In Defense of Nu-Metal: Commentary


Limp Bizkit band photo.

Limp Bizkit – Author Anne Erickson, Courtesy photo via Limp Bizkit

Here’s another edition of our “In Defense Of” column. Last time, we talked about post-grunge. It’s a genre that many people love to hate. I challenged the idea that post-grunge was purely derivative and asked you to open your ears to what the genre has to offer. Now, let’s move into another genre that gets a bad rep: nu-metal.

What is Nu-Metal?

Nu-metal, which is often written as nĂ¼-metal, is a subgenre of alternative metal that began in the mid-to-late 1990s. It basically combines heavy metal music with other genres, especially hip-hop. When I think of nu-metal, I think of rap-rock. But, that isn’t always the case. Nu-metal can also bring together heavy metal music with industrial, grunge and alternative. Moreover, before nu-metal, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, alternative metal bands like Pantera and Helmet were making the kind of music that would go onto inspire the nu-metal movement.

Musically, nu-metal is in drop D tuning to give it a heavier, darker sound. Also, unlike a lot of traditional metal genres, nu-metal doesn’t usually have big guitar solos or epic passages. Instead, the genre is centered on meaty guitar riffs and an awesome groove. Also, sometimes you hear DJs and electronic music in nu-metal music. Think of bands such as Incubus or Linkin Park.

Vocals are central in this genre of music. Just think of all the big-named frontmen, who became so well-known because they were really the focal point of the music. Guys like Brandon Boyd, the late Chester Bennington and Aaron Lewis are legendary.

It’s also worth pointing out that many post-grunge bands also fall into the nu-metal category, such as Staind. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

What Was the First Nu-Metal Band?

Whether they like it or not, people often credit Bakersfield, California, band Korn as being the first band in the nu-metal movement in the mid-1990s. Korn’s 1994 self-titled release is often called the first real nu-metal album. Nobody likes labels, so it’s not a surprise that Korn often fights the nu-metal label. But, they really helped create this entire musical genre.

Closely after Korn broke, band such as Slipknot and Limb Bizkit started to blow up. Nu-metal quickly took over rock radio, and these bands easily pushed millions of copies of their albums. The biggest nu-metal album of all time, though, isn’t from Korn. It’s Linkin Park with their 2000 debut, “Hybrid Theory.” It was actually the best-selling rock album of the 21st century.

In Defense of Nu-Metal

I think none reason people often hate on nu-metal is because, like hair metal, it had some over-the-top antics. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, for example, often seemed like a caricature of the nu-metal frontman, with his backwards baseball cap and super-tough guy look and personality. Not that I’m hating on Durst. I was a huge Limp Bizkit fan back in the day, and I still sing to songs like “Nookie” and “Re-Arranged” at the top of my lungs. I also really dig Durst and Limp Bizkit’s new music.

Not all nu-metal bands were so extreme, though. Brandon Boyd of Incubus was a very chill guy and kept the band’s live shows pretty tame. Linkin Park had more energetic and fiery live shows, but they certainly didn’t have the tough-guy delivery of nu-metal artists such as Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock or Slipknot. Elsewhere, bands such as Creed and Papa Roach brought a more anthemic quality to the genre, which was also super popular with the masses. The list of bands that could be called nu-metal goes on and on, including Evanescence, Deftones, Mudvayne, P.O.D., System of a Down, Sevendust and more.

Whether you like nu-metal or not, I’m here to remind you that it was a hugely popular music genre and still is today. Most of the aforementioned bands are still topping the charts and selling out amphitheaters around the world. Creed is doing a massive reunion tour this year, and the shows are selling out so quickly that some markets had to add second dates. Limp Bizkit headlined Lollapalooza Chicago just a few years ago, and their show was all the music world could talk about for weeks. So, if you really hate nu-metal, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s here to stay. So, I challenge you to find something to like in this music that is obviously very liked by millions of music fans.

Anne Erickson
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Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Metal, Music, Rock