A beginner's guide to nu metal in five essential albums

The album covers for Significant Other, Korn and White Pony
(Image credit: Limp Bizkit / Korn / Deftones)

Love it or hate it, you couldn't ignore it: nu metal was the genre that brought heavy music to a whole new generation of fans, dominating the mainstream in a way no alternative genres had before or ever have since. Be it Hybrid Theory becoming the biggest selling debut album of the 21st century or Fred Durst doing inexplicable collabs with Christina Aguilera, nu metal helped rock music become a mainstream phenomenon come the turn of the century, bringing us some classic albums, generational rock club dancefloor fillers and a host of kooky and colourful characters in the process.

With the likes of Wargasm, Tetrarch, Tallah and Death Blooms sparking a new wave of nu metal in recent years and Limp Bizkit, Korn and Papa Roach still filling arenas, the popularity of the genre remains in rude health. Here, however, are the five records that have charted nu metal's journey the most.

Metal Hammer line break

Korn - Korn (1994)

While the righteous groove and hip hop-indebted thrust of Rage Against The Machine and genre-mashing, boundary-smashing genius of Faith No More were hugely influential in crafting nu metal's DNA, the ground zero for the genre remains right here, on October 11, 1994, with the release of Korn's seminal, incendiary debut album. Be it the gutturul, rumbling riffs of Head and Munky, Fiedly plucking bass strings so loose he could use them as shoe laces or the raw, pained growls of Jonathan Davis, musically it was a jarring shot in the arm for a metal scene still finding its way in the 90s. Lyrically, it brought an introspective, achingly candid new bent to a world usually concerned with fantastical escapism or bug-eyed, macho posturing. Metal would never be the same again, and Korn's status as godfathers of a whole new movement was sealed.

Limp Bizkit - Significant Other (1999)

Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water might have turned Limp Bizkit into the biggest band on the planet, but 1999's Significant Other was the record that confirmed them as nu metal's next major force. Roping in Terry Date to give Bizkit's sound a stadium-level overhaul, the Floridians' classic second album gave us two obnoxious, all-time anthems in Nookie and Break Stuff, kicking the door open for 'normies' to embrace heavy music in a way that even The Black Album hadn't managed. Traditional metal fans were horrified at seeing their scene co-opted by baseball cap-donning jocks (something frontman Fred Durst was similarly unimpressed by), but it was too late: nu metal had officially broken into the mainstream, and in Durst, it had elected a figurehead that'd personify the genre's cartoonish final form.

Slipknot - Slipknot (1999)

Just one week after Limp Bizkit brought fun and frolics to nu metal like never before, a nine-piece, masked metal band from Des Moines, Iowa, would bring it back to its dark roots with a savagely heavy album that turned the game on its head. Taking nu metal's propulsive groove and burgeoning embracement of electronic and hip hop elements and injecting it with swathes of sludge, hardcore and death metal riffage, Slipknot proved the genre could still feel genuinely edgy and, at points, straight-up terrifying, while nu metal's producer-in-chief, Ross Robinson, completed an unholy hat trick after already introducing the world to Korn and Limp Bizkit. Slipknot would quickly outgrow nu metal, but not before dragging it down to the depths of brutality.

Deftones - White Pony (2000)

Much like Slipknot, to try and snugly crowbar Deftones into nu metal does them a disservice, but the fact is that their chunky, catchy riffs and sense of groove made them strike an immediate chord with many of the same fans who lost their shit upon hearing Korn for the first time. That, plus Chino et al having a lot to answer for when it came to nu metal's undeniable symbiosis with skater culture. When it comes to the genre's moments of pure, musical genius, however, few stand up to the magnificence of White Pony, an album whose dynamics and Terry Date-indebted production were so ahead of its time that over two decades later it still sounds like it could have been recorded last week. A generation on, its influence is undeniable; this was the moment where nu metal made its true, lasting artistic statement.

Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory

Where Korn were nu metal's innovators and Deftones its critical darlings, Linkin Park were the band that became the scene's single biggest and most impactful graduates. The stats around Hybrid Theory are dizzying: 30 million copies sold, literal billions of streams to its name in the digital era. Musically, the album remains a perfect 10, a seamless 38 minutes of hook-riddled, anthemic millennial metal bangers; the likes of In The End and Crawling are songs that defined a generation, while even the record's 'deep cuts' elicit delirious responses and flawless sing/rap-a-longs when played live. Elitists might not be happy about it, but the facts remain: no metal album of the last 25 years has a pop culture footprint like Hybrid Theory

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He is also probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.