Slayer are reuniting to headline Louder Than Life festival
A reformed Slayer will top the bill at this year's Louder Than Life, alongside Slipknot, Korn and Mötley Crüe.
People love to scoff at nu-metal, but that's a little unfair. The in-your-face sub-genre’s importance in revitalising interest in heavy music in the dreary post-grunge mid-’90s cannot be overstated. Let's be real, purists: most of you (all of you) wouldn't be into heavy music today were it not for the on-ramp provided by Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and their myriad of goatee-d cohorts back in the day. Nu-metal was heavy music's gateway drug, and while today you might only listen to first pressings of Sunn O))) records and Darkthrone demos, we know – and you know – that at one point in your life you were sure that Mudvayne invented music and Osiris D3s were the only shoes available.
In the name of good memories and good fun, we’ve dug out our hair bleach, wallet chains, JNCOs and confused adolescent rage to take a dive back into the sub-genre with this, our definitive ranking of the best nu-metal albums of all time. Arrre yoooou reaaaady?!
For some reason, the debut LP from nu-metal survivors Disturbed seems to have dropped out of the nu-metal discussion. Unjustifiably so. Given, there are industrial levels of cringe on display on lead single Stupify ('All the people in the left wing, fuck! And all the people in the right wing, fuck!') and amongst the hosed-on synths of The Game. But, boasting David Draiman’s unapologetic bombast on highlights like Voices, over five million sales in the U.S. and the genre-trampling dominance of Disturbed that followed, forgetting The Sickness would be a hell of an omission. Oh, yes, and there’s that hit single, too. All together now: 'Oh, ah, ah, ah, ah! Oh, ah, ah, ah, ah – oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh!' Nu-metal at its most ingeniously absurd.
Although a legion of fans were hooked by the inspired cover of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, there’s an awful lot more to this sophomore LP from the Californian collective. Toying, again, with the idea of an early-career best-of (their debut was audaciously titled Greatest Hits), other highlights included the playful pop-rock (and superb music video) of Movies and the smashing Attitude. Wish also appeared on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 soundtrack: the ultimate in millennial cultural immortality. Interestingly, alongside So-Cal buddies Papa Roach, Alien Ant Farm also formed an integral part of nu-metal’s strange fixation on insectoid imagery. *CROTCH GRAB. SCREECH. WINDOWS EXPLODE.*
If the idea of Christian nu-metal seems unspeakably naff nowadays, that’s an unfair reflection of how – ahem – alive P.O.D. (Payable On Death) seemed when they first broke onto the scene. Brandishing a sense of open-wound honesty that saw them deal with subjects as troubling as school-shootings and bereavement – and, brilliantly, opting to refer to Jesus simply as ‘Jah’ – the San Diegan quartet pumped fresh lifeblood into the flagging nu-metal machine with this second major label offering. Sure, they also helped shift the genre towards the bland wasteland much of American alt. metal that would inhabit for the remainder of the ’00s, but tracks like Youth Of The Nation, Boom and the aforementioned, utterly bulletproof Alive were breathtakingly anthemic taken on their own affirmative terms.
Situated at the crossroads where nu-metal and the emergent NWOAM (New Wave Of American Metal) converged, the second LP from Ohioan heavyweights Chimaira proved an immense, timely display of shock and awe. Lashing in elements of groove, death and thrash metal, there’s more aggression and less bounce on show across these twelve tracks than on 2001 debut Pass Out Of Existence (and the rest of this list). Regardless, from the industrial-tinged mania of Cleansation via Pictures In The Gold Room’s atmospheric strangeness to angsty chuggathon Down Again, there was still a shedload of the attitude, esoteric influence and swagger of the scene that bred them.
These days Sevendust might’ve faded towards a sort of beige ubiquity, but it’s impossible to overstate the surge of excitement this inspired debut generated on release. Built on the pounding charisma of frontman Lajon Witherspoon, the spring-loaded strut pulsing through bangers like anti-racist tirade Black and twisted ballad Bitch, and their ability to combine the stadium grandeur of Metallica with the crossover cutting-edge of Faith No More/Living Colour, the Atlantan quintet were breaking into brilliant, uncharted territory. Welding together tribal rhythms and juddering robotic implacability on Terminator and conjuring the chaotic darkness of addiction on Wired, too, they proved themselves capable of channelling deep-set trauma into some genuinely thrilling sounds.
For better or worse, nu-metal marked metal revolution in many senses. Even still, it never proved capable of breaking down the boys club of old. One excellent exception to that rule was Canadian all-female outfit Kittie. Built around the core duo of sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander – who were 17 and 15 respectively on this debut LP’s release – the Ontario quartet traded in a pulse-quickening combination of snarling riffage and punkish attitude (a blend of Korn’s heaviosity and the riot grrrl attitude of Hole and L7) and lyrics dealing with sexism, hatred, ignorance, betrayal and bullying. Song titles like Suck, Spit, Get Off (You Can Eat A Dick) and Do You Think I’m A Whore bristle with unequivocal provocation. That fits perfectly.
Initially referred to as 'spookycore' and oft-derided in the years since, it’s difficult now to appreciate the impact Coal Chamber had on their first arrival. All neon dreadlocks, face-paint and cyber-goth aesthetic, the LA quartet pre-empted the arrival of outfits like Slipknot, marrying feelings of personal anguish to slab-heavy catharsis, then filtering the lot through an absurdist nightmare lens. Sure, songs like Loco and Big Truck boast only a one-dimensional chug when held up against the tortured dynamism of some of the bands they helped inspire. And, yes, frontman Dez Fafara was quick to move away from this musical adolescence in favour of the more ‘grown-up’ metal of Devildriver. But let’s not be too quick to dismiss this integral stepping stone – especially when it still packs such a punch…
“Wait. What?! Machine Head aren’t a nu-metal band?!?!” That’s true, but the Oakland warriors bit into the genre hard with their uber-divisive third LP. The furious groove-metal of Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change… already boasted some shared DNA with the emergent sub-genre, but on The Burning Red they went all-in. From the eye-watering haircuts to Robb Flynn’s experimentation with orange tracksuits and PVC it’s understandable that the metal purists had their backs up before ever hearing a note (particularly at a time when Machine Head were supposed to be amongst the genre’s last traditionalist defenders). Still, from their bemusing cover of The Police’s Message In A Bottle to the slamming rap-rock of From This Day there’s still a lot to wrap(-rock) your ears around here.
Produced (along with several others on this list) by RATM favourite and frequent Biffy Clyro collaborator 'GGGarth' Richardson, there’s absolutely none of those bands’ considered subtlety, outside-the-box invention or delicious diversity in evidence on LA quartet Spineshank’s sophomore release. Instead, we get a high-octane ram-raid through the heavy-industrial end of the nu-metal spectrum: the kind of sounds equally capable of levelling rock club dancefloors and getting cyber-goth gatherings sweating out through their gas masks. Tellingly-titled tracks like Synthetic, (Can’t Be) Fixed and Cyanide 2600 might be openly derivative of 100-odd bands that had gone before, but the pedal’s pressed so hard to the metal here that there’s hardly time to notice.
Illinois metallers Mudvayne could be defined by their shifting eras and imagery. If that’s the case, the nightmare carnival aesthetic of L.D. 50 should be acknowledged as perhaps their most interesting moment. Watching back the music video for slamming lead single Dig, it’d be all too easy to discount the quintet – like many did at the time – as a gang of clowns. Dig deeper, though, into the schizoid atmospherics of -1 or the ravenous tumult of Death Blooms, and its easy to pick out elements of the math-metal experimentalism that would mark them out as a musical force of nature in the years to come. No laughing matter, indeed.
Nu-metal, understandably, proved to be an almost-exclusively American phenomenon. The unashamed angst, OTT bombast and complete lack of self-awareness simply weren’t part of the European disposition. Fronted by County Tipperary native Brian ‘Yap’ Barry, however, and featuring drummer Martin Davies and bassist Glenn Diani from Gibraltar (alongside English guitarist Massimo Fiocco), London-based firestarters One Minute Silence ensured that the mania bridged both sides of the Atlantic. Featuring a potent political message that harked back to the early rap-metal rhetoric of Rage Against The Machine, tracks like Stuck Between A Rock And A White Face, A More Violent Approach, Norfuckinmality and For Want Of A Better World were as much about injecting ideas into young minds as putting bounce in the mosh pit.
Given, Sepultura followed Korn’s example, breaking through to major mainstream success with the downtuned, tribal-influenced brilliance of 1996’s Roots. It wasn’t until Max Cavalera sensationally splintered off from his original outfit, though, that he fully embraced the bounce. Taking his new band’s name from 1997 Deftones’ collaboration Headup and roping in a rogues gallery of faces from the scene – Deftones’ Chino Moreno, Limp Bizkit beefcakes Fred Durst and DJ Lethal, Fear Factory's Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares – the plan was clear. Its execution – in the likes of incendiary opener Eye For An Eye, the tribal strangeness of Umbabarauma and hyper-aggressive explosion No – proved that the old master was able to mix things up just as well as the young guns. Better dreadlocks, too…
Cursed by the inevitable Slipknot comparisons, nu-metal’s other masked maniacs Mushroomhead never really stood a fair chance. Although the Cleveland octet were never going to challenge Slipknot’s unhinged early serratedness (or their later stadium supremacy), they certainly never deserved to be sidelined in the way that has transpired. Although there’s a whole chest of nuggets to be dug up with a trawl through the back-catalogue we’d recommend starting with this fourth of their seven albums to date: from the grungy Sun Doesn’t Rise to the slamming Kill Tomorrow, a genre mash-up encompassing thrash, doom, industrial, alt, prog, hip-hop and goth that somehow manages to be both coherent and compelling.
Almost as towering as frontman Wayne Static’s hairdo, the debut LP from Californian masters Static-X (named, oddly, after author Michael Lesy’s non-fiction chronicle of the harshness of 19th century Midwestern rural life) sits centrally in the sweet spot between industrial danceability and nu-metal aggression. Almost cyborg-like in their precision and unstoppable sense of purpose, tracks like Push It, I’m With Stupid and Bled For Days saw Static-X take the base components already patented by Fear Factory, Skinny Puppy and Ministry, galvanise them in a vat of syncopated riffage and supercharge the results to spectacular effect. Wayne’s tragic death in 2014 adds an additional layer of strange, sad poignancy to what’s already a classic album.
In one sense, Limp Bizkit’s third LP marked the absolute nadir of the nu-metal phenomenon. A whole set of liner notes’ worth of utterly bewildering lyrical choices ('Ben Stiller, you are my favourite motherfucker…'? 'Hey kid, take my advice: YOU DON’T WANT TO STEP INTO A BIG PILE OF SHIT'?!?!) That MTV VMA performance of Livin’ It Up where Fred Durst joined Christina Aguilera onstage. An album title that literally refers to a human anus. Even still, this is the record so many people look back on as an encapsulation of the era (CS&THFW set a new sales record for a rock band) and wonder, ‘What the fuck were we thinking?’ Plus, with maximum-impact tracks like My Generation, Rollin’ and Take A Look Around still detonating venues and rock club dancefloors around the world, it’s not exactly easy to forget. There’s an argument that their 1997 debut Three Dollar Bill Y’all$ (or even 1999’s Significant Other) are the better Bizkit albums. But Starfish is unquestionably the height of the Jacksonville rednecks’ powers. Sorry, not sorry.
Deftones are another outfit to spectacularly transcend nu-metal. Rather than progressing in baby steps away from their angsty, neon-daubed genesis, however, the Sacramento geniuses are in a state of perpetual evolution – to the extent that, held up against Around The Fur, 2012’s Koi No Yokan and 2016’s Gore could be the work of a completely different band. ATF was, in itself, an evolutionary step; 1995’s Adrenaline had established the band’s potential, but this was the moment they revealed their musical audacity – incorporating shades of hardcore grit, alt.rock and even the ethereal dreaminess of outfits like The Cure. White Pony would arrive three years later to carry them to another level again, but the nosebleed impact of tracks like Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) and the still-untouchable My Own Summer (Shove It) guarantee this will never wear out.
Such has been the enduring quality of Slipknot since their initial emergence – without huge levels of stylistic change – that many fans seem reluctant to acknowledge their part in the nu-metal phenomenon. Joey Jordison even argued that their roots lay more in death and thrash and, with 2001’s Iowa, the levels of extremity did genuinely transcend. But true genre aficionados can’t ignore this lacerating debut LP’s links to the likes of Korn, Coal Chamber, Deftones and even Ohioan weirdos Mushroomhead. From the distended oddness of 742617000027 through the stadium-baiting extremity of Wait And Bleed to the genuine, breathy creepiness of Prosthetics, this is the sound of nu-metal with jump cables clamped to its nipples, a shot of adrenaline punched directly into its heart.
Released on September 4, 2001 and topping the U.S. Billboard Chart at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, System Of A Down’s sophomore LP marked both an apex and a turning point – for the nu-metal genre that was already running out of steam and for a millennial America primed for a plunge into darkness. Unapologetically politicised, loaded with wilfully abstruse lyricism and tinged with Middle Eastern melody, it was an astonishingly fitting soundtrack for that particular moment in time. Moreover, having studied The Beatles’ methods of incorporating weird, wacky and downright psychedelic imagery into accessible 'pop' song structures, the likes of Chop Suey!, Bounce and Aerials managed to enter the cultural lexicon, inspiring everything from lung-busting singalongs to absurdist memes on a still-daily basis. Special mention, too, to System’s self-titled 1998 debut which is almost equal in its brilliance.
'CUT MY LIFE INTO PIECES, THIS IS MY LAST RESORT!' Some may scoff at Papa Roach’s appearance so far up this list – particularly given the series of reinventions and renaissances that have ensued since their nu-metal heyday – but it’s crucial not to discount the importance of this essential second LP. Straining vocal chords and detonating dancefloors with Last Resort, tugging the heartstrings with Broken Home and earworming their way under our skin with Between Angels And Insects, Jacoby Shaddix’s Californian mob didn’t just deliver an angst overload – they unleashed every ounce of feeling via arguably the catchiest songwriting nu-metal would ever see. Adolescence never really ends and, even now, these are absolutely essential sounds.
What more is there to add about Hybrid Theory that hasn’t already been said? Perhaps only that the record that momentarily made metal the biggest genre in the world represented nu-metal in its most deliberate iteration. The titular ‘Hybrid Theory’ of combining rock, rap, electronica and industrial beats could be taken from some nu-metal instruction manual. Combining the peerless metal vocals of Chester Bennington with the impassioned rap of Mike Shinoda was a masterstroke. The fact that Linkin Park were able to conjure tracks like One Step Closer, Crawling and In The End was close to magic. The triumph and tragedy that followed in its wake – not to mention the six albums’ worth of evolution – perhaps means that Hybrid Theory will forever be viewed through a nostalgic lens. There’s a small shame in that – because when it first arrived, this represented metal’s most polished cutting edge.
'ARE YOU READY?!' Jonathan Davis’ opening line, lighting the fuse on Blind, was less introduction than call-to-arms. This is the album that started it all. Sure, artists like Faith No More, Helmet, Rage Against the Machine and Ministry had contributed to the emergent trend toward hybrid sound and aesthetic strangeness, but it wasn’t until Korn came along that the ground rules for nu-metal truly clicked into place. Fronted by a mortuary-worker, there was some irony that the Bakersfield quintet were the ones to punch life into metal’s cooling carcass during the mid-’90s slump. Unleashing the tectonic bottom-end of bassist Reginald 'Fieldy' Arvizu, the grimy riffage of James 'Munky' Shaffer and Brian 'Head' Welch, and Jonathan’s unapologetic openness with adolescent torment and unsettling imagery, however, they crystallised Generation X’s sense of disenchantment and nailed down metal’s most divisive sub-genre in one fell swoop.
A reformed Slayer will top the bill at this year's Louder Than Life, alongside Slipknot, Korn and Mötley Crüe.
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