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Part of nu-metal's history is that it was huge. The genre didn't just rise just above the surface of the mainstream the way, say, death metal did, it dominated the world, making such epic rock stars of its biggest personalities that even the most talented of its smaller bands were forgotten. But not only was this unfair for those obscure acts, it often worked against the frontrunners, whose massive hit singles overwhelmed their better material.
The truth is that sometimes, the best nu-metal songs were buried in an album's tracklist. And while casual listeners may not know these deep cuts, fans often view them as more vital or powerful than those that made the radio. If those awesome songs had been more popular, the genre might not have been as quickly dismissed by metal purists as it was later on.
Here, then, are 12 of the most underrated tracks in the history of metal's most divisive genre…
1999’s Issues was a crucial release for Korn, following up the mega-popular Follow The Leader and featuring singles like Falling Away From Me, Somebody Someone, and Make Me Bad. But the unsung gem on the record might be Let’s Get This Party Started, a hard-hitting blast placed all the way at track 13. Though a little more structurally straightforward than some of the album’s other songs, it still has everything Korn fans want, with a sing-along quality that feels absent in their more psychological numbers. A shame it never saw major airplay.
While their groundbreaking self-titled 1999 album is definitely still within the genre boundaries of nu-metal, Slipknot were already hinting at their broader metallic horizons in the dark corners of the record. One such cranny is Diluted, which opens with a rabid thrash riff that picks back up in the chorus amid the band’s chunky, mental-asylum psychedelia. Corey Taylor is showing off his lyrical prowess as well, with phrases like 'It itches and seethes, it festers and breathes' exemplifying Slipknot’s in-depth take on filth and instability. A subterranean classic loved by those in the know.
Powerman 5000 are the ultimate example of a nu-metal band who were extra rewarding for those willing to dig past the singles. The Son of X-51 is a bouncy rager with full-on momentum, using simple riffs to powerful effect. Not only that, but the chorus – especially at the track’s close – shows off just how much frontman Spider 1 can growl along with the rest of them. Definitely on the ‘evil disco’ side of things, but not so much that it won’t get a metal crowd leaping into the air.
Taking Over Me might be the most widely-known B-side on this list; though not one of the radio singles from Evanescence’s 2003 debut Fallen, the song is widely known and loved by their fanbase. That makes sense, given its sweeping emotion, earworm chorus, and nuanced vocal performance by Amy Lee (that high note midway through the second refrain – classic!). Not only that, but Taking Over Me sees the band going more goth than rap-rock, paving the way for the genre niche they would eventually champion.
Sweat Of The Bud feels written for a soundtrack. The song's steady, churning rhythm and limited lyrics gives it a pneumatic quality to it, making it an excellent song to have on in the background while working out or driving on the highway. In this way, it ties into Static-X’s eternal appeal, that mixture of pounding energy and slightly spacey melody that makes them feel like a band designed for a specific type of mood. Try not bobbing up and down in your seat while this one’s on.
Puerto Rico’s Puya were one of the nu-metal era’s oft-forgotten children, with more focus being put on their Spanish lyrics than their music. But Retro from the band’s 1999 sophomore album Fundamental is as multi-faceted a piece of rap-metal as has ever existed. At times both proggy and absolutely punishing, Retro is one of those tracks that takes multiple left turns throughout but leaves the listener feeling satisfied with the overwhelming whole. The tension break that occurs at the completion of the pre-chorus is the kind of song dynamic that metal bands only dream of.
Dope’s power was always their inherent grime, a sense of street-level realness that many bands of the era gave up for rock-star polish. One Fix sees them cashing that chip in via a chuggy, sneering track about scoring your next dose that never ventures intro traditional rap-rock territory. The central riff is catchy as hell, the lyrics are sardonic and at times hilarious, and the overall atmosphere is one of neon reflected in a piss puddle. Rarely does a band encapsulate their whole thing into one single track.
There was a reason Limp Bizkit and bands like them blew up in the late-’90s, and Trust? is a sonic representation of that. While nu-metal often feels like a set of genre boundaries today, this track is totally unpredictable, bringing a furious agro edge to even its more hip-hop oriented moments. Wes Borland’s guitar work throughout is punchy and bizarre, evoking everyone from Sublime to Slayer. Of course, it’s exactly the vulgar, unhinged fury which makes Trust? special which kept it from becoming a radio hit.
Writing an album to follow-up 2001’s Sinner was a tough task for Drowning Pool; doing so after losing vocalist Dave Williams to heart failure was just brutal. But while 2004’s Desensitized didn’t deliver a track as widely adored as Bodies, its closing number Hate is a banger with a solid groove at its core. The best part comes with the closing bridge, which builds to a sweaty crescendo where singer Jason Jones shouts, 'Raise your fist and say…' before the dam breaks. This may be the final song on an overlooked album, but nothing sounds quite as good while doing donuts in the parking lot.
Nu-metal’s most valuable asset is how good it sounds when you’re angry, and no band could write a tantrum anthem like Godsmack. Sure, it's obvious why I Fucking Hate You off of 2003’s Faceless didn’t see major airplay – it has ‘fuck’ in the fucking title – but there are few tracks as perfect for chewing on a photo of your ex as this one. Opening with a guitar gut-punch, the track delivers on its name, closing with an echoed chant of 'Fuck you!' amidst a flood of chocolaty grooves. Not to be listened to while operating an automobile, for the safety of those around you.
Disturbed’s career-defining album The Sickness is loved all the way through by fans, but Fear rarely gets the lip-service that Down With The Sickness and Stupify do. The track has some of David Draiman’s best rhythmic lyrics in its chorus, and the bridge sections in which he screams 'Fear awaken!' loom in a way that nu-metal wasn't exactly known for. The end product is frenetic, oddly epic, and overall worthy of as much praise as its more famous brethren.
So many nu-metal bands tried to cover rap songs, but Florida’s Nonpoint might have been the only one who truly succeeded. The band’s Tribute is a medley of three classic hip-hop tracks – Slick Rick’s Children’s Story, Busta Rhymes’ Woo Ha!! Got You All In Check, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man – that does each of the songs justice while never skimping on the metallic side of things. This reaches a fevered pitch as the song comes to a clunky, alt-metal finish. This might be what rap-rock was meant to be all along.
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
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