The History Of Nu Metal In 8 Songs

Nu metal stars System Of A Down
System Of A Down: one of the bands that built nu metal
(Image: © George De Sota\/Redferns)

Take a step back to the start of the century when spiky red hair, band hoodies and shouting at her parents were all the rage as we run through the essential guide to the opinion-splitting subgenre of nu-metal.

Korn – Blind (1994)

That ride cymbal setting an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, those sudden and abrasive guitars scything into your ears and heightening your paranoia levels, the second guitar bringing the brawn to let you know all hell is about to break loose and then “ARRRRE YOU READYYYYYYYY?!” The opening track on Korn’s debut album is the Black Sabbath of nu metal, a song so huge it didn’t just change this band’s career but the trajectory of heavy music for an entire generation.

Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots (1996)

A band that came from the fiercest thrash roots imaginable embraced the sound of the nu generation and, in 1996’s Roots, made an album packed full of anthems for the ages in the process. Roots Bloody Roots had bowel-disturbing low end guitars tuned down to the Nth degree and a hypnotic lead riff that’s built as much on following the beat as it is providing the melody. The fact a band that began life as an underground extreme metal band had embraced the sound of nu metal provided an essential shot of credibility for the fledgling genre.

System Of A Down – War? (1998)

For all of the crowing about Limp Bizkit’s cartoonish approach, Kid Rock dicking around with a dwarf in a Stetson and everything about Coal Chamber, nu-metal did occasionally produce something that deserved critical gravitas. System Of A Down packaged the apocalyptic rage of Jello Biafra, club-ready nu-metal bounce, a fierce political agenda and Eastern influences to create a sound that hadn’t been heard before or replicated since. Everything System Of A Down ever did was pulled off with integrity, class and conviction. Nearly 20 years later, we still want a new SOAD album.

Slipknot – No Life (1999)

The other major accusation thrown at nu-metal was that it just wasn’t heavy enough. Slipknot totalled that notion in 1999. Pulling in extreme metal influences, a vocal approach that was pure fire and so much percussion that it felt like the third battalion were going off in your ear. Slipknot’s heavier take on nu-metal threw a hard right hand at the notion that it was a genre for people that didn’t understand tr00 metal.

Crazy Town – Butterfly (1999)

The moment nu-metal jumped the shark so hard that it ended up in orbit. Nu-metal was a genre that had it’s tongue buried in it’s cheek and was prepared to never take itself too seriously but when Crazy Town scored a number one single with the kind of cringe worthy shit that could be a Robin Thicke song, everyone was offended. People that liked nu-metal and people that hated nu-metal could agree that this joke wasn’t funny anymore but Crazy Town’s number one lives long in the memory for all the wrong reasons… kind of like the way people still talk about David Arquette winning the WCW title.

Papa Roach – Last Resort (2000)

Nu-metal had a penchant for talking about having a fucked up childhood and living in a world that seemed to be devoid of all hope. If there was a soundtrack for that narrative, Papa Roach had them in their droves on their breakthrough album, Infest. Last Resort is not only one of the best club tracks of all time that is powered by the best Iron Maiden riff not accredited to Iron Maiden, it captured everything that bands in the post-Cobain world were tapping into.

Linkin Park – One Step Closer (2000)

The out-of-the-gates success of Hybrid Theory made Linkin Park a household name from the start, setting the band off on a roll that would see the album become one of the biggest selling rock albums of the past 20 years. Was it metal? Well, you couldn’t put them on at Wacken, that’s for sure. It’s definitely the closest to pop music that metal has ever become but to deny the songs that can still make 80,000 people at Donington lose their minds would be nothing short of ridiculous. Don’t be ridiculous. You dick.

Limp Bizkit – Rollin’ (2000)

If there was an image that springs to mind for Christmas, it’d probably be Father Christmas chilling with some elves and snowmen and living the life on milk and cookies. If nu-metal had an image, it’d be Fred Durst in his backwards red baseball cap, doing the Rollin’ dance and surrounded by dancers doing it like we’ve all done a million times after too many double vodkas. Gloriously and wilfully obnoxious at all times and with a Greatest Hits selection that will take the party challenge with any band you want to mention, Limp Bizkit will always be the jewel in the nu-metal crown.