by William Bradbury
- Guest Columnist –
Attempting to do this most likely is going to make me sound like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, but hear me out: The inner 15-year-old in you wants to. And maybe you’ll even crawl into the closet to rock that Hybrid Theory hoodie one final time. But do it with pride. Because Nu-metal really was a glorious scene. And here are some reasons why.
1. The scene had some legit bands:
Let’s not go back and forth as to what does or does not constitute nu-metal. There were many bands that were part of the scene that did not wholly embody the ‘rap rock’ it’s often watered down to. But those bands still had nu-metal elements in the singing style and the lyrical themes. And many of them put out nu-metal singles to keep on the radio. And they were great. Deftones, Incubus, System of a Down, all, are examples of bands that have graduated from the scene and developed above and beyond it. But that doesn’t mean they ‘aren’t Nu-metal;’ it just means that some great bands dabbled in the genre for a while
2. It was varied:
As a period that we roughly can say started in the late ’90s and peaked at around 2001, Nu-metal was more inventive musically than the garage revival and emo music that took over the radio waves in its absence. Nu-metal is really an amalgamation of not only rap and rock but industrial music (see Fear Factory and Static X), synth pop, glam rock (see powerman 5000), hip hop (the excellent N together now with Method Man and Dj premier), grunge, hard rock and metal. These bands would flicker between genres, sometimes in an A.D.D.-like fashion. As a result, the instrumentation on some of these albums was varied, with manic turntable scratches, pulsating industrial beats, chugging thick guitar riffs, random appearances from rappers, such as Ice Cube and Method Man. Yes, it was stupid. But it was unpredictable, and, at its best, fun.
3. It was experimental:
No, I’m not talking about Limp Bizkit’s Rollin single. But why is it that people have to reduce the genre down to its worst elements when criticizing it? The genre really did bring some avant-garde vibes to mainstream music. At one time, Slipknot’s Iowa was the No. 3 album in the U.S. This 70-minute album ends with a 15-minute closer. Even the maligned Limp Bizkit finished its first LP with a 16-minute collage. Incubus’ S.C.I.E.N.C.E. ends with a multipart epic, taken from the school of Mr. Bungle, where different segments bleed together, without a trace of a hook or anything else denoting conventional song structures. Chop Suey by System of a Down manages to do these things, while somehow maintaining pop song lengths, and they made a hit song out of it.
4. The singles were great:
Certain songs are so good that they just get people going; they play on the stereo at a party or in a rock bar or club, and people stop what they’re doing, dance or, at the very least unconsciously bob their heads. And, yeah, Nirvana can have that affect, but so can some of the next-level singles produced by the nu-metal scene, such as Papa Roach’s “Last Resort,” with its cold-open intro just as effective as if it were released yesterday. Slipknot’s Wait and Bleed is one song that drunk people who have no idea what the lyrics are sing along to, In The End is one of the bigger ’00s guilty pleasures, as nostalgia becomes more of a problem. These singles were glorious capsules of intensity put into catchy structures and are deserving of credit.
5. The deep cuts:
When most people think of Nu-metal, most likely, they think of Limp Bizkit, Korn and Linkin Park. These bands have been storied a thousand times, and mostly, the conclusion is that they suck. But among all of this, there were a ton of lesser-known bands, many of which slipped under the radar and made great or at least varied and interesting music, including The Union Underground, Static X, Primer 55, Powerman 5000, Mudvayne, Fear Factory and Sepultura. There’s more to the genre than Fred Durst and some guys wearing masks or covered in blood; there is much more.
6. The lyrics:
They told things how they were. Yes, it was direct and blunt, but that takes guts. There are plenty of respected writers who talk about the sordid details as they are, and that gets called “dirty realism,” but nu-metal was the musical version of this. For all the overuse of expletives Nu-metal, the lyrics did a good job of breaking down life issues. Papa Roach went into alcoholism, divorce, feeling down and life problems. Limp Bizkit’s “No Sex” details trying to maintain a sexual relationship long after a breakup; it’s face palm-inducing stuff, but at least points can be given for originality. Just as the world needs indie bands that mumble through obtuse lines that could have been picked at random from a thesaurus, there’s also a place in the world for no-bones, straight-to-the-point frustration. It serves a certain purpose when one is in regression.
7. The vocals:
Trent Reznor compared Nu-metal vocalists to people competing for the cookie monster in Sesame Street auditions. Those are harsh words, Trent. Nu-metal vocalists aren’t for everyone, but the kitchen-sink approach to singing has a charm in its variety.
The harmonious crooning of Deftones singer Chino swims over the waves of crashing guitar noise, giving the music a blissful emotional resonance that’ll send chills down your spine. But, in the next minute, he could be destroying his vocal chords with guttural shreds, laying down some semi-rapped vocals or even talk singing. You might not want all of this, but you get a lot out of the human voice from this genre, and it’s a refreshing reminder of the power of the human voice in a world in which scenes such as chillwave almost made you forget that there are other styles than wailing through reverb.
8. Unintentional humor:
There is a world devoted to so-bad-it’s-good movies, but with music, it’s different.
There are some no-go areas that are seen as so uncool that they don’t get appreciation from even the most ironic of hipsters. Nu-metal is one of them. People=Shit seems like a joke of a title and song, but none of the creators are winking at the camera (or chuckling into the mic) here. It’s all straight faced. When Fred Durst raps, I believe that, in his own mind, he believes he is a talented rap artist. Similarly, when he sings a break-up song and wails that he “should have left my pants on last time,” the pain is real, and the scene probably a true one. Yet it’s ridiculous and amusing and made more so because there is zero self-awareness.
9. The first albums:
So many bands make it big, then use that as a platform to indulge in their experimental tendencies or the music they truly wanted to make, unfettered by the demands of labels or needing to make new fans. But Nu-metal was the opposite. Many bands kicked off their careers with maddeningly experimental, weird releases. Then, they found the Nu-metal formula, sold a ton of records and were afraid to deviate from it, sometimes never again for reasons unknown. Look at Slipknot and its debut LP Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. It was a beast, with unconventional song structures, jazz-inflected guitar riffs and a sense of playfulness and humor totally lacking in its releases. Who knows why these could not have made a return instead of the introduction of emo balladry that killed them off, as far as their musical credibility is concerned. And then there’s Staind, a band that had full-throttle aggro rock firing up their bellies on its releases prior to the durgy Break The Cycle, with its moody, dull acoustic songs garnering them airplay and, again, killing the edgy band it once was. Nu-metal is a genre full of bands that seemed to sell out in the end, but that doesn’t take away from their first albums and the promise they all showed, frustrating as it is.
10. Ridiculous band names:
So many of these band names seem like something an aspiring young musician would find while doing a random Yahoo band name generator search. The excessive use of numbers is a peculiar oddity in this genre; you just don’t see bands with numbers in their names anymore. Some particularly out-there band name examples include Boy Hits Car, Apartment 26, Primer 55, Professional Murder Music, Full Devil Jacket, Slaves on Dope and Relative Ash. As a study of ridiculousness, these names are a fun way to kill a minute or two that even the most fervent of haters can enjoy.