Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sick throwback nu-metal jamz (Part 1 of 2)

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.

21 comments:

  1. I was a teenager from the Midwest, decked out in a khaki pair of Lee Pipes and whatever zany shirt was available from the local Spencer's. The first time I had ever listened to Korn, the name threw me off; the possibility that they were some stupid mega hyped 'alternative' band was high, but the sheer heaviness of it blew me away. I was a convert.

    Static X was my shit for a while (side note: Wayne Static is playing in Cleveland soon, Ohio nerds should go see that train wreck) but Mudvayne was beneath me. Somehow, whiny wiggerish dudes and industrial pop won out over make-up and theatrics. Ah, the good ol' days.

    Looking forward to part 2. Almost as much as a 'worst of' post.

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    1. it's kind of funny that you'd avoid mudvayne, especially since now l.d. 50 is basically considered THE go-to nu-metal album that's upheld as the exception to the rule in the metal scene.

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    2. "The first time I had ever listened to Korn, the name threw me off; the possibility that they were some stupid mega hyped 'alternative' band was high,"

      How can your first impression be so right and you be so wrong

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  2. Not that they were nu-metal, but this post made me want to listen to my Placebo albums.

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  3. I'm very much enjoying this article, and I hope you'll do a "worst-of" post. I got "into" rock relativity late, around my freshman year of high school in '01, and that's when Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory was huge and the radio was playing Korn's Did My Time and stuff, so this is the kind of music I "grew up" on (though I was already well into 15).
    One band you might be interested in is Nova Art from Russia. The only way to describe them is Dream Theater and Cynic colliding with Slipknot and Mudvayne, kinda pushing the genre into more "progressive" territories like Candiria, but having nothing to do with mathcore/hip-hop/whatever Candiria are. I like to think Nova Art picked up where L.D. 50 left off.
    My Beloved Hate is probably their best song:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8G5208zo6s

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  4. "the overall effect is something that's probably closer to the industrial ideal than a hell of a lot of "real" industrial music."

    well yeah; "sounding like a product from some factory" was never something "real" industrial intended. For the better...

    Anyway, how you can argue this stuff doesn't sound dated baffles me. "Open-mindedness" be damned, the whole Touch & Go noise rock scene (for one) did everything the nu-metal fad tried to do right--you know, the whole suburban alienation and seediness thing--except better and without awkward bids for phatness, G-dawg.

    And I actually owned that Mudvayne album as a kid because some friend convinced me it was, like, super progressive, man! Not ALL nu-metal blows! Turns out it's some childish downtuned rap rock with sub-Primus slap bass and incongruous "progressive" interludes slapped in with no regard for the larger structures. Their real intentions were exposed shortly after, when they somehow put out the most radio-sounding "alt rock" music on the planet.

    What I'm trying to say is basically this: you did a dissertation on how a Deathspell Omega album is derivative because some hipsters creamed their pants over it, and now you're analyzing nu-metal (a genre even my kid brother knows is fuckin lame) "objectively" because as an unfashionable dead trend, it goes against the flow. Don't you realize always trying to go against the grain is just an inverse form of going with the flow?

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    1. I don't think he's claimed, anywhere, that nu-metal is Brilliant Art in the way that DSO tries (and fails) to be. C'mon, it's just a fun post on shit most of us listened to when we were 12!

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    2. if you wanted to insult me, you'd do a lot better to just go after the embarrassing reality of my actual enjoyment of nu-metal rather than making me out to be some sort of sinister genius with a plan of making people like me by pretending to like music most people hate. i'm not exactly getting paid to express my passion for the first static-x album. i suppose i could do a post about how much i enjoy sodom (since i love them) but somehow i don't think that you'd be happy with it either.

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    3. sure, against the grain, thats why the previous post was a glowing reviewing of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Idiot.

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    4. I don't see what that has to do with anything. Spooky name though. [i]TheCount.[/i]

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  5. For some reason, I got into metal in the late '00s, not through metalcore/deathcore, but through a few of the more well-known bands in the nu-metal scene. Though I listen to very little of it nowadays, it still strikes a chord with me and I even find the bands that I never listened to while they were culturally relevant to be pretty cool tunes every once in a while.

    On a side note, I agree that WDT is Static-X's best by far, and can understand disregarding their later discography, but Cannibal is still a hell of an album. It strips quite a bit of the self-conscious silliness and has a few boring tracks, but overall is a lot faster and catchier than any of their earlier works and the production job gives off an unmistakable feeling of carving into an infinite, quiet void. It's not something I listen to when in the mood for Static-X, but if I pretend it's a side project or something I still get a kick out of it.

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  6. Korn kind of grossed me out during their peak years, but towards the end of 8th grade they put out the singles for "Untouchables" and I was really into those. "Thoughtless" was fucking brutal by anyone's standards, and its chorus had a truly Gothic beauty. Since then I've heard their earlier shit and dug it. Korn had awful fashion sense, but they were a great band for sure. Pity about that new Skrillex nonsense.

    That Mudvayne song is surprisingly cool for a band with such a shitty name, and I love that they were influenced by Emperor. Lyrics actually worth following along with? Shocking!

    But that Static-X track just gives me a headache with very little payoff...

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  7. My favorite nu-metal bands were without a doubt Linkin Park, which I think I got into in 7th grade, and System of A Down, which came a bit later. A big moment for me was hearing that breakdown in the middle of LP's "One Step Closer"--I'd never heard a band just straight up SCREAMING before, and it connected instantly with the pent-up hate I felt for pretty much all the kids around me. Even when I was really into them I knew the lyrics were pretty stupid, but I dug it on a gut level. Plus the CD wasn't parental advisory so my parents actually got it for me.

    SoAD was the first time I heard palm-muted chug... I actually don't know why more extreme bands didn't take a page out of the riffing playbook they established on
    "Toxicity." The closing riffs to that song, for instance, are kilotons more powerful than a lot of popular death metal.

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    1. Other funny thing about Linkin Park: I realized quickly that they were a pretty lame band--it sounded so processed and bland. But when I was 16 I got really into Refused, and looked back and thought--"Hey, this 'cool' music sounds a hell of a lot like Linkin Park." I'd go as far as saying that the Linking Park side of nu-metal was basically a shameless pop outgrowth of 90s hardcore. Papa Roach toured with Snapcase, you know...

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    2. linkin park is definitely going in the "aged poorly" post. in fact, they might be the absolute worst from that era- pretty much all their shit's unlistenable now. soad on the other hand is pretty close to mudvayne in acceptability, though i still think the self-titled is leagues away from their other work.

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    3. oh, yes, aged awfully to be sure! they were unlistenable back then, too, but i listened...

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    4. lol, don't worry, at 11 years old i thought that "crawling" really SPOKE to me, man.

      btw, weirdly enough, i still think that papa roach's "between angels and insects" is a really dope song. literally the only one by them i can stomach anymore, but it's pretty sick.

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    5. "Pity about that new Skrillex nonsense."

      Rose-tinted glasses. They were always just trend-hoppers. In 10 years there will be 20-somethings going "yeah, Korn's dubstep stuff was ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD, pity about their nu-post-mathgaze stuff right now."

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  8. Howdy! I'm really enjoying this blog after following a link off your reviews on the Encyclopaedia Metallum. I certainly remember being a teenager when Korn's first two albums came out, my sluttish sister had those CDs and played them constantly while fucking random older men in an upstairs attic with makeshift drywall walls and door frames with no doors. The sounds of Korn trigger gag reflexes and sickly skin crawling at the memory of my sisters over done grunts of pleasure. But the music of Static X, Linkin Park, Master P etc all bring back memories of Playstation One and Mississippi dirt weed as my friends preferred that music to the Metallica, Black Sabbath, Carcass, Napalm Death and Ween albums I got into at a pre-teen age I now realize is uncommon for the other 98% of current metal listeners and also awesome as fuck. Since I was ingesting Black Sabbath, Slayer, Pantera, Motorhead and Metallica progressing to early death metal and hardcore at such a young age, I'm talking 8-14, by the time nu-metal showed up I was kind of "eh". I don't think I was ever violently opposed to it, I just fucking hated the clean vocal parts which I deemed "wussy" and would mock, in fact if metal/deathcore were around in those days I probably would have been into it. Nowadays any extreme/heavier metal with a dancable groove I am immediately turned off by, however I'm really enjoying Coroner's Grin album so maybe I'm over that?

    Last thing, I got into all this music on my own with no internet and very little help from my peers and my parents sure as hell didn't buy me shit, besides my sister who fortunately found Carcass Symphonies of Sickness with album art intact in the dollar bin at a Wal-Mart in northern Alabama, symphonies! pandora's box of my youth!

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  9. aye shit I forgot to add, the first time I heard nu-metal was years earlier with Prong's Snap Your Fingers (Snap Yo Neck!), their Force Fed album is fucking awesome, up there with COC's Animosity if you've never heard em check them out

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    1. You are a faggotpants hitlernigger. I hate your mother. BrokenCYDe for life.

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