Wishing death to fashioncore since 2005

Nu-metal – My view

Some facts, opinions and observations, from underground to mainstream.

Nu-metal – an often maligned, frowned upon genre laughed at by many, and to an extent it’s justified; it became watered-down, generic and boring, filled with soundalikes and knuckledragging, eventually becoming a parody of itself and becoming little more than just another form of rap-metal (I kinda blame Limp Bizkit for this personally, though to be fair, no band asks for the copyists that follow).

That said however, speaking as someone who remembers the underground years and followed it from the beginning (circa 1996-97 to its eventual jump to mainstream attention around 2001) it’s worth remembering that it did have its positives – it brought in new fans and attention back to heavier genres of music, with bands such as Korn, Limp Bikit and their contemporaries acting as ‘gateway’ bands – bands acting as stepping stones towards other genres or rock/metal, some more heavier/extreme, or in the eyes of many critics, just simply more openly respectable genres. Over the past decade or so, on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve seen rock and metal undergo a major resurgence, for which some credit at least must be credited to nu-metal, alongside the likes of Ozzfest, Sonisphere, and even (in my opinion) Guitar Hero – a game that has transcended ‘tribal’ boundaries to appeal to the masses, bringing focus back to both classics and new upcoming acts.

Whilst I do recognise its faults, I have often defended the genre’s underground period over the years, and remained a fan of many if its bands – these include Korn, Slipknot, Spineshank (from the second album onwards, mind), Coal Chamber (well, the first album anyway), Human Waste Project, Orgy and American Head Charge. I became a fan during the underground years, as I liked the dark grooves, the heaviness, its honesty and the ability to relate to people – some of these qualities would diminish over the years, but there was no denying its initial raw power.

It was the Korn track ‘Shoots & Ladders’ that won me over – I had already encountered tracks such as ‘Fake’ (the first song of theirs I ever heard, via a Metal Hammer magazine sampler), ‘Blind’ and ‘Clown’, both of which turned me into a casual fan, but once I heard ‘Shoots..’ via Vanessa Warwick’s Headbangers Ball (I still miss that show) I was hooked, and later that year I bought the first two albums. I started to follow the genre from there on, with bands like Deftones coming soon after, and all subsequent waves…..

Then, around 2001, something strange happened that I did not predict – nu-metal started getting mainstream attention. Bands such as Limp Bizkit and Crazy Town were hitting the charts, and whilst on paper this might have seemed like a good idea – only snobby elitists normally argue with such things – the massive downside was that there was a bigger influx of Korn-alikes appearing, and suddenly, all the things that made the genre so interesting to start with seemed harder to come by – only a few bands maintained the heaviness, but many adopted a rapping style – in fact, it seemed all the new bands being lumped in were just rap metal acts with downtuned guitars, or were just downtuned but stil labelled as ‘nu-metal’ due to say, a shared tour or friendship/acquaintanceship. Whilst rap had always been one influence/dimension of the sound, from here on in it seemed much more prominent.

One other thing that hasn’t helped nu-metal’s reputation, is that people have either lumped bands in with that genre when they didn’t really fit, or, perhaps more importantly, have forgtten how many good bands it gave us – including those who started out with a nu-metal sound but eventually evolved into something new.

How about this – five bands who, at least at the beginning, started out with a sound very much a part of the nu-metal scene, but either outgrew it or diversified to become something more:

Slipknot – Check out the self-titled debut album produced by Ross Robinson (a name synonymous with the genre, having previously produced the likes of Korn, Coal Chamber, Manhole and Human Waste Project, amongst many others). All the familiar parts are there – the downtuned riffs, the dark psychotic vibe, the no-holds-barred emotional honesty, and most importantly, the ability to speak to a younger audience.

Tracks to check out: ‘Purity’, ‘Left Behind’, ‘Before I Forget’

System Of A Down – When their debut album first hit, it reminded me of Korn and Slipknot, in the riffs and percussion respectively. Though they might not be seen as a nu-metal act now (and I know for certain, many would argue they never were), their roots at least shared many of the same staples.

Tracks to check out: ‘Sugar’, ‘Aerials’

Deftones – Though often still regarded as a nu-metal band by many, their style has become much more ambient, and more melodic than many of their current/former peers.

Tracks to check out: ‘Bored’, ‘Change (In The House Of Flies)’, ‘Passenger’ ‘Hole In The Earth’

Incubus – The funkier of that wave of bands, they managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of the genre, diversifying and adding more sides to their sound, thus allowing them to maintain a steady level of popularity and respectability.

Tracks to check out: ‘Take Me to Your Leader’, ‘A Certain Shade Of Green’, ‘Drive’ ‘Megalomania’

Korn – The most important of all, and one of my favourite bands of all time, the band who kick-started the whole thing and gave the world a new sound often emulated. The self-titled debut remains a genre classic and has never been bettered, though it wasn’t until after the release of third album ‘Follow The Leader’ that they broke the mainstream in the US. They’ve never recorded the same album twice and have done more to diversify than any other, though have also attracted many critics along the way – a number perhaps only second to those attracted by Limp Bizkit (or third if you also think back to Coal Chamber). Admittedly I haven’t been the biggest fan of the past couple of albums, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Tracks to check out: ‘Shoots and Ladders’, ‘4U’, ‘Alone I Break’, ‘Did My Time’, ‘Twisted Transistor’ ‘Thoughtless’ (unplugged version)

One thing that has always puzzled me – the inclusion of the likes of Linkin Park, Sevendust and Papa Roach (especially the latter) within the nu-metal bracket – to me it seemed, they were included by association, as opposed to it being due to their actual sound.

Linkin Park – After Limp Bizkit broke big, it seemed that some acts were being lumped into the genre purely because they featured rapped lyrics – LP were always more lighter/poppier than the rest, and now feature more electronic elements. They toured with Korn, but sounded nothing like them, or any other nu-metal act.

Sevendust – Again, perhaps grouped in only because of ties/friendships with many nu-metal acts. Far more melodic, and utilised solos – something that’s pretty much unheard of in nu-metal. Again, they didn’t sound like any other act. Check out ‘My Ruin’, ‘Angel’s Son’ or ‘Bender’.

Papa Roach – I was never a big fan of ‘Last Resort’, and was quite surprised when they hit the charts in the UK – I’d heard a live version a year earlier online, back when I often scoured mp3.com and the rest of the internet for new bands from the US. In my opinion they’ve released better material since then, and are another band who have changed their style over the years, yet stll get grouped in with the wave of nu-metal bands of that time. Check out ‘Loves Me Not’ or ‘Getting Away With Murder’.

I’ve just checked Wikipedia, and found a handful of bands who have also somehow been grouped in – A Perfect Circle (seriously?), Flyleaf, the UK’s One Minute Silence and Raging Speedhorn, Puddle Of Mud (again, guilty by association it seems, given their ties with LB’s Fred Durst) and Skinlab (much more thrash-based, no?). I’ve also seen British acts Pitchshifter and Lostprophets labelled as such – I can kinda understand the latter would be, but Pitchshifter? Clearly, opinion is divided as to what counts as ‘nu-metal’.

A few bands who influenced the nu-metal scene, but never were nu-metal themselves:
Faith No More – They have been cited as a major influence by many bands, but frontman Mike Patton has gone record to say he isn’t a fan of the genre at all. Bands such as Korn and Incubus have been influenced by FNM’s funkier elements.

Sepultura – Though they have may dabbled with the sound on their last record with Max Cavalera, ‘Roots’, they were never part of the genre, though Cavalera did go on to form Soulfly, a band who had a strong nu-metal sound on their first couple of records at least.

Fear Factory – FF actually worked with the aforementioned Ross Robinson on the demo version of their debut album, entitled ‘Concrete’, though this was not publically available until some years later – it’s said that it was this demo that lead to him being drafted to produce Korn’s debut, after he had played it to them. Though bands such as Spineshank name FF as an influence, particularly due to their album ‘Demanufacture’, they themselves aren’t a nu-metal band.

A handful of other acts, some lesser-known bands who had varying degress of exposure, or who never managed to attain as much success as the bigger names:

Orgy – Well, they were actually big for a couple of years, following their cover version of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, a hit from the 80’s. Signed for a time to Korn’s own Elementree record label. Much more poppier than other acts of the time.

Human Waste Project – Recorded one well-received album ‘E-Lux’, toured then sadly disbanded, though frontwoman Aimee Echo and drummer Scott Ellis did go on to form The Start, along with Jamie Miller from Snot. Imagine a heavier version of No Doubt and you’d be getting warm.

Vex Red – UK-based rockers who recorded and signed breifly with Ross Robinson on his I Am Records label.

Videodrone – Friends of Korn, formerly known as Cradle Of Thorns but changed name following a line-up and style change, split after releasing one album under that name.

Juice – Much like Korn, the roots of this band can be traced back to the band Sexart; in fact, if you drew a family tree, it would also link that band to Adema, Orgy and Videodrone/Cradle Of Thorns. Very similar sound to Korn’s early sound, released a couple of CD’s (one via mp3.com) but sadly didn’t enjoy any success above the underground.

(ignore the visual side of the video – it’s Korn obviously, but the audio is Juice)

Actually, here’s a video which explains that family tree:

‘SexArt – The Legacy (1991-1993) (feat. Korn, Adema, Orgy, Juice and more)’

Smakdab – Another good band who released one album, caught some attention on mp3.com and also worked with Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Joey Jordison breifly – look for track ‘Shadowed’ on Youtube. I personally believe that their track ‘Perfect Time’ could’ve been huge.

Smakdab – ‘The Perfect Time’

So, there it is – my view of nu-metal, as witnessed by a fan who watched the ascendence, then saw its critical downfall.

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