Nu Metal

NU METAL (1994-present)

Nu Metal (also known as Nü-Metal and Aggro-Metal) is a form of Alternative Metal that combines elements of Heavy Metal music with elements of other music genres such as Hip Hop, Alternative Rock, Funk and Grunge. Bands in Nu Metal have drawn elements and influences from a variety of musical styles, including multiple genres of Heavy Metal. This form of Metal rarely features guitar solos; it is heavily syncopated and based on guitar riffs. Many Nu Metal guitarists use seven-string guitars that are down-tuned to play a heavier sound. DJs are occasionally featured in Nu Metal to provide instrumentation such as sampling, turntable scratching and electronic backgrounds. Vocal styles in Nu Metal include singing, rapping, screaming and growling.

Characteristics and Fashion

Nu MetalNu Metal bands have been influenced by and have used elements of a variety of musical genres, including Electronic music, Funk, Grunge, Gothic Rock, Hardcore Punk, Death Metal, Hip Hop, Punk Rock, Dance music, New Wave music, Industrial Metal, Jazz, Post-Punk, Symphonic Rock and Synthpop. Nu Metal bands also are influenced by and use elements of genres of Heavy Metal music such as Death Metal, Rap Metal, Groove Metal, Funk Metal, Alternative Metal and Thrash Metal. Some Nu Metal bands such as Static-X and Dope made Nu Metal music with elements of Industrial Metal.

Nu Metal music is heavily syncopated and is based on guitar riffs. Mid-song bridges and a general lack of guitar solos contrasts it with other genres of Heavy Metal. Another contrast with other Heavy Metal genres is Nu Metal’s emphasis on rhythm, rather than on complexity or mood, often its rhythm sounds like that of groove Metal. The wah pedal is occasionally featured in Nu Metal music. Nu Metal guitar riffs occasionally are similar to Death Metal guitar riffs. Nu Metal bassists and drummers are often influenced by Funk and Hip Hop, respectively, adding to Nu Metal’s rhythmic nature. Blast beats, which are common in Heavy Metal sub-genres such as Black Metal and Death Metal, are extremely rare in Nu Metal. Similarities with many Heavy Metal sub-genres include its use of common time, distorted guitars, power chords and note structures primarily revolving around Dorian, Aeolian or Phrygian modes.

Some Nu Metal bands use seven-string guitars that are generally down-tuned, rather than traditional six-string guitars. This results in bass guitarists using five-string and six-string instruments. Bass guitar-playing in Nu Metal often features an emphasis on funk elements. In Nu Metal music, DJs are sometimes featured to provide instrumentation such as sampling, turntable scratching and electronic backgrounds. Nu Metal tends to have Hip Hop grooves and rhythms.

Vocal styles used in Nu Metal music include singing, rapping, screaming and growling. Vocals are often rhythmic and influenced by Hip Hop. Lyrics in Nu Metal songs are often angry or nihilistic; many of the genre’s lyrics focus on topics such as pain, angst, bullying, emotional torture, abandonment, betrayal and personal alienation, in a way similar to those of Grunge. Many Nu Metal lyrics about these topics tend to be in a very direct tone. However, some Nu-Metal songs have lyrics that are about other topics. In contrast with other Heavy Metal sub-genres, Nu Metal tends to use the same structure of verses, choruses and bridges as those in Pop music.

Nu Metal bands occasionally feature Hip Hop musicians as guests in their songs; Korn’s song “Children of the Korn” features the rapper Ice Cube, who performed on the band’s 1998 Family Values Tour. The Hip Hop musician Nas was featured on Korn’s song “Play Me”, which is on the band’s album Take a Look in the Mirror. Limp Bizkit has recorded with multiple Hip Hop musicians including Method Man, Lil Wayne, Xzibit, Redman, DMX and Snoop Dogg. Linkin Park collaborated with Hip Hop musician Jay Z on their 2004 extended play Collision Course. Kid Rock has recorded with Hip Hop musicians Eminem and Snoop Dogg.

Trevor Baker of The Guardian wrote, “Bands such as Linkin Park, Korn and even the much reviled Limp Bizkit … did far more to break down the artificial barriers between ‘Urban music’ and Rock than any of their more critically acceptable counterparts. Their concerts also drew huge numbers of women, which is much more than you could say for any old-Metal band.”

Nu Metal fashionNu Metal fashion consists of baggy pants, shirts and shorts, JNCO jeans, Adidas tracksuits, sports jerseys, baseball caps, baggy hoodies, cargo pants, sweatpants, dreadlocks, wallet chains, spiky hair, chin beards, tattoos, bald heads, goatees, bleached or dyed hair and piercings, especially facial piercings. Nu Metal fashion has been compared to Hip Hop fashion. Some bands such as Hollywood Undead, Motograter, Mushroomhead, Mudvayne and Slipknot wear masks, jumpsuits, costumes, face paint, corpse paint or body paint.

Predecessors and Influences

Many Alternative Metal, Industrial, Funk Metal, Alternative Rock, Experimental Metal, Rap Metal, Grunge and Industrial Metal artists and bands of the 1980s and 1990s have been credited with laying groundwork for the development of Nu Metal by combining heavy guitar riffs with Pop music structures and drawing influences from sub-genres of Heavy Metal and other music genres. Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Primus, Rage Against the Machine, Helmet, Soundgarden, Prong, Alice in Chains, Godflesh, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry all have been highlighted as examples of this.

Groove Metal and Thrash Metal bands of the same era such as Pantera, Slayer, Sepultura, Metallica and Anthrax have also been cited as influential to Nu Metal. For example, Anthrax pioneered the Rap Metal genre by combining Hip Hop and Rap with Heavy Metal on their 1987 EP I’m the Man, which laid groundwork for Nu Metal’s development. Korn’s lead vocalist Jonathan Davis said about Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, “if there was no Dimebag Darrell, there would be no Korn”. Tool, a band cited as influential to Nu Metal, influenced the bands Mudvayne, Limp Bizkit and Otep.

In the 1990s, bands described as “Neo-Metal” by the author Garry Sharpe-Young emerged; these bands include Pantera, Strapping Young Lad, Machine Head, Biohazard and Fear Factory. Sharpe-Young wrote that these bands “had chosen to strip Metal down to its raw, primal element” and that “Neo-Metal paved the way for Nu-Metal”.

Nu Metal is often influenced by Hip Hop; The Hip Hop group Beastie Boys are very influential on Nu Metal. Hip Hop musicians Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have been a big influence on Nu Metal pioneers Korn; guitarist Munky said the band were trying to emulate the samples of Dr. Dre’s 1992 album The Chronic. Munky and fellow Korn guitarist Head also said they tried to emulate samples by the Hip Hop group Cypress Hill. Both the Geto Boys and N.W.A. also have been a major influence on Korn. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit has cited the Hip Hop group The Fat Boys as a major influence on him.

The Nu Metal band Papa Roach cited rapper Nas and Hip Hop groups Wu-Tang Clan and Fugees as influences. Shifty Shellshock of the Nu Metal band Crazy Town cited Run–D.M.C. and Beastie Boys as influences. Josey Scott of the Nu Metal band Saliva cited Run–D.M.C., LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Chuck D, Doug E. Fresh and Whodini as influences. Sonny Sandoval of the Nu Metal band P.O.D. cited Hip Hop groups Boogie Down Productions and Run–D.M.C. as influences. Linkin Park member Mike Shinoda’s Hip Hop influences include Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, N.W.A. and the Juice Crew. Chester Bennington, another member of Linkin Park, cited A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy, N.W.A., Beastie Boys and Rob Base as influences.


Early Development and Rise (early–mid 1990s)

Joel McIver acknowledged the Nu Metal pioneers Korn as starting the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, which is a Heavy Metal music movement that started in the 1990s. The aggressive riffs of Korn, the rapping of Limp Bizkit, and the acoustic ballads of Staind created the sonic template for Nu Metal. The origins of the term ‘Nu Metal’ are often attributed to the work of producer Ross Robinson, who has been called “The Godfather of Nu Metal”. Robinson has produced for Nu Metal bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot.

Many of the first Nu Metal bands such as Korn, who are identified as the pioneers of the Nu Metal sound with the release of their demo album Neidermayer’s Mind in 1993 and the Deftones, came from California. Other notable bands are Staind from Massachusetts, Limp Bizkit from Florida and Slipknot from Iowa. In the book Brave Nu World, Tommy Udo wrote about the Nu Metal band Coal Chamber, “There’s some evidence to suggest that Coal Chamber were the first band to whom the tag ‘Nu Metal’ was actually applied, in a live review in Spin magazine.”

KornIn 1994, Korn released their self-titled debut album, which is widely considered the first Nu Metal album. Korn had experienced underground popularity at this time; their debut album peaked at number 72 on the Billboard 200. Nu Metal continued to achieve recognition through MTV and Ozzy Osbourne’s 1995 introduction of Ozzfest, which led the media to talk of a resurgence of Heavy Metal. Ozzfest was integral to the launching of the careers of several Nu Metal bands, including Limp Bizkit in 1998. Sepultura incorporated elements of Nu Metal into their 1996 album Roots, which was inspired by Korn’s self-titled debut album. Roots paved the way for the Nu Metal scene that followed in its wake. Few bands were playing Nu Metal until 1997 when bands such as Snot, Coal Chamber, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and Sevendust all released their debut albums.

Nu Metal was beginning to rise in popularity when Korn’s 1996 album Life Is Peachy peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200 and sold 106,000 copies in its first week of being released. Korn’s albums Life is Peachy and Korn both were certified 2x platinum by the RIAA on November 10, 1999. In 1997, Deftones released their album Around the Fur, which peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200, remained there for 17 weeks and sold 43,000 copies in its first week of release. Deftones’ albums Around the Fur and Adrenaline both were certified gold in 1999. In 1997, Sugar Ray broke into the mainstream; their album Floored was released in 1997 and went double-platinum in less than one year. Coal Chamber’s self-titled album peaked at number 10 on the Top Heatseekers chart in 1998 and was certified gold by the RIAA in December 1999.

Mainstream Popularity (late 1990s and early 2000s)

1998 is generally recognized as the year when Nu Metal broke into the mainstream when Korn’s third album, Follow the Leader, which peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200, became a multi-platinum hit and paved the way for other bands. At this point, many bands were signed to major record labels and were playing combinations of Heavy Metal, Hip Hop, Industrial, Grunge and Hardcore Punk styles. Musical artists and groups such as Cypress Hill, Sepultura, Vanilla Ice, Primus, Fear Factory, Machine Head and Slayer released albums that draw from this Metal genre. In Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, Ian Christie wrote that the genre demonstrated that “Pancultural Metal could pay off”.

In 1999, Korn’s fourth studio album Issues peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200. The album was certified 3x platinum in one month. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, multiple Nu Metal bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit and P.O.D. appeared constantly on MTV’s Total Request Live. Woodstock 1999 festival featured multiple Nu Metal artists and bands such as Korn, Kid Rock, Godsmack, Limp Bizkit and Sevendust.

The band Orgy became popular in the late 1990s with their album Candyass, which was certified platinum by the RIAA. Godsmack’s self-titled debut album was released in 1998 and was certified 4x platinum. In April 1999, Kid Rock’s album Devil Without a Cause was certified by gold by the RIAA. The following month, Devil Without a Cause, as Kid Rock predicted, went platinum. In 1999, Slipknot emerged with an extremely heavy Nu Metal sound, releasing their self-titled album, which was certified 2x platinum. Limp Bizkit’s second album Significant Other, released in 1999, peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 7,237,123 copies in the United States and was certified 7x platinum.

In 1999, Staind’s second album Dysfunction was released and was certified 2x platinum by the RIAA. In 2000, Limp Bizkit’s third studio album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water set a record for highest week-one sales of a Rock album, selling over one million copies in the United States in its first week of release—400,000 of which sold on its first day of release, making it the fastest-selling Rock album ever and breaking the world record held for seven years by Pearl Jam’s Vs. Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water by Limp Bizkit sold at least 8,000,000 copies in the United States.

That same year, both Papa Roach’s second studio album Infest and Disturbed’s debut studio album The Sickness were certified at least platinum. The RIAA certified The Sickness 4x platinum and Infest 3x platinum. In 2000, P.O.D.’s album The Fundamental Elements of Southtown went platinum in the United States and was the 143rd best-selling album of 2000. During the early 2000s, the Nu Metal band Incubus was very popular and made the albums Make Yourself and Morning View, which both were certified 2x platinum by the RIAA.

Linkin_park_hybrid_theoryLate in 2000, Linkin Park released their debut album Hybrid Theory, which is both the best-selling debut album by any artist in the 21st century and the best-selling Nu Metal album of all time. In 2001, the band’s album Hybrid Theory sold 4,800,000 copies in the United States, making it the highest-selling album of the year. Linkin Park’s album Hybrid Theory was certified diamond by the RIAA and sold at least 10,222,000 copies in the United States. In 2000, Godsmack released their second studio album Awake, which was certified 2x platinum.

Staind’s 2001 album Break the Cycle debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and was certified 5x platinum by the RIAA. In 2001, Slipknot released their album Iowa, which peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum. Critic John Mulvey called the album the “absolute triumph of Nu Metal”. P.O.D.’s 2001 album Satellite went triple-platinum and peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200. On June 5, 2001, Drowning Pool released a Nu Metal album titled Sinner, which features the song “Bodies”. The album went platinum on August 23, 2001 and its song “Bodies” became one of the most frequently played videos on MTV for new bands.

Alien Ant Farm’s 2001 album Anthology, which has been described as Nu Metal, peaked at number 1 on the Top Heatseekers chart and includes a cover of Michael Jackson’s song “Smooth Criminal”, and was certified platinum by the RIAA in the year it was released in. In 2002, the soundtrack album for the film The Scorpion King was released and peaked at number 1 on the Top Soundtracks chart; it features multiple Nu Metal bands such as Drowning Pool, Coal Chamber, Lifer, Sevendust, Flaw and Godsmack. Godsmack’s track “I Stand Alone” was the most played active Rock song in 2002 for fourteen consecutive weeks. “I Stand Alone” also peaked at number 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

In 2003, MTV wrote that Nu Metal’s mainstream popularity was declining, citing that Korn’s long-awaited fifth album Untouchables and Papa Roach’s third album Lovehatetragedy both sold less than the bands’ previous releases. Korn’s lead vocalist Jonathan Davis blamed music piracy for the amount of sales of Untouchables because the album had been leaked to the Internet more than four months before its official release date.

MTV also wrote that Nu Metal bands were played less frequently on radio stations and MTV began focusing other musical genres. MTV wrote that Papa Roach’s third album Lovehatetragedy has less Hip Hop elements than the band’s previous album Infest and also said that Saliva’s 2002 album Back into Your System has less Hip Hop elements than the band’s 2001 album Every Six Seconds. They also wrote, “Another cause for Nü-Metal and Rap-Rock’s slip from the spotlight could be a diluted talent pool caused by so many similar-sounding bands.

Decline (mid–late 2000s)

After a period of mainstream success of bands such as Trapt, Linkin Park and Evanescence, Nu Metal declined in popularity. Limp Bizkit’s 2003 album Results May Vary, which features elements of Alternative Rock and Nu Metal, peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200. However, Results May Vary sold less than previous Limp Bizkit albums such as Significant Other and Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.

Korn struggled to prevent their album Take a Look in the Mirror being leaked to the Internet; the band’s bassist Reginald Arvizu said, “As soon as we were done listening to the CD, we destroyed it. We didn’t go online with it. I think that’s how [the leak] happened the last time.” Korn released Take a Look in the Mirror earlier than planned because some songs from the album, including “Right Now” and “Break Some Off”, had already been leaked to the Internet. In 2004, Classic Rock-inspired bands such as Jet and The Darkness were achieving mainstream success as the popularity of Nu Metal declined. The popularity of Emo exceeded the declining popularity of Nu Metal. During the mid-2000s, Metalcore, a fusion of Extreme Metal and Hardcore Punk, became one of the most popular genres in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal.

In the mid-to-late 2000s, many Nu Metal bands experimented with other genres and sounds. Linkin Park’s third studio album Minutes to Midnight, released in 2007, was noted for its complete departure from the band’s Nu Metal sound. Nu Metal bands such as Disturbed and Drowning Pool moved to a Hard Rock or standard Heavy Metal sound. Slipknot also departed from their Nu Metal sound and included elements of Groove Metal, Death Metal and Thrash Metal into their music. Staind and Papa Roach moved to lighter sounds. Staind’s 2003 album 14 Shades Of Grey does not express as much anger as the band’s previous albums and shows the band’s departure from Heavy Metal elements and a movement towards a lighter sound. Papa Roach abandoned the Nu Metal genre with their 2004 album Getting Away with Murder, moving to a Hard Rock style.

Soulfly moved away from this style and moved to styles such as Death Metal and Thrash Metal. Kittie abandoned the Nu Metal style and started making music with elements of genres such as Black Metal and Death Metal. In 2005, Limp Bizkit released a record called The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1) without promoting and advertising the record. The album was not very popular; its sales fell 67% during its second week of release. In 2006, Limp Bizkit went on hiatus.

Fusion with other Genres and slight Comeback (2010s)

During the 2010s, there was a discussion within media of a possible Nu Metal revival because of bands fusing Nu Metal with other genres, the return of Nu Metal bands, extant bands going back to the Nu Metal genre and Nu Metal bands forming. Despite the lack of radio play and popularity, some Nu Metal bands recaptured some of their former popularity as they released albums in a Nu Metal style. Korn’s 2010 studio album Korn III: Remember Who You Are sold 63,000 copies during its first week of release and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200. Korn’s vocalist Jonathan Davis said with their new album the band “want to go back to that old-school vibe”. He also said “It’s gonna be very raw, it’s gonna be old school like the first Korn records”.

In 2011, Limp Bizkit’s long-awaited sixth studio album Gold Cobra was released; it sold 27,000 copies during its first week in the United States and peaked at number 16 on the Billboard 200. That same year, Staind’s self-titled album was released; it shows the band returning to their heavier Nu Metal style. The album debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, selling 47,000 copies in its first week of release, making it the band’s fifth consecutive top-five album. In 2012, Papa Roach released their album The Connection. While mostly featuring elements of Hard Rock, the album also shows the band returning to the Nu Metal and Rap Rock style.

In 2014, Linkin Park released their sixth studio album The Hunting Party. The album shows the band returning to the Nu Metal genre. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200. In 2014, Islander released their debut album Violence & Destruction. Critics noted the sound of the album and compared it to the Nu Metal bands P.O.D. and Deftones. In 2015, Papa Roach released their album F.E.A.R., which features rapping. That same year, Coal Chamber released Rivals, their first studio album since 2002’s Dark Days. Many critics noted the Nu Metal sound of the album. In one review of Rivals, 100% Rock wrote that Coal Chamber have taken early 2000’s style Nu Metal and “modernized the sound for the current day”.


Despite its popularity, Nu Metal has often been criticized by fans of many other Heavy Metal sub-genres, often being labeled with derogatory terms such as “mallcore” and “whinecore”. Gregory Heaney of AllMusic called Nu Metal “one of Metal’s more unfortunate pushes into the mainstream.” Lucy Jones of NME called Nu Metal “the worst genre of all time”. In Metal: The Definitive Guide : Heavy, NWOBH, Progressive, Thrash, Death …, Garry Sharpe-Young described this form of Metal as “a dumbed-down and—thankfully shortlived exercise”.

Despite the large amount of criticism that the genre received, Jack Porter of The Michigan Daily defended Nu Metal, writing “Unfortunately, some barriers prevent listeners from understanding Nu-Metal bands apart from the identity that genre label has given them—picture a bone-headed suburban white kid sporting a backwards baseball cap. What used to be a descriptor for a specific strain of Alternative Metal turned into a ghetto for every band that a) plays extremely heavy yet radio-friendly music and b) sucks. Because the genre came to be defined by its lack of quality, many ‘serious’ music fans have missed out on what it has to offer.” Additionally, FasterLouder called Nu Metal “music’s most hated genre” and said that it’s “not as bad as people think”.


(Courtesy : Metal Evolution)

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