Hailing from Sweden and steadfast in promoting their left-wing politics throughout their career, Refused were one of the most influential hardcore bands of the 90s. Critics loved the group, not least of all for the Refused’s apparent insistence on remaining an underground group.

the refused, shape of punk to come

But, by the time 1998’s The Shape of Punk to come had been released, the group had inched their way into the rock charts. Naturally, they did the only thing that cult favorites can do and they split up. Their legend cast a shadow on many hardcore groups that followed them.

The band has subsequently returned, is active today and continues to promote many of the same values. Critics still love them and many of their original fans have stuck around.

Sonic Youth

If Nirvana dominated the 1990s showed just how much success rock and punk could enjoy, Sonic Youth did the same in terms of the critical praise a single group could receive. Focusing on texture, focused experimentation and wearing their numerous influences on their sleeves, Sonic Youth acted like a guide through rock’s underground.

Few bands were cooler and more more inventive as far as rock critics were concerned. Until their demise in 2005, the quartet of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon , Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley danced softly between indie credits and mainstream acceptance.

Bad Religion

Other pop punk bands may have sold more records during the 90s, but few received the admiration of their peers and of the press as Bad Religion. The group recorded numerous well crafted records, created their own punk rock record label and promoted their core political and religious values throughout their career.

By 1994 the band had even released a hit with the album Stranger than fiction. But, they showed little eagerness to continue crafting pop gems. Instead they have released albums consistently, rarely straying from their vision. For this, the punk rock elite has never really changed its opinion of the Greg Gaffin fronted band.

The Nation of Ulysses

The Nation of Ulysses were a punk rock band that made little impact on the charts. Yet, by 1992, once their brief career had ended, they had influenced countless other punk, indie and hardcore groups.

Formed by rock visionary Ian Svenonius, the band’s sound and ideology were already fully formed by the time of their seminal release 13-Point Program to Destroy America. The critics and the public never truly figured out how serious they should take the group. But, the mystery only helped their reputation. By the time some of the original members had formed Cupid Car Club and The Make-Up, The Nation of Ulysses were already a legendary act cited as direct influences by bands such as At the Drive-In or Jonathan Fire*Eater.


Possibly no other band throughout the adventurous history of punk rock has earned quite the esteem of Fugazi. Founder Ian MacKaye was already well-known in the American underground for his involvement in the groups Minor Threat and The Teen Idles, by the time he had helped form Fugazi.

The new group played a blend of hardcore influenced as much by bands like the Bad Brains, as by the funk of James Brown. Their straight edge politics and their inflexibility of compromising their ideals for mainstream success, helped nurture their notoriety as punk rock purists. Perhaps no other punk group received as much consistent critical praise throughout the alternative 90s. By 2003 Fugazi had entered into a hiatus that has continued until the present day, leaving behind a nearly spotless discography.

While punk rock’s commercial appeal continues to vary from one era to the next, one thing is for certain. Quality punk rock music will continue being created and rock critics will continue singing its praises regardless, or in spite, of the public’s interest.

Author: Eduard Banulescu

Eduard is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications including FootballCoin, Extra Time Talk, Fanatik, Sportskeeda, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website Eduard is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.

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