Nu metal didn't just define a generation of heavy bands: it became a total, all-conquering mainstream phenomenon. Its music dominated the charts; its figureheads were all over TV; its fashion became so iconic that baggy jeans, wallet chains and spiky hair have become in vogue once again over two decades since its heyday.
While nu metal was filled with one-hit wonders, also-rans and bands that should have been massive but just couldn't quite get it together, it undoubtedly still spawned a solid crop of heavyweights that have since gone on to legend status. Whether it's through staying relevant through reinvention or crafting a lasting legacy through the influence of their early work, nu metal's biggest and greatest hitters largely remain as popular now as ever, if not more so. With that in mind, here are the ten finest bands to ever be painted with the nu metal tag (even if, in some cases, the tag itself didn't last all that long).
How can you not include the band that invented nu metal in the first place? While the likes of Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine undoubtedly laid down some of the templates from which countless nu metal bands would pilfer in the years ahead, the boys from Bakersfield crystalised their own influences into something fresh, new and vital that truly felt like the dawn of a new era. From Jonathan Davis' instantly iconic 'Areeee youuuu reaaaddyyyyyy?!' and the explosion of groovy, rumbling riffage that followed on Blind, the anthemic opener to the band's 1994 debut album, it was clear that metal's newest innovators had entered the frame. Korn would continue to evolve over the decades that followed; the fact that they are still putting out top-tier albums almost three decades in is testament to their enduring presence and influence on the genre they established.
If Korn were nu metal's first superstars, then Linkin Park were easily its biggest. Their 2000 debut Hybrid Theory was freakishly successful, shifting more than 20 million copies worldwide and becoming the biggest-selling debut album of the 21st century. The record also helped to cement nu metal as the biggest genre on Planet Earth at the time, while its phenomenal hit-rate of catchy songs and pristine production would be hugely influential to mainstream US rock music moving forwards. Linkin Park's legacy by no means ended there, though: they'd go on to become one of the biggest rock bands of all time, and while nu metal played less of a role in their sound as they evolved, it certainly defined their breakthrough and incredible success early on.
By far the most intense and aggressive thing to emerge from the nu metal explosion, Slipknot's ferocious, furious debut album was unlike anything else in the scene at the time, bolstered by a terrifying, horror-indebted image that made them instant icons in the eyes of millions of maggots in waiting. Incredibly, their second album, 2001's Iowa, would go even heavier and darker than its predecessor, marking them out as Millennial metal's most fearless heavyweight sonic explorers. They never again captured the pure, unbridled chaos of those first two records, but their evolution over the succeeding decades has given them an almighty staying power, ensuring their relevance in an ever-changing metal scene and securing their legacy for all time as one of metal's most important bands.
If any band symbolised nu metal at its most obnoxious, braggadocios and mainstream-invading, it's surely Limp Bizkit. Fred Durst's red cap became as iconic to a generation of young rockers as Slash's top hat had just over a decade earlier, while the success of the band's third album, 2000's Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water, was nothing less than obscene, shifting a million copies in its first week alone. They may have become the poster boys for the backlash that nu metal suffered from traditional metalheads, but the fact that generational anthems like Rollin', Take A Look Around, Break Stuff and My Way are still causing scenes in rock clubs over twenty years after their release tells you everything you need to know about Bizkit's place in heavy metal's great tapestry.
System Of A Down
Of all the metal bands to make it big, you could make a serious case for System Of A Down to be the most unexpected. Mixing scrappy punk riffs with nu metal groove and more than a sprinkling of Middle Eastern instrumentation, their already unique concoction was given extra vitality by politicised lyrics that swerved from deeply profound to dementedly surreal, and some truly incendiary live performances. In Chop Suey!, they crafted not just one of the nu metal era's biggest breakout anthems, but one of the most famous metal songs of all time (a billion streams and counting doesn't lie). It's a shame we've had no new album since 2005, because for a short but crucial period of time, System Of A Down felt like the most vital metal band on Earth.
Like others on this list, it feels a little reductive to just lump Deftones in with nu metal; their sumptuous sonic palette deserves much more than to be pigeonholed in with any genre. Nevertheless, their early run of albums unarguably helped to established many of nu metal's fundamentals, while their skater image hugely influenced rock culture at the time. You'd be hard pushed to find a more perfectly realised album from the early 2000s boom than White Pony, which remains, to many, nu metal's most accomplished artistic statement. They outgrew nu metal pretty fast once the scene started to die out, but at its height, Deftones were arguably the genre's most critically bulletproof songwriters.
Amy Lee has made no secret of her disdain at the record label pressure that lead to a rap being added to the band's breakout single, Bring Me To Life, even if it undoubtedly resulted in the last true nu metal anthem of the early 2000s. The likes of Going Under and Everybody's Fool certainly flirted with nu metal too, even if their gothic overtones and Amy's hauntingly beautiful vocals made them stand well apart from most of the bands that had defined the scene to that point. It means that Evanescence's legacy as far as nu metal goes is a little muddy. What's absolutely not in question, however, is that the band remain one of the era's most successful acts, and a hugely influential presence in the rock landscape of the 2000s and beyond.
Nu metal was a movement full of bizarre gimmicks and colourful characters, but few made as instantaneous an impact as the bald headed fella with the big chin piercings making monkey noises in a straightjacket. Down With The Sickness might have smelt to many like the kind of one-hit-wonder littering the metal scene at the time, but its parent album, The Sickness, was stacked with similarly great songs, and Disturbed successfully rode out nu metal's eventual implosion to stand as one of the most enduring bands of their time. Incredibly, they'd reach a new peak in popularity - 15 years after The Sickness - with the release of their now iconic cover of Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound Of Silence. Who said nu metal couldn't be tender?
Another band who could have easily ended up in the nu metal landfill, Papa Roach seemed destined for oblivion with the release of the disappointing Lovehatetragedy two years after the blockbuster, hits-stacked Infest. Thankfully, they rallied in style, bouncing back with the alt-rock influenced Getting Away With Murder, embracing their glammy side with The Paramour Sessions and ensuring that they never musically stood still from that point on. Now, their influence is as wide as ever; Last Resort will always be their trademark anthem, but they've got a career's worth of plenty more bangers behind them.
It's arguable that were it not for Mudvayne's cartoonish image and the breakout success of Dig, they may never have even been lumped in with the nu metal crowd. Their mixture of spasmodic riffing, polyrhythmic grooves and extreme metal intensity was worlds apart from the bouncing, shameless earwormery of Adema, Taproot, Spineshank et al. Nevertheless, L.D. 50. is rightly regarded as a classic of its time, while the band's side-step into more straightforward, US radio metal-friendly territories as the 2000s progressed ensured they stayed the course as nu metal died out. Their reunion, which has been in full flow since 2021, has brought new appreciation for their work.