Above photos by AlternativeNation.net’s Brett Buchanan and Dustin Halter
When I was thirteen years old, I was still in the honeymoon stage relationship with music. To that point, the music that dominated my CD player (and even my Cassette player) had been a steady dose of mid-90’s pop punk, some grunge and the “alternative” Metallica of the day. But before long, I began a very passionate affair with Nu Metal.
The year was 1999. Nu Metal was absolutely taking the music world by storm. Down tuned guitars, hip-hop drum beats, rapping vocalists and even the presence of a DJ thrown in for good measure defined the sound. Baggy khakis, big tee shirts, dreadlocks, backwards baseball caps, camo shorts and white Adidas shoes with black stripes defined the look. They were loud. They were angry. And they wanted to scream for the whole world to hear, and to drown out the sounds of the rising boy band sensation.
In 1999 alone, Nu Metal flooded the market with albums by Slipknot, 311, Incubus, Rage Against The Machine, Korn and Limp Bizkit. The following year saw huge releases by Deftones, Mudvayne, Disturbed, Papa Roach and the insanely huge debut by Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory. Everywhere you turned, there was Nu Metal to be heard: modern rock radio, Woodstock ’99 and even MTV’s Total Request Live all served up this mish-mash hybrid of hip-hop and metal.
The only thing that happened faster than the explosion of this genre was its disintegration. Like Glam Metal before it, Nu Metal’s shelf life did not live up to other ongoing genres such as punk or traditional metal. Looking back now as a thirty year old with some perspective, the dominance of this genre seems like a flash in the pan… and it kind of was.
While the genre itself didn’t turn out to be as prosperous as it could have or even should have, a good amount of the artists who rose to prominence in this era are still alive and making great music… but not all of them. Some others have all but completely fallen off the musical grid. But why? What made some bands go the distance while others fell to the wayside? Let’s take a look at five Nu Metal bands who have not only sustained their careers, but perhaps have even gotten better as the years have gone by.
If you called Deftones the forefathers of Nu Metal you wouldn’t be wrong. They laid down the blueprint. Chino Moreno’s ability to go from scream to whisper, from rapping to singing is second to none in regards to Nu Metal vocalists. They’ve got the DJ and the down tuned guitars. Deftones debuted in 1995 with Adrenaline and never looked back. Compared to say Limp Bizkit, Deftones never quite reached the commercial heights of the “Nookie” Nu Metalers. But a career is a marathon; not a sprint. 2000’s White Pony put them at the forefront of the genre they more or less created.
But where a band like Limp Bizkit stayed stagnant, relying on nonsensical lyrics and songs devoid of melody and filled to the max with vulgarity, Deftones honed their craft; expanding upon their sonic landscape with each subsequent release. They’ve incorporated dream-pop, trip-hop and straight up metal to offer a richer, more diverse musical palette. Earlier this year, they released eighth album, Gore, to critical acclaim as well as a strong commercial response, proving that sometimes, the original is always the best.
Disturbed released their debut album, The Sickness, in 2000. Fairly or not, the Chicago quartet found themselves lumped in with the burgeoning scene of the time. Disturbed were and are more different than most of the other Nu Metal bands. No DJ. No camo shorts. Their brand of rock incorporated rhythm section heavy syncopated riffs underneath one of the most unique voices of a generation, David Draiman. Another band around this time lumped into this genre, despite not sonically fitting the mold was Godsmack. While they have more or less taken the “AC/DC” approach or releasing the same album over and over, Disturbed has consistently grown and continued to further themselves from the Nu Metal stigma.
Whereas a lot of bands soften up with time, Disturbed went absolutely balls to the wall, becoming a full blown metal outfit. Breaking the cardinal rule of Nu Metal (no Guitar Solos), Disturbed guitarist Dan Donegan unleashed his fretboard fury, proving to be one of the best guitarists in modern music with his face-melting shredding. If you need more proof of Disturbed’s longevity, look no further. With the 2015 release of their sixth album, Immortalized, the band found themselves again atop the Billboard Top 200 album chart for a fifth consecutive time; tying for the record with the Dave Matthews Band and Metallica. The band even experienced a surge of pop radio cross-pollination with their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, which permeated the airwaves in 2016.
In the fall of 2000, with Nu Metal in full swing, Linkin Park released Hybrid Theory. The album was a complete game changer. Certified Diamond by the RIAA for shipments of over ten million, Linkin Park set the commercial bar for not only the genre, but musical acts of the time in general. Every single guitar player I knew in 9th grade was jamming on “One Step Closer.” Yes I was guilty as well. How could you not love it at that time? “SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!” What teenager couldn’t relate to that? Even the 2003 follow up Meteora was a mega success. They have always marched to their own drumbeat. They embraced hip-hop to the max with their 2004 album, Collision Course, where they teamed with hip-hop legend Jay-Z and dabbled in electronica-infused rock with A Thousand Suns and Living Things. 2014’s The Hunting Party was one of the more memorable mainstream rock records of that year, and make no doubt about it, Linkin Park are a hit making machine and have continued to be for nearly two decades.
To the uninitiated, 311 are fondly remembered for their 1995 self-titled album. Featuring the rock radio mainstays “All Mixed Up” and “Down.” No strangers to churning out the hits, 311 has released an impressive fifteen singles to reach the top twenty Billboard Alternative Songs Chart throughout their nearly thirty year existence. To their die-hard fans, and I do mean die-hard, they are less a band and more a way of life. Thriving on positivity, 311 has gained a reputation for being absolute road warriors; known as much for their live performances as for their eleven studio albums. Each summer they hit road with their Unity Tour, playing across the country whether supporting a new album or not. Since the year 2000, the band has celebrating their own musical holiday known as 311 Day. To date, 311 has hosted this event seven times. For this years, the band performed over two days, March 11th (3-11) and March 12th at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Over the course of the day performed an absolutely insane 87 songs. You read that right, 87! 311 are a band who take nothing for granted. And because of that, they have built up a unique, one of a kind career.
Rage Against The Machine
Deftones may be the forefathers of Nu Metal, but Rage Against The Machine are the most transcendent. Echoing bands from the 1960’s, who used music as a platform for change, Rage set themselves far, far apart from all other Nu Metal acts. Bands like P.O.D and Limp BIzkit utilized a DJ. Rage didn’t need to. Guitarist Tom Morello brought a completely unique and fresh take to modern guitar playing; mimicking scratching with nothing more than his guitar and a few effect pedals.
Where a band like Korn sounded angry and admittedly used their early music as a release, Rage spoke for the voiceless; bring social issues to the masses. Not to diminish Korn who have had a long successful career as well, Rage Against The Machine never went on long enough to end up sounding like a parody of themselves. Four albums. Technically only three of original material. They never gave themselves a chance to become redundant. Well, they did have their chance when frontman Zack de la Rocha departed. Instead of getting a Zack knockoff, the band pulled a complete 180 hooking up with then ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell to form the supergroup Audioslave.
The instrumentalists of Rage, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk almost completely reinvented themselves and pushed forward continuing to grow and change all for the better. Nowadays those three are out again doing the work of Rage Against The Machine with Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Public Enemy’s Chuck D in the supergroup Prophets of Rage.
A lot of Nu Metal bands came. Even more went. Music is cyclical. It’s possible that Nu Metal may one day have a revival. But then again it may not. These bands didn’t have to rely on the same old tricks to get the job done. They proved more than one-trick-ponies grabbing a moment and running with it.And that could be the very reason this genre doesn’t come back. Young music fans will gravitate towards these bands and be more than satisfied. You won’t hear a Deftones song or a Rage Against The Machine song and say, “Man, I should go check out these other Nu Metal bands.” Because these bands are not stigmatized with that title. They are just great bands.