December 23, 2021

Ye Olde Nu Metal

Enough time has past that we can look back and analyze the Nu Metal era... I even made a playlist to accompany what I think are the best entries in the genre and from the best five years of the genre's life.



The early to mid-90s really gave us an interesting moment in music. Gen X was busy popularizing college rock radio with their interest in grunge and alternative, but gangster rap was also starting gain popularity as well. There had been some rap-rock hybrids in the 80s, but the music never took off. While Nu Metal doesn't necessarily have to be mixture of rap-rock, some of the most notable bands to come out of the TRL generation definitely popularized the mixture, and definitely influenced their peers to include a lot of the signature hooks, mixing rap and rock together or employing the use of turntables; Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Deftones--to a certain extent, they are not exactly "Nu Metal," but I might get into that later on--Korn, P.O.D., System of a Down, Godsmack, Marilyn Manson, etc. By virtue of a pure dictionary definition, Nu Metal is by all rights a bit of a nerdy fusion genre with a lot of navel-gazing because it takes from so many other genres. It's interesting to me that it became as popular as it did. Without question, the height of Nu Metal was 1998-2003. It may still have been around by the time I graduated high school, but I wasn't listening to it any more by the time I was a senior in 04, nor was it music that really captivated the masses prior to 98. It took around 3-4 years for it to develop and gain traction through albums like Korn's Life is Peachy. Not to mention, TRL the way we remember it with Carson Daly was as shell of its former self by the time he stepped down in 2003. It is interesting though that I associate TRL and Carson Daly's period of hosting that show as the direct and proximate 5 years that played host to the best the Nu Metal genre had offer.


Limp Bizkit and Korn are the poster children of Nu Metal, abominations, really, they do not have any business being as good or a popular as they were, that is until you dig into the roster a little bit. With Limp Bizkit, Fred Durst was the face of the band, and he's generally the only member that people think of, or can name. The rest of the members though are actually accomplished musicians. Honestly though, for a band to be popular the front man doesn't need to be an amazing talent. Sometimes though, you get someone like Rob Zombie who breaks away entirely from his band to hit the solo rock scene as a star. Hillbilly Deluxe and Significant Other both have a certain kind of novelty that makes them enduringly classic albums from that time period. I was a Limp Bizkit kid, my sister was a Rob Zombie fangirl, but I think we both like Godsmack equally... It's been a while, I'd have to ask her, I spent too much time harassing her for being a Nickelback fan. Korn on the other hand, I don't know if her and I have ever had a conversation about the band. My wife and I on the other hand have shared moments of mutual nostalgia for Follow the Leader and Issues.



Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the genre, I associate a large portion of the beginnings of my early manhood to that time and those sounds. I've been known to rock out to Silver Side Up for sure, but it definitely took a back seat to Meteora and Hybrid Theory, but I also wasn't much of a country fan back then.


So... Okay, it's not entirely truthful to state that I stopped listening to this particular genre of music in my senior year of high school, I just stopped listening to any of the new music that was being released. Holy Wood by Marilyn Manson was sort of the last album I listened to and truly fell in love with from that could be considered Nu Metal (or at least Nu Metal adjacent.) There was something about the way the songs were being written toward the end that kept focusing on teenage angst, and not evolving lyrically enough to follow me on into the working world and college "Got the Life" didn't quite do it for me anymore.


I don't think it took me more than few years to start to feel nostalgic about it though. I can remember coming across the Limp Bizkit album Results May Vary some time in 2009 or 2010. The album isn't terrible, but its painfully obvious that they were just desperately trying to recapture their breakout hit, Faith, by covering a Who song in Behind Blue Eyes, and Red Light - Green Light was absolutely attempting to ride the same popularity and hype that N2Gether Now got, but it doesn't quite deliver because the desperation is palpable. Not that the music isn't catchy, but it really should be the type of thing that they should be trying now, 20+ years later, the perfect time for a comeback. Every song feels like it's trying to recapture the lightning from a song they already did, and it just don't quite do it. Part of the problem was that Wes Borland had left and was replaced by Mike Smith from Snot, while Smith was a worthy successor, it was a bit like when Scott Weiland sang for Velvet Revolver... The music was GNR and the vocals were STP, but the novelty of it all didn't lead to anything lasting, it was just good enough for a flash in the pan. Likewise, Mike Smith from Snot has Nu Metal chops, and the second Snot album Strait Up (which was more a tribute album to the original singer than a proper second album) featured Fred Durst on one of the songs, is a really good listen--a bit like Temple of Dog. In fact, if you're looking for a good snapshot of Nu Metal, the Snot album Strait Up isn't a bad sampling of some of the best vocalists from the genre and that time period.


From what I understand the majority of the music had been written for Snot's second release, but Lynn Strait passed away in a serious car crash, so they put the album on hiatus. I'm not sure who had the idea to finish it with a different singer on each track, but it works really well; Dez Fafara, Jonathan Davis, Serj Tankian, Corey Taylor, even Brandon Boyd from Incubus... It's a crazy line-up.



Incubus isn't one of those bands that I really consider to be Nu Metal, but I suppsoe to a certain extent they kind of were. They were one of the few bands though that continued to evolve and grow. Whatever Nu Metal tendencies they had were even more brief than the height of the genre. Make Yourself has moments and flashes of Nu Metal pizazz, but they transitioned so quickly into the band that made Morning View that it's hard to identify them in the same ranks as Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit. The angst just isn't there. Musically though songs like "Privilege" and "Clean" had the DJ sample elements and the heavy guitar that fit right along with all the rest of the bands I mentioned. But it was their song "Drive" that hit big and the decidedly more introspective and poetic tone of that track is what inspired Morning View.


One of the bands that I have on this playlist that is not like the others is TOOL. I do not really consider them Nu Metal, but the song "Schism" was often lumped in with Nu Metal. I think part of that had to do with the fact that no one really knew what to do with the band, and they hadn't known what to do with them since Undertow, but "Schism" was such an amazing release, and it sat really good next to SOAD's "Aerials." The Deftones were also victim to this, a band that didn't quite fit in with all the rest of the radio rabble. I know Chino has spoken out and stated the has never considered their music to be part of the mainstream Nu Metal, but he also didn't put much effort into "Back to School," a throwaway song to make the record label happy ended up helping to define what people thought Nu Metal was or should be. Honestly, that's how I found out about TOOL, I had heard of them before, I was aware of Undertow and Aenima, but I hadn't actually sat and listened to their music until "Schism" and Lateralus. It wasn't long before I tore through their back catalog, these were the days of Kazzaa, LimeWire, and Shareaza, and I was poor and had no qualms about bootlegging some music. Not to worry I've spent my fair share of income on concerts and albums since then, so I don't really feel bad about it.


I'm curious, are there any tracks from my playlist that are missing? What do you consider to be Nu Metal? Is there anything on the list that shouldn't be there?

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