The most exciting new sound of 2020 is… nu metal

(Image credit: Jeremy Saffer/Press)

Nu metal died in 2003 but it never really went away.

It had barely pulled up its baggy pants and slouched off into obscurity when it turned around and decided it wanted to make a comeback. In 2009, Download had half the Family Values Tour 1999 line-up on the bill. Then in 2016, just as nu metal pioneers Korn returned to their old-skool sound with Serenity Of Suffering, Cane Hill made a stuttering attempt at a renaissance with swaggering debut album Smile - though they’d backed away from it by 2019’s Kill The Sun EP.

All false starts. But now, as a whole new crop of bands are twisting the music of their formative years into original shapes, it feels like something solid yet disparate is coalescing – something more than mere nostalgia. On their 2018 debut, ErrorzoneVein’s fragmented hardcore drew just as much blood from Korn and Slipknot as it did from Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan. Blood Youth, genre-hoppers Ocean Grove, Shvpes and visionaries Loathe have all tapped into the raw spirit of nu metal on recent releases. And last year, Northlane abandoned the angular djent of their earlier material in favour of distorted guitars on Alien.

For Diamond Rowe, lead guitarist in US upstarts Tetrarch, nu metal represented her gateway into heavy music. “I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort for bands to bring back nu metal as much as it is bring in the influences of what got them into wanting to play music,” she says down the phone from her hometown in Atlanta Georgia. “A lot of people who grew up on it are now in emerging bands.”

Another band reimagining the template is Boston’s Tallah. Founded by drummer Max Portnoy (son of ex-Dream Theater man Mike Portnoy) and loose cannon vocalist Justin Bonitz, (who’s better known for showing off his erratic, Patton-esque vocal range on Youtube under the moniker Hungry Lights), their chaotic, self-styled ‘nu-core’ take nods to hardcore bands like Varials and Knocked Loose, deathcore, tech death and even prog.

“I know Max would hate me for saying it, he doesn’t want anything to do with prog,” says Justin. “He wants to walk in his own shoes, but I can hear it. We have songs in 7/8 and these other weird time signatures. The influence is definitely there.”

Justin believes that nu metal’s influence might have extended outside the heavy realm altogether. “One of the biggest reasons that there is a revival is because of artists like Scxrlxrd and XXXTentacion,” he says, suggesting the original scene’s fascination with hip hop has come full circle, to shape the zeitgeist. “These trap metal artists; they’re rappers but they’re screaming. Then you’ve got metal bands that are rapping, so people are swapping back and forth. I saw Ghostmane played with Code Orange and I thought, ‘That’s weird’, but at the same time, it’s not. The genres are starting to come together.”

On Tetrarch’s single, I’m Not Right, Diamond makes her inspirations known in her creepy, Korn-influenced leads, although the band have also assimilated inspiration from the rippling solos and blow-chunks-out-of-the-floor mentality of Parkway Drive, Lamb Of God and Gojira.

“ You hear one song and you think you have the record figured out,” she says on the band’s diversity. “We have a lot of nu metal elements, but we have some songs on the record that are super modern metal songs. It’s really hard to put us in a box.”

Of course, the orignal nu metal movement had more than its fair share of problematic qualities. In the end, when the genre died its undignified death, it was by its own hand, throttled by hubris, overexposure, flagrant testosterone, and misogyny. Recognising the questionable cod-philosophies that plagued the scene the first time around, Justin admits he is worried that people might consider Tallah’s upcoming debut, Matriphagy, a concept album about an overbearing mother who is murdered by her son, a return to the same woman-hating lyricism we saw during nu metal’s first reign.

“I always write from a place of fiction,” he replies when we question this, arguing the nuances of the plotline which, he says, was inspired by the lyrics to A Perfect Circle’s track, Pet. “It’s like a Bates Motel situation where it’s like, ‘Is it his fault, or the mother’s fault?’

For Diamond, nu metal’s resurgence presents an opportunity to cut away the rot. “I think that the presence of me in Tetrarch shifts what a lot of women may think this genre [is] all about,” she suggests. “I am 100% a strong woman, but I get on stage and play with strength and confidence, just like the boys. There's nothing wimpy about what I do, and I think that females can really feel included because of that. They don’t feel like they have to conform to any standard in our world.”

Despite the derision fired at it over the years, nu metal’s longevity is no longer a surprise. Now, almost two decades since its initial demise, it has risen again to fire the imaginations of a new generation, who are pushing its legacy in a brand-new direction. “I’m honoured to be in that genre,” says Justin. “Most of the bands people love from the 90s are still killing it now. We’re not ashamed of being nu metal.”

Dannii Leivers

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.