When I'm relaxing after a long day of painstakingly researching the kind of music that will make me look the coolest for promoting on TBO, you can probably guess what I do to unwind. There's only one answer to the question of what style of music best articulates the misplaced resentment of the suburban middle schooler: nu-metal. For me and a lot of people in my age bracket, nu-metal was the point of entry for heavy music in general. Nu-metal was for a long while basically the only "heavy" (whatever that may mean) music played frequently on the radio or MTV, and while certainly not full-fledged metal music from a taxonomical standpoint, certainly represented a big step up from the hardest of hard rock available at the time. Metalcore was still a ways off from the sort of market penetration it would end up achieving by the mid '00s, so nu-metal was basically the only game in town, functioning as the single largest gateway drug for novice metalheads to enter the realms of "true" metal (a phrase I'm using for lack of a better alternative.) Of course, like with every style of music which draws elements from heavy metal without actually being a part of the genre, a big contingent of the metal scene hated nu-metal for representing some sort of corruption of heavy metal itself, when in actuality it was a pretty independent style which just so happened to pique the interest of a whole host of people who would go on to enjoy a myriad of heavy metal styles.
Now that nu-metal has essentially disappeared as a major force in mainstream heavy music (although it's starting to come back in an updated form with stuff like the last Emmure album,) a lot of metalheads who previously dismissed it outright are starting to come around and look at the style with a less reactionary perspective. Because nu-metal is no longer the go-to definition of heavy metal for a pop audience unfamiliar with heavy music, metalheads are no longer forced to judge nu-metal through the prism of heavy metal. With the acceptance of nu-metal as an odd little branch off of rock music, it's become much easier for a devout metalhead to simply enjoy nu-metal for what it is- opinions on nu-metal are no longer a political position. After I discovered full-fledged heavy metal, nu-metal rapidly fell out of my regular rotation apart from occasional moments of nostalgia, but over the past few years, I've started to seriously revisit the style with an altered perspective. The results were a bit surprising: despite the compressed, fad-like nature of the genre's rise and fall in popularity, some of it has actually aged remarkably well, not universally suffering from the overtly dated sound that one might expect from it.
As such, I figured I'd offer some examples of stuff that's still surprisingly solid today. What exactly defines "nu-metal" is a pretty general concept, so some of the stuff I'll show off might not fall into the genre as you think of it, but keep in mind that nu-metal is a style that's more defined by its time period and general impression rather than distinct musical qualities, so try not to split hairs too much. As a bonus, Youtube has become to last bastion of those few remaining individuals who are still devout fans of the nu-metal bands of yore, so I'll also be posting the most hilariously awesome comment for each of the following videos. If anyone's interested in another couple posts that cover some of the nu-metal bands that have aged especially poorly, throw up a comment begging for shitty music.
Korn - Clown
To many, Korn represents the archetype of nu-metal in its purest form; probably the most successful of any of the big-name nu-metal bands, Korn still enjoys perplexingly high album album sales despite their almost complete disappearance from the radio. "Clown," off their self-titled debut, is a song which perfectly articulates why their older work still stands up years later, namely because it happens to kick an unbelievable amount of ass. It's a combination of three musical elements which can be specifically isolated. First and foremost is Brian "Head" Welch's unique riffing style: the combination of tense, essentially amelodic, almost ambient textures with crushing hardcore-derived chugging created a wonderful sense of musical tension and flow. Second is the phenomenal drumming of David Silveria, whose clustered, syncopated beats and emphasis on kick/snare interaction over steady hi-hat as the leading percussive voice created a musical environment which allowed the strings room the breathe and expressive their own rhythmic themes while contributing to the sheer force expressed in the songs' most intense moments. Finally, there's the vocals of Jonathan Davis, whose unique, varied, and expressive style of singing essentially created the blueprint of nu-metal vocals as well as blending well with the rest of the band's slow-burning, deliberately paced style. The result of these elements was music that really sonically conveyed the repressed anger, neurotic fear, and animalistic cravings expressed by the band's lyrical themes. There's a lot to praise about Korn's ability to match a sound to a conceptual aesthetic- many bands could learn from their sense of artistic unity.
Everyone has their own opinion on when Korn started to suck and just how far into their discography one should bother to explore. I'd say that the only really essential records from a "heavy music" perspective are the first two. "Follow the Leader" and "Issues" both have some pretty great pop songs on them, but the former marks the band's transition away from underground abrasiveness and sharp, ugly riffing in favor of a more conventional pop-rock sense of songwriting. Everything from "Untouchables" onward is just progressively greater levels of unlistenable.
A bonus track just because it's really sick and especially because the break at 2:00 is remarkably similar to the sort of breakdown structure you might find on a modern deathcore release:
Korn - Chi
Best comment from each video:
Clown - "maybe my #1song ever. Epic.. Why hasn't someone made a Dragonball Z video to go with this. The amount of times vegeta calls goku clown and all."
Chi - "@iEAT0rphans i dont think weed has ever killed n e 1(you know from smoking it)"
Mudvayne - Death Blooms
Mudvayne has always been without question the most musically proficient band from the heyday of nu-metal, effortlessly outpacing all others in both technical ability and compositional complexity. Hell, all things considered, they're probably the most musically proficient band I've ever encountered on modern rock radio or television. The band's debut album, "L.D. 50," is one which continues to surprise me every time I listen to one of its cuts- it feels like each listen reveals a new bit of subtle melodic texture or rhythmic interplay I hadn't noticed before. It's not very surprising when one finds out that the band was heavily influenced by death and black metal (citing Emperor in particular,) and it comes out not only in technical ability, but in the surprisingly gripping and multidimensional emotionality of their music. "Death Blooms," above, is a good example of the band at their best: even in the song's heaviest and most straightforward moments, there's an array of subtle melodic and rhythmic undercurrents at play, along with an impressively mature lyrical concept bolstered by a strong and confident vocal presence.
By all means, any metal fan should give "L.D. 50" a chance- and then stop there. Everything after that album is a complete musical atrocity, with the debut standing as a lone beacon of artistic dignity. Truly a horrendous fall from grace.
Best comment: "THIS IS BASICALLY RAP. THIS IS WHAT WAS CALLED "NU METAL", LIKE OTHER SONGS OFF THIS ALBUM LD 50, THIS HAS R N B ELEMENTS (THE SINGING PARTS), AND THEN HE RAPS OF COURSE THRUOUT THE MAIN AND THE CHORUS, MAKING IT A GHETTO/GANGSTA RAP SONG."
Static-X - I'm With Stupid
The absurd musical success of early Static-X is either raw genius or utter coincidence. "I'm With Stupid," off their debut full-length "Wisconsin Death Trip," is a very succinct explanation of the band's entire style: a sort of match made in hell between backwards baseball cap wearing date rapist aggro rock and what that same date rapist imagines "techno" to be in absence of ever having actually heard it. It's about as idiotic, primitive, and minimal as things get, with riffs rarely more complex than two chords, monotonously ranting vocals, and deliberately obnoxious, needling synths. It's a sort of jock impression of what "industrial metal" would sound like in theory, and a prime example of what I'm going to call the "Rigor Sardonicus Effect," where a band plays a unique style of music that's aesthetically obvious but still surprising to hear simply because you thought no one was dumb enough to actually do it. Out of this comes some fucking impressive music, though: the incredibly stripped-down, binary sense of songwriting and utter lack of nuance, dynamics, or variation actually give the music an intensely industrial feel despite not actually sounding like, you know, industrial music. In fact, it surpasses that: along with the ugly, convulsive clatter that makes up most of the music's content is a complete lack of any emotion or beauty. When combined with the distinctly odd lyrics which come off as a panicked, Tourette's-like disgorging of neurotic paranoia and self-doubt, the overall effect is something that's probably closer to the industrial ideal than a hell of a lot of "real" industrial music.
"Wisconsin Death Trip" is mandatory, and "Machine" has a handful of worthwhile tracks, but everything after is oddly dull, bland, and progressively more generic.
Best comment: "i like this song but dont like hearing when im playing runescape i only like listing when i play roblox"
Check back later this week for part two.