You can always pinpoint the moment a rumble underfoot becomes a movement. This year, it happened on Saturday July 31, at 6.30pm, at Chicago’s Lollapalooza Festival.
“Let me make this clear,” drawled Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, addressing a huge crowd, dressed like an extra from Starsky & Hutch in 100% polyester, complete with red aviators, a grey mop and a bullhorn moustache. “This is not Woodstock ’99.”
It wasn’t. But as a vitriolic Break Stuff kicked off a pit of moshers that probably weren’t even born when it was initially released, it might as well have been. The streamed set went viral with Fred’s ‘Dad Vibes’ look breaking the internet, causing the band’s song sales to double and brewing a feverish buzz around new album Still Sucks, their first since 2011’s Gold Cobra, which dropped on Halloween. For the first time in forever, a hype had descended on Bizkit that was heavier than mere nostalgia. It was solid proof that nu metal was back.
Really, it was inevitable. Here at Hammer we’ve been banging on about the nu metal revival for the last five years, as we watched bands such as Loathe, Northlane, Cane Hill and Vein tap into its swaggering bounce and downtuned aggression. But it’s only now it feels like we’re properly living in a renaissance, one where the genre’s past and present has coalesced into a new wave that is reconfiguring its legacy.
While stalwarts Korn, Papa Roach and Disturbed have continued to enjoy enduring success, in April 2021, veterans Mudvayne announced they were reforming after an 11-year hiatus and playing a slew of major US festivals. For better or worse, Y2K fashion has started making a comeback, with wallet chains, Matrix-style PVC trench coats and path-sweeping trousers appearing in mainstream stores. And most importantly, we can hear nu metal’s influence running rampant among young bands and artists.
Spiritbox’s big break came with nu metal-influenced rager Holy Roller, while Code Orange’s recent face-kicker, Out For Blood, channels nu metal’s lost gem, Across The Nation by the Union Underground, and sounds like a Wrestlemania theme song to boot. Meanwhile, from Tetrarch to Wargasm, Tallah to Employed To Serve, to Poppy and Nova Twins, a diverse range of artists across the metal spectrum are binning off the original wave’s misogynistic, white-bro hubris for something that pushes the genre forward.
“It’s cool to hear some of those elements creeping back into the music – it legitimises us even more,” says Papa Roach vocalist Jacoby Shaddix, who, last year, teamed up with TikTok creator and rapper Jeris Johnson on a remix of nu metal classic Last Resort. To date, the collab has been viewed more than 7 million times on Youtube, introducing the track to a brand new audience. “I look back on nu metal fondly now, because back in the day I was like, ‘Fuck nu metal, that shit is dead.’ Now I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah. I was one of the OGs!’ We were creating something, a sound that was new and unique and that’s fucking dope. I am so grateful to be part of that story.”
“People who were kids when it was blowing up are starting to peak in their band careers,” says Tetrarch’s lead guitarist, Diamond Rowe. Last year the Atlantans released their second album, Unstable, which put a modern, metallic spin on the nu metal template and saw them emerge as the leaders of the Nu Wave Of Nu Metal. “Bands are finding again the value in melody, big choruses and dynamics in music, and when you look back at some of the biggest bands to do that, they came out of that nu metal era with your Disturbeds and your Linkin Parks. You can talk as much shit about them as you possibly want, but at the end of the day, you can’t deny these bands were huge and they were huge for a reason.”
That old guard has continued to be a huge live draw. “I do a lot of surveying with our festival fanbase,” explains festival owner and booker Danny Wimmer, who last year booked Mudvayne to play Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) festivals across the US, including a headline slot at Inkcarceration Music And Tattoo Festival in Ohio. “Mudvayne kept coming up, year after year, as a reunion that the fans wanted to see.”
While the Dig creators don’t inspire quite the same level of fanaticism over here in Europe, the announcement of their resurrection sparked a metal Twitter meltdown in the US, with Inkcarceration selling out three weeks after the headline announcement – no mean feat in the age of Covid.
“The research said to us they were ready in this market to be a headliner,” Danny continues. “I knew there was so much momentum. This was the first bite of the apple to help position them so, when they came back in 2022 for their headline tour, they would be positioned right.”
While, unsurprisingly, festival line-ups tend to be a numbers game, for Danny, the return of Limp Bizkit and Mudvayne signals something bigger than legacy bands shifting tickets by resting on past success. “This isn’t a nostalgia play, it feels right,” he continues, noting the relevance of nu metal within current pop culture discourse. “You don’t see a lot of bands writing Poison songs today. But with nu metal, you can hear it and you can feel the tones of that genre in current bands.”
Two decades on from its initial reign and given the amount of derision that’s been thrown its way since, it’s easy to forget just how big a deal nu metal actually was. Reaching across pop, rock, metal and hip hop, from 1997-2003 it seeped into every aspect of mainstream culture.
“As goofy as some of the styles were, it was something people could latch on to,” says Diamond. “I know your average metal fan would be like, ‘UUURGH that’s so lame that my rap friend likes this’, but I think that’s super-cool. And that’s why those bands are still so huge and they’re still gaining fans every day.”
In 2000, Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady name-dropped Fred Durst in the same breath as Christina Aguilera. Later that year, Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water sold more than a million copies in its first week of release, with a launch party at the bloomin’ Playboy Mansion.
Now nu metal is bubbling up into the mainstream all over again, in the music of artists – many of whom are women – as diverse as rapper Bree Runway, pop superstar Rina Sawayama, and futuristic genre-mashers Grimes and Poppy, forcing nu metal into the ears of a brand-new generation of fans who are discovering it for the first time.
And it doesn’t get much more mainstream than Eurovision. Last year rock crashed Europe’s annual dairy-fest, with Italian retro-rockers Måneskin seizing the crown. Most surprising, though, were Finnish lifelong nu metal fans Blind Channel, whose raging, Linkin Park-indebted entry, Dark Side, ended up taking sixth place. “We were born and raised with nu metal. Seeing Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit on the television was the start of the musical experience for us,” says vocalist and guitarist Joel Hokka.
“For the past couple of years, we’ve been a big thing on the Finnish rock scene,” continues co-vocalist Niko Moilanen. “But there were times when everybody would say, ‘You’ve got to stop that rapping thing, that ain’t cool.’ Even the big major labels in Finland said that. We said, ‘Fuck no.’ Nu metal is the coolest thing ever, we should just stick to our vision.”
It’s paid off. With more than 45 million streams, Dark Side was the third most streamed song of all 2021’s Eurovision entries. And with their fame having rocketed internationally since the contest, and a deal with Century Media in the bag, Joel and Niko now speak with and exude the kind of unshakeable confidence that made the titans of nu metal such enduring superstars.
“We’re not shy about it, we wanted to hit the fucking mainstream,” continues Niko. “If that means being hated but being super-, super-successful then go on. Fucking hate us. We don’t care. We’re going to do exactly what we have always done.”
With a new crop of artists flying the flag, the likes of Blind Channel, Wargasm and Tetrarch have found themselves as gateway bands for young fans to discover the juggernauts of the genre. “My youngest brother was born in 2005 and after Dark Side he’s slowly realising his big brother is actually becoming a rock star,” says Joel. “He asked me, ‘What is that Linkin Park song you mentioned? My friends are listening to it all the time.’”
The impact is being felt at the top of the festival bills. “When a genre gets so mainstream like hip hop and dance, you need an outlet,” says Danny Wimmer, who’s noticed that nu metal bands such as Korn, Mudvayne and Slipknot, who all played at 2021’s DWP festivals, are attracting a younger audience.
“Sometimes cool can eat itself,” he adds, noting that society at large seems hungry for a taste of counterculture. “Here in the States, you’re seeing more metal t-shirts in a mainstream outlet store than you’re seeing in any genre. They’re impacting the youth. They might not know their music, but they’re going, ‘There’s something cool about that that’s cooler than me wearing a Travis Scott t-shirt.’”
In the end (no pun intended) though, what’s kept nu metal alive is the songs. Gargantuan anthems that continue to resonate and start pits decade after decade.
“There’s multi-levels to Last Resort that makes it connect,” says Jacoby Shaddix. “There’s the surface level, where you can rock out to it in the gym, or you can be at a party and turn up to it. But then you dig in deeper and it’s talking about some really traumatic shit. But the fucking riff, dude, though! That riff, every kid wants to play that on guitar. They love it, they won’t stop and I’m not mad about it.”
“When you hear Rollin’ or Got The Life in any setting today, people go crazy,” adds Danny. “It really is one of the last times we had a moment. A true moment that had a name attached to it. A lot of these nu metal acts you’re talking about are just incredible live performers. They’re really the last of the rock’n’roll, bigger-than-life spirits.”