For those out of the loop, “Nu Metal” was a subgenre of rock and metal that was popular from around 1995-2003 or so. It’s also earned names like “rap-rock”, “rapcore”, and “funk metal” from fans, and names like “angry white kid metal” and “divorce rock” from haters and dudes trying to be funny.
I know that not everything ages like fine wine. Some things we look back on, and wonder what on Earth did we ever see in them. In the case of the 1990s, it could be a lot of things: Beany Babies, Giggapets (also known as tamagachi), The Spice Girls, Jerry Springer, etc. There was a lot of stuff back then I look back on, and can’t help but laugh at. And while I’m not about to champion nu metal’s superiority to whatever crappy 8-byt dubstep autotuned robot voice nonsense or ukulele playing pansies are popular now, but I really feel like nu metal gets a bum rep nowadays.
A lot of it unfortunately comes from the spokesmen. Thrash metal had acts like Metallica and Megadeth: people who not only pioneered the genre, but continue to withstand the test of time today (even if you hated St. Anger). Progressive rock had iconic bands like Rush, and Queensryche: bands that, while not necessarily popular with EVERYBODY, are popular within their genre. Power metal has legends like Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian, and Stratovarius: individuals that showed the world the benefits of being a virtuoso at your instrument, and well educated in the realms of fantasy. Nu metal… Had Limp Bizkit.
I’ll be the first to admit that thirteen years has done wonders for my opinion of Limp Bizkit’s music, but at the same time, I don’t pretend to forget the past, or abandon common sense. Even at their best, Limp Bizkit was never shakespear. No nu metal band was Shakespear, and you should probably go back to power metal if you want that sort of thing. A lot of the Bizkit could easily be forgiven, though, if Fred Durst himself weren’t such a pain in the ass. I refer you to the legendary feud he had with the vocalist of Creed, and Woodstock99 for starters.
To this very day, I feel like if nu metal had a different spokesgroup, the genre would have a bit of a better reputation. Also, if bands like Linkin Park and Papa Roach, the bridge between nu metal and emo, hadn’t come into existence towards the end.
As a brief aside, though, Papa Roach isn’t the worst band I’ve ever heard. Even when they were straight up rap-rock, they weren’t bad. The one problem Papa Roach will probably never live down is “Last Resort”: a song that, while having the best of intentions, really didn’t age all that well in hindsight. I still feel like they ought to have led with a different song. I’d have gone with “Between Angels and Insects”, which probably laid out the groundwork for my political views in the long run, but I’d have also gone with “Dead Cell”, or the title track to “Infest”. If it weren’t a B-side, I’d even go with “Legacy”. They had so many good songs, and they went with “Last Resort”? Ugh.
Okay, let’s get back on track.
The nu metal genre has many common criticisms.
The first of which, of course, is its simplicity. A lot of nu metal songs take the old saying of “all you need to know in order to rock is three chords”, and pushes it to the limit. Hell, some of the founders of the genre made due with only ONE chord! Are you really going to be mad because someone took your old saying to heart? It didn’t seem to be a problem when AC/DC was putting it to the test. But I guess AC/DC came from the 70s, so that means they’re untouchable. Or at least that’s the attitude around here.
And of course, there’s the popular criticism: all nu metal vocalists are whiners. I’m not going to defend every single nu metal vocalist in the world, because let’s face it, it’s not one-hundred percent unfounded. At best, though, I’d say that applies to the mainstream acts more than to the bands I liked. Linkin Park were whiners. Limp Bizkit could be pretty whiney when they wanted to be. Hell, even Korn, the Metallica of nu metal, were pretty god damn whiney on those first couple albums. But that doesn’t speak for the entire genre.
Whiney vocals aren’t exclusive to nu metal. If anything, they’re exclusive to emo, except they’re not really exclusive. I’ve seen my share of whiners in alternative as well. Some would even say hair metal acts like Poison had their share of whiner moments. “Every Rose Has its Thorn” is probably the whiniest song to come out of that era. Bottom line: whiners will always be around. You just got to sift through the bullshit in order to find good stuff.
People tend to let bands like Limp Bizkit do all the talking for the genre. They need to dig deeper. The sooner you quit giving up at the door, and assuming those guys do all the talking, the sooner you can discover something good. Otep, 3rd Strike, Reveille, Genuflect, Skindred, Trust Company… The list goes on. Though I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion in the end.
I probably sympathize more with nu metal than most because I was living the life back then. I didn’t exactly have a girlfriend who drove me insane with rage with all her bullshit (not until 2004, anyway), but things like dysfunctional families, and directionless rage with no other outlet than just screaming unintelligibly and breaking stuff just cuz is the kind of stuff I’ve gone through. When you’re living the life, suddenly, that whiney bullshit doesn’t seem so whiney anymore.
Also, if you’re a beginner at guitar, nu metal is a fucking godsend. Simplicity may not appeal to you as a listener, but when you’re just learning how to make chords, it feels like you’ve accomplished an amazing feat when you’re able to play anything. As much as I don’t like Linkin Park anymore, I celebrated when I learned how to play “What I’ve Done” on guitar. Too bad I can’t remember how it goes anymore, but that’s beside the point. Once you master something simple like a Korn song, you can move on to something a little more advanced. Like… Oh, I don’t know, how about Jackyl?
Really, though, nu metal was a reflection of the time. Us 90s kids were fucking sick of hair metal. Unlike the hair metal generation itself, we had figured out that dudes with bleach-blonde perms who wore leather and makeup was really, really, super duper gay. Also, six-minute tracks that consisted of two-minutes of song and four minutes of guitar solo… Nuh-uh, not doing it for us. We wanted it simple, we wanted it brutal, and we wanted it vicious. It began as grunge, but eventually found itself incorporating elements of hiphop and rap as it went on. And before we knew it, we had a genre we could be proud of. Up until we hit twenty-five, looked back through our old CDs, and wondered aloud what the hell we ever saw in bands like Dope?
This is all stuff I’ve tackled in my old blog, back when I was writing music reviews and going through my old albums that I’d collected over the years. I’ve said it there, and I’m saying it here: I really think nu metal gets a bum reputation.
It also doesn’t help that metalheads, as much as they probably don’t want to admit it, are some of the most elitist people you’ll probably ever meet. Seriously, dude, metalheads fucking hate everything. Including other metalheads. I ought to know, too. I used to hang out with metalheads back in high school. I even considered myself a metalhead at one point, and to a much lesser extent than back then, I’d say I’m one right now.
But that’s a rant for a whole other day.