Now, before I get started here, I just want to point out that I am a fairly big nu metal fan and this piece is nothing more than my opinion. I feel the need to say that because nu metal is a bit of a touchy and divisive subject within the metal community. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, nu metal is a subgenre of metal that came out in the mid to late 90s known for combining elements of metal with rap and industrial among other genres. Some of the more popular nu metal bands are Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Deftones.
A lot of metal purists disqualify nu metal from being legitimate because of the hip-hop influences and general deviation from the metal norm. Although nu metal gained a negative reputation because of some of the very forced mainstream attempts, the best nu metal, in my opinion, can be found in underground bands that had little more than niche followings. The best examples were usually found after a little bit of digging, such as bands like 40 Below Summer, Darwin’s Waiting Room, and Pressure 4-5. Nu metal cannot accurately be pigeonholed by looking at bands such as Limp Bizkit or Primer 55.
Despite what others would say, I think that the genre did a lot for the metal community, and for music in general. I mostly listen to rock and metal, everything from nu metal to metalcore to the classics like Maiden and Priest. It’s my main genre, but before anything else, I’m a music fan. I just have a preference for heavier music. My favorite aspect of nu metal is the ability to combine different genres. I think it adds another dimension to the music, leaves more room for experimentation and overall expands future possibilities. Deftones is one of the best examples as they’ve touched just about every genre within rock in the twenty-some years they’ve been together. As much as I love the pure power and aggression of traditional metal, I also love the combined hip-hop beats of nu metal that just make you feel like moving. The experimentation started a bit with Anthrax and Public Enemy, continued with Rage Against the Machine, and fully broke out with Korn in 1994.
A lot of people complain about the lyrics and how “whiney” and “bitchy” they are because a lot of the songs are about childhood issues, for example early work by Papa Roach and much of Korn’s work. I don’t see it as whiney, necessarily. I think it makes it more real. As a lyricist myself, I don’t need to be able to relate to a song personally, but I can get into it if I can tell that it comes from somewhere real. A lot of the songs are about real-life experiences that these guys just needed to vent about somehow. Part of the reason that nu metal gained such a following was because of how relatable it was for people who were going through the same crappy things. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met at concerts who have said something like “(Insert band here) saved my life with (insert song here).” It was an outlet for the artist and it was also something real and relatable that people could hold onto when they needed something to hold onto. Plus, I don’t see what’s so much better about writing lyrics about Vikings and whatever the hell it is Cannibal Corpse is attempting to say over real experiences that people need to vent about. Maybe those subjects are just “more metal” or something, I don’t know.
The stereotype surrounding nu metal lyrics became that of the whiney, “I had a crappy childhood” mold that I just mentioned, but that was not all that the genre had to offer. Once again, a lot of what was found in the mainstream was fairly forced and I blame Limp Bizkit more than anybody for creating this terrible lyrical and musical image. Actually, I blame Fred Durst. Limp Bizkit was not that bad musically. Wes Borland is an awesome musician, Fred Durst is just a gigantic tool that has a complete inability to write anything that’s not douchey. But I digress. Nu metal is a very expansive genre, since anything that sounded remotely similar that came out in those days was labeled as nu metal, so there was a wide range of music. Some of my favorite bands in the genre produced some of the most technical music, instrumentally and lyrically. Two notable examples being Mudvayne and Deftones. If you really sit down and read lyrics written by Chino Moreno and Chad Gray, they can achieve a level of poeticism that I’ve been aspiring to for years, and a lot of the time I can’t even figure out what the song is about which just adds to the allure.
Overall, I think what made people so uncomfortable about this genre was the boundaries that it pushed and transcended. Before then most genres, especially metal, were fit neatly into their own little boxes. Nu metal broke down those boundaries and brought the genres together, upsetting the traditional sense of what metal “should be.” This caused many people to hate it, but it’s the main reason I love it. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it isn’t rock or metal or whatever you want to call it. And in all fairness, I’m not saying that ALL nu metal is great. I’ll be the first one to admit, there’s a lot of nu metal done right, but there’s also a lot done VERY wrong. But I do feel that the good nu metal was drowned out by the bad that was pushed to the front of the mainstream. Sometimes it just takes a little digging.