With the possible exception of crunkcore and whatever you call the music that the neo-goth kids at Hot Topic are listening to, nu-metal is perhaps the most divisive genre in metal (if you even consider it to be metal in the first place). Nowadays, the names Korn, Slipknot, Disturbed, Linkin Park, Godsmack and the dreaded Limp Bizkit are often followed with some sort of insult or derogatory humor in the metal world. Even us at Heavy Blog are guilty of this, to the point that we’ve made Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” into a meme in our own circles. Nu-metal is, at best, a joke in the minds of modern “TR00” metal fans.
Look, don’t think that I’m a fan of all of this. Just because this article is titled “In Defense of Nu-Metal” doesn’t mean that I enjoy everything that’s in the nu-metal world, from the less-than-stellar music to Fred Durst’s stupid face to the random (and often incredibly stupid) crap that comes out of the mouths of the members of Slipknot to the unnecessary (and in this article, unused) umlaut in “nü-metal”. (Seriously, why the fuck does that exist?) But, those things aside, nu-metal is important. It was a necessary stepping stone in metal’s evolution, despite its poor reception nowadays. It was a gateway for a lot of modern metal fans, and a rallying point for some of the most important musicians in the scene today. And, if we can be totally fair, the music wasn’t all horrible.
For myself, a few members of Heavy Blog, and, I assume, a lot of metal fans today, nu-metal was a starting point in a continuing journey through our beloved genre. I myself knew nothing of metal, though I was interested; after hearing AC/DC’s “Back in Black” on the radio in middle school, I knew that I wanted my music heavier and more aggressive than the standard radio rock. A good family friend of mine let me borrow a plethora of CDs—the most notable for me being Seether’s Disclaimer II and Linkin Park’s sophomore album Meteora—that I consumed like candy. I don’t even think I could tell you how many times I’ve listened to Meteora since then; I specifically remember sitting in the bleachers at my little sister’s basketball game in the dead of winter, holding my old Sandisk MP3 player and playing Meteora on shuffle. For me, that music had heaviness that drew me in, but an interesting enough beat to keep my attention.
Obviously, my tastes grew beyond that (though I still love that album). I got into some Korn (mostly early stuff—self-titled and Follow the Leader), a little Godsmack, things like that; stuff with great grooves. Even after that came some stuff that would stay with me to this day. I heard Metallica for the first time in high school, and was subsequently addicted to them for years after. Rage Against The Machine set a standard for hip-hop influenced music in my world. And this is all because of nu-metal. Without giving Meteora a try a decade ago, I’d still probably be listening to my parents’ Boston and Aerosmith albums until I made myself sick from it. But I grew from it; if it wasn’t for the likes of “Children of the Korn” and “All in the Family,” I probably wouldn’t’ve gotten into hip-hop as fast.
Enough about me, though. Nu-metal was important for the musicians in the scene as well. If it wasn’t for bands like Korn and Slipknot dominating the rock scene in the 90s and (arguably) early naughties, the metal underground wouldn’t’ve been as populated by reactionary metalheads, and bands like Tool and Death might’ve never gotten the time of day, or currently hold the same place in metal greatness as they do today. Groups that were once lumped in with the nu-metal scene at one time or another (Deftones, Karnivool, Machine Head, Soulfly, etc.) were able to break away from that label and put some incredible music out, but nu-metal was how they got started (or, in Machine Head’s case, ended up briefly in the middle of with The Burning Red).
Let’s even talk about the genre itself. Nu-metal is stylized by a blending with other genres, primarily hip-hop/rap, but also funk, electronic, and other styles of music that weren’t at the time incredibly associated with metal, or even regular rock. This was, technically, experimental music. I know, I know—“this guy thinks that nu-metal is fucking experimental music? What a class-A chode, right?” Look: experimental music is an umbrella term that doesn’t always mean that it’s good music; just music that defies traditional musical structures and sounds. A good example of what I mean: Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music is technically experimental music, but, seriously, over an album of just repeated feedback? How the hell is the that music? Yet, Metal Machine is now considered an important album in the sound art and noise movements. Nu-metal allowed for musicians to combine genres and play around and see what worked. Sure, it’s a failed experiment overall—I won’t deny that—but isn’t a failed experiment better than an experiment never attempted?
In conclusion, I’m not attempting to convert people to nu-metal. That’s not the goal of this article. Like Karlo’s previous “In Defense of” about Metallica’s much-maligned St. Anger, it’s not about proselytization or sticking an album in your face and calling you trash if you don’t listen or like it; the point is only to give nu-metal the time of day it deserves as a part of the modern metal zeitgeist. No, it wasn’t perfect—not even remotely—but happened, and it had a big enough effect—albeit a relatively negative one—that we’re still talking about it today. Doesn’t that make it worth defending in some way, however small it may be?