in defense of nü metal

i have never seen anyone say anything positive about the genre of nü metal, as such. this has irked me for ten years. i've never heard people use the term "nü metal" as anything but pejorative, but there is some very good music that is popularly described as such.

people deride the music that falls under that umbrella as boring. meaningless. repetitive. dull. sure enough, there is a lot of subpar music that qualifies as nü metal. most people view Korn and Limp Bizkit as the standard bearers of the genre. Korn isn't my favourite band in the world. i always found them to be extremely boring, and many of their songs sounded the same. "Freak on a Leash" was a good tune, though...it was an apt anthem for a misunderstood teen, and i was a sixteen-year-old high school loner when the song came out. furthermore, they were one of the first bands to hit the mainstream with a detuned amalgam of rock, metal, rap, and funk. they weren't the best of the bunch, but i respect their role in beginning to clear out a place in the music scene for the genre...and even though they were usually boring, they never made me want to weep for humanity.

[as for Limp Bizkit...well, there's really no defense for Limp Bizkit. they were one of the worst bands of the nineties, if not the very worst. that's one point, probably the only point, on which the nü metal haters and i see eye to eye. their music sounds like party pop-rap with guitars.]

the term nü metal is a fairly vague one, to be sure...it started as almost a synonym for rap-rock, and then started to refer to bands who were in that same grey space between grunge and metal, but didn't necessarily have as many rap influences. by the early aughts, very few popular nü metal bands [save Linkin Park...] had or retained much rap styling at all. the term is less than specific...but none but the broadest terms for music have very fuzzy great areas, and i'm going to stick with the nomenclature because its spectrum is familiar to anyone who knows a bit about nineties music.

anyway...there was a lot of schlock promulgated under the umbrella of nü metal, and people bring that up to disparage every band with that handful of influences. but, the fact remains that there's a lot of schlock under any given musical label. just like wheat and chaff coexist under any musical label, there is good nü metal and bad nü metal. from here on out, we focus on the good; there are a lot of gems that people roll their eyes and dismiss because it happens to be nü metal. there are a lot of songs in that style that honestly portray emotion, that have compelling melodies, and prove that the flak that people give the genre as a whole is very often unwarranted.


their first album was full of rap influences which have faded away as time has gone by. although their first album, Down With The Sickness, remains their best to date, they still put out solid music and they're one of the few late nineties or very early aughts bands who remains recognizable, about as good as they were. my favourite song of theirs is "Remember"--it sets the mood of being fixated on something that happened in the past, and the melody haunts.

Drowning Pool

Drowning Pool is not the same band they were back in the early oughts. Dave Williams, their lead singer, died in the summer of 2002...that's the only time i've ever cried when a famous person has died. the new singer isn't nearly as good. his voice went from screaming to growling to singing so seamlessly, and Sinner rocked from start to finish. i'm sure you all know "Bodies" already...this is the video for "Tear Away," which is a little more like the rest of Sinner and a better song to boot.

Finger Eleven

Finger Eleven is one of my two favourite bands [the other being Cold]. even in their earliest music they never had much of a rap influence, but the grunge, metal, and funk influences pervade their music.1 [in fact, before they were Finger Eleven, they called themselves the Rainbow Butt Monkeys, and were more of a funk band than a rock band.] their first three albums were fantastic...really, the only dud on any of them was "One Thing." everything else, fast or slow, was good, solid rock--like this, their song "Quicksand" from their first album.

Linkin Park

i got into Linkin Park my first year of college. that was right when Hybrid Theory was coming out and "One Step Closer" was on the radio all the time. i caught more and more flak for liking them as they got more and more popular, but i don't care. their songs are catchy, they have great beats, and back in 2000 they didn't sound like anything else that was on the radio. maybe it's the sulking emo kid in me...but my favourite song of theirs has always been "Numb." it's a little less peppy than most of their stuff, but it's a great song all the same:


Orgy was the first rock band i ever liked who features techno beats prominently. i'm not sure if their music actually falls under the outer fringes of nü metal or not, but between the time they got popular [1998], their close ties with Korn [they were on Elementree Records, Korn's imprint], and the music styles they fuse...i include them here. they had a little more techno-goth and a lot less grunge than most bands in the category, but they definitely smoothed the path to the radio airwaves for clearly nü metal bands like Linkin Park. this is my favourite Orgy song, "Dizzy"--the last song on their album Candyass, and one i recently mentioned in 74 Minutes or Less:


okay, so their later music consists of attempts to reproduce the success of "It's Been Awhile." they morphed from the realm of nü metal to the realm of...well, almost adult alternative. that doesn't make Tormented, Dysfunction, or about half of Break the Cycle any less awesome. back then the songs were raw, and Aaron Lewis had the sexiest, breathiest heavy rock voice i knew. this was the song that got me hooked on them: "Just Go."

finally, four more bands who have done something compelling with the genre have been recent subjects of posts on this blog: 3rd Strike, Lifer, Flaw, and Videodrone.

so, the next time you hear some music snob dismiss nü metal offhand, take him to task for it. for every Limp Bizkit, Crazy Town, or Hed(PE) who makes your ears bleed, there is a Finger Eleven, Drowning Pool, or Videodrone to bring the rock.

1 if the only songs of theirs you've heard are "One Thing" or anything on Them Vs. You Vs. Me, you're going to be wondering what i'm talking about when i say there's a funk influence. that stuff is dross. i'm as bitter about Them Vs. You Vs. Me as i am about Underneath by The Verve Pipe. the whole rant is too long for a footnote, though; don't be surprised to see a full entry about it at some point.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I understand what you're saying, but I still hate "nu metal." I think, how it is with me at least, is that it has a limited shelf life with me. I listen to "Down With the Sickness" maybe once or twice a month, and that's good enough for me. That does not a good genre make. (I realize it's only a small sample.)

The other beef I have with nu metal is that it sounds very derivative. I know that's kinda what genre is, that bands are supposed to have things in common, but with nu metal it's so much more apparent. (This is, of course, because I am biased against it.) To use the 90's as an example: Nirvana doesn't sound like Smashing Pumpkins who doesn't sound like Nine Inch Nails and so on. But Disturbed DOES sound like Breaking Benjamin who sound like Nonpoint. It seems to me that you could replace one screamy singer with another screamy singer and get the same sound.

As for the bands you listed, Disturbed is okay in small doses, I could never get into Orgy, Finger Eleven has a great song called "Slow Chemical" (AKA Kane's theme song), and Linkin Park was cool for about 5 seconds.

Perhaps I'm a little harsh, so feel free to diss my music at any time :)