Nu metal’s heyday seems like a fragmented memory. After its decline through the mid-2000s in the wake of third-wave emo and the metalcore boom, the genre’s growth became stagnant, save a few massive names who clawed their way out of the pit in time. Two decades down the line and ‘nu core’ is breathing new life into the genre – just with less of the baggy pants and liberal use of hair gel. That’s where we find Pennsylvania’s Tallah, who are taking nu core by the helm in an effort to “make metal disturbing again”, in the words of vocalist Justin Bonitz.
“When you look at what happened back in the 70s, 80s and 90s compared to what’s going on now, metal definitely used to be a lot more twisted, edgy and frickin’ crazy,” he says. “We want you to feel uncomfortable. If you’ve ever seen The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, that’s the same way I want people to feel when they listen to our music. I don’t want them to be scared; I want them to be so disturbed that they feel depressed, like, ‘Oh, I need a shower…’”
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Nu core, as the name suggests, is the lovechild of nu metal and hardcore. Justin cites the band’s influences as Slipknot, Linkin Park, Korn and System Of A Down, but also Code Orange, From Fire Of The Gods and Knocked Loose. He even argues that late 2010s emo rap and trap metal have helped “bridge the gap” for the next cycle of nu metal, because “all of a sudden you’ve got all these people who want rap in their metal, or screaming in their rap, and then it’s just like, ‘Boom! Nu metal!’”
The four-piece formed in 2018 when drummer Max Portnoy (son of former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy) found Justin from his acclaimed YouTube career as Hungry Lights. Justin had amassed more than two million views on his ‘How To Scream (10 Different Techniques)’ video, even if it taught him the perils of being an ‘internet personality’.
“The biggest thing that I learned [from YouTube] is probably when not to say anything,” says Justin. “Everybody has an opinion and is an elitist. There is no respect online. It’s weird being that accessible because, in a way, it breeds disrespect.”
Nu metal’s return is being met with an unexpectedly warm welcome. Even in its prime years, the genre was often labelled as metal’s cringy younger brother, so its sudden rebirth and admiration amongst younger musicians might come as a shock. Justin, however, argues that nu metal is one of the more sustainable genres because “it’s just got a little bit of everything.” He says, “You’ve got your groovy riffs, your screaming, but then you’ve also got a little bit of rap and these catchy choruses. It’s [also] something that non-metal people can still enjoy listening to.”
Nu metal’s reception might also wash down differently now it’s become widely accessible – and easier to make than ever. “I think that it’s definitely going to be very, very different this time around,” says the vocalist. “It’s not just streaming [giving people access to the music]. You have artists who can write, record and engineer their own stuff from their house. Back in the day, you had to go on Myspace or you had to go on LimeWire or Pirate Bay or something like that. It was like, ‘These are the exclusive places if you want to get free music.’ But now, artists put their stuff out there for free for you to come to find them.”
Tallah strive to be as off-the-wall as possible – and we mean that literally. Justin was arrested at one of his own shows last year for climbing on venue equipment and fighting security.
“That is the first time that that has ever happened,” he chuckles. “We didn’t really know what was going on. We always climb on stuff and we’ve never gotten in trouble for it; that’s just what we did ever since the beginning. We assume that when a venue books us they know what they’re getting in for.”
It’s all nothing too out of the ordinary for a Tallah show; relocating a busted shoulder mid-set, dodging pit warriors with karate moves or, erm, dressing up as a businessman and selling pitches between songs is just scratching the surface of some of the things that have been seen at their gigs.
“I think more metal bands need to be unafraid to push boundaries,” Justin admits. “I’d like to see more people putting on a full show and not just getting onstage and playing in jeans; when we first started, I went out there and was performing in a French maid outfit! Max was specifically looking for members who are not afraid to go nuts, get hurt, get hit in the face with somebody else’s guitar, fall off a stage, get arrested… he sought people who are going to take it to the next level and not just stand there and play music.”
Like the very best nu metal bands that came before them, Tallah reject any sign of normality.